I guess it’s because we are leaving soon, but we suddenly became very popular this holiday season. Last year, we didn’t get invited to a single family party or celebration from anyone, this year we had three invitations for Christmas Eve alone. I think it’s because we’re on our way out, but it was still nice to feel wanted. We decided to spend the eve, called Nochebuena (good night), with our host family next door, partly because they asked us first and partly because it’s close to home. It turned out to be an unforgettable time.
|Host mom (center pink) with her two sons and some grandkids|
They wanted us to accompany them to their church in the evening for some kind of Christmas program that the kids were putting on. While we generally try to avoid awkward religious events, we said yes, figuring it might be sort of like a pageant of the birth of Jesus or something. Well, not quite. The “church, “ if you could call it that, was just a bunch of plastic chairs set up in someone’s covered car port. While it hasn’t been particularly cold this year, that night was damp and windy with a threat of rain, and we, supposing the church would be inside, hadn’t really worn our warmest attire and were a bit uncomfortable. Added to that, we were the only gringos in sight at this small mass, so we stood out like giants.
We watched as the youngest kids sang a few short songs together led by the head sister of the church, including our little host sister. The teenagers, including our host brother then put on a little play of a parable from the bible. It was the one about the man with two sons, one who leaves home and wastes all his money then comes crawling back, while the other stays at home and works, and in the end the father loves them both equally. Not exactly the first noel, but the kids really hammed it up and it was entertaining. They sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing, in Spanish, so I just hummed along to the melody. Then there was a sermon/speech from some guy and that was it, pretty short and sweet. At one point, they made all the “visitors” stand up to acknowledge them, and our host mom gave us the evil eye, so we stood awkwardly as everyone stared at the gringos. Then they did a “introduce yourself to your neighbors” thing and it seemed like everyone came up to us specifically to shake our hands and say Feliz Navidad, it felt sort of like we were royalty or something, only embarrassingly so. The service ended with everyone receiving a nacatamal (a tamal with chicken, rice and vegetables inside) and some sugary coffee. I sort of think our host mom just wanted to drag out her gringos to show everyone, because she looked pretty proud of us, but it was still nice of them to invite us.
We headed back to our host family’s place at around 8:30 pm to eat the Nochebuena feast. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Christmas Eve is the bigger holiday here. People go to church, have a big dinner, exchange gifts and stay up until midnight to light off fireworks. Traditional fare is nacatamales, which I previously despised because they throw chunks of chicken in them, bone included, and I more than once nearly choked to death on them. But this year, I sort of savored them. The president of my women’s group brought us some for lunch, and she knew I didn’t like the bones, so hers were bone-free and quite delicious. But nacatamales aren’t the main meal, more like an appetizer I guess – everyone can eat tons of them.
|Nacatamal y una coca|
Anyway, so we waited around forever at our family’s house for all the family members to arrive. Our host mom (who is more a grandma age) has 4 grown kids who live in the same housing complex plus all their kids. So despite dinner being done and ready, we had to wait for everyone to arrive to eat, which didn’t take place until close to 10. We spent the time in between playing with the adorable kids, the youngest of whom, Grecia, whom I liken to a Honduran Cindy Lou Who, took a liking to Nolan and was begging to be played with all evening. Adorable! Dinner was a mix of Honduran and American favorites, roasted chicken with stuffing, meatloaf, tacos, tortillas and some gross salad of broccoli, Kraft cheese, bacon and mayo – blegh! Plus orange soda – not to be forgotten. It was decent food, not what I would have cooked and probably not really “traditional” Honduran either.
|Nicki and Grecia Lou Who|
|Nolan the tickle monster|
After dinner came the presents! I guess because they have a bigger family, they did a Secret Santa gift exchange thing, with the kids getting some extras. They even bought a few gifts for us, some t-shirts and some really nice embroidered napkins – which was nice, but we felt silly that we didn’t bring any gifts for anyone. The funniest was when one of the sons was giving his kid a gift and he said, “Choosing your gift was easy, I broke it in the store and had to buy it!” and gave his 5 year old son a broken picture frame. The kid looked like he would burst into tears, then his dad whipped out a new bike from the back room and the kid loved it! So sweet! We finished off the event with some rompopo – I guess it’s the same as eggnog - and photos with the family and kids.
|Glad to get this instead of an old picture frame|
The night wasn’t over, even though it was 11:30 pm. We were headed next door to our host mom’s brother’s house for more celebrating. We were stuffed, but felt obliged to come along. At the brother’s house we were served pepsi, some punch with fruit in it, some fizzy wine that was like a wine cooler, then another nacatamal. I thought I was going to explode and/or vomit. We finally were able to head home just before the fireworks started going off at midnight. We watched from our bedroom window for just a few minutes before dropping off to sleep. After all, where we come from, if you’re not asleep, Santa won’t visit your house. Maybe the Hondurans haven’t figured this out yet.
|Host mom's daughter and more grandkids|
Christmas day, we woke up late, and enjoyed mimosas while watching It’s a Wonderful Life, typically a Christmas Eve movie, but since we were otherwise occupied the night before, we had to squeeze it in that morning before watching A Christmas Story. Instead of our traditional eggs benedict, we had prepared a simple French toast with strawberry compote. We took our host family some banana bread as a thank you for inviting us to Nochebuena, and in return they gave us some Tres Leches cake. We had a relaxing afternoon and roasted a chicken for dinner, which we are still eating today. It was a nice combination of half-Honduran, half- our own Christmas, and a great way to start wrapping up our time here.