Christmas Eve in the Midwest is a solemn affair. You sit around a crackling fireplace, mom puts the Mannheim Steamroller album on, and you enjoy a bit of quiet repose in the happy company of family. So when a Peruvian friend invited me to Christmas Eve dinner at his grandma’s house in Lima, I admit to expecting the same. Boy was I ever wrong.
Christmas in Lima is more like that other raucous holiday in America: the Fourth of July. All the ingredients are there: Sun, loud music, meat on the grill, drunk relatives. There’s lots of rum involved in the whole thing. Oh, and did I mention the fireworks?
I really should have known that in a country that thinks blaring J-Lo out of loudspeakers at 3 a.m. is okay, celebrating the birth of Jesus with a loud, illegal and highly dangerous fireworks display would be considered appropriate. This place is not given to solemn understatement. Yet I was still surprised to find my host completely ‘schwasted’ when I arrived at grandma’s house. And even more so when we immediately hiked down the street to an illegal street market selling cartloads of cheap yet highly potent Chinese explosives.
But we got through the night with all limbs intact. And wouldn’t you know it, lighting off massive fireworks in the middle of the street on Christmas Eve was, well, fun. It was all a potent reminder that the holidays as they are back home are not even halfway similar elsewhere.
At least one thing reminded me of home, though : Christmas Eve dinner. Though we ate it at 1 a.m. — not typical of any Midwestern households that I know.
So instead of waking up Christmas Day to fresh snow and presents under the tree, I awoke to a wicked gut ache after a night of excessive drinking and eating. Was it fun? Yes. Purifying in the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men? Absolutely not.