I spent Christmas in a gingerbread house. For real. Devin’s parents’ house is a little wooden cabin in the middle of the snowy woods, and as soon as you walk in, you are absolutely surrounded by sugar. Would you like a Christmas cookie with sprinkles? Maybe chocolate chip is more your style. Or perhaps you prefer cookies dipped in chocolate. No matter, they have it all. Candy bars and candy canes galore. If you like cold sweets, there’s ice cream. And if you like warm sweets, there are cinnamon buns, pancakes, and blueberry muffins covered in sugar crystals. Maybe you’d rather have sugar in liquid form. For that there are dozens of jars of maple syrup (from the trees outside) and a jar of honey (from the neighbor’s bees). It’s like being a kid in a candy store, only all the candy is free.
This is my first Christmas away from my family, and I joke with Devin that it’s my first White Christmas because it’s the first* Christmas I spend in the States, with White Americans. Of course, “White American” is an ethnicity with many subcultures, just like “Mexican” is. Devin comes from a community that grows food, buys gifts at L.L. Bean, and has thoughtful discussions about politics and climate change. They also go out of their way to make me feel welcome. On Christmas Eve, the family friends who invited us over for dinner made lots of mini food because they heard I liked little things (seriously)! On Christmas morning we ate beans for breakfast (because Devin told his parents that beans are my favorite food). And Devin’s family has included me in their own traditions. We cut down a Christmas tree the day after I got here, and there’s a fire burning all day long. It’s been magical to sit by its glow and listen to carols. Once I was singing, “Frosted wiiiindow panes, candles gleaming inside, painted candy canes on the treeeeeeeee” and realized we were surrounded by all those things! Well, okay, replace “candles gleaming” with “LED’s glowing” (they are environmentalists, after all).
The town closest to this little farm reminds me of Casas Grandes, the town closest to my aunt Menry’s house, where my family usually spends Christmas, only all the restaurants here are sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer instead of Coca-Cola. (You could argue that Mexico sponsors Coca-Cola and not the other way around because Mexico drinks more soda per capita than any other country.)
Of course, nothing makes up for missing your family, especially when you’ve never had to be apart this time of year before. My cousin Vanessa knows this firsthand, and she sent me the best box ever to open on Christmas. It was called the “First Christmas Away From Your Family Survival Kit” and contained a funny book, the best Mexican candy (including mazapanes for those who prefer sweet to spicy) and chocolate Abuelita. She also sent me some earrings because she is the greatest.
By far the biggest difference between U.S. Christmas and Mexican Christmas is bedtime. When Devin’s parents were going to sleep on Christmas Eve, my family in Chihuahua was just sitting down to dinner. Devin and I managed to stay up to Skype with them, which was awesome. My niece Victoria rushed to the screen and said, “¡Estoy comiendo zanahorias como tú!” (I’m eating carrots like you!). I always worry that she’ll forget about me because I don’t get to see her as much as I wish, so it was really special to know that she thinks about her weird vegetarian aunt.
Otherwise, Christmas here is pretty similar to Christmas there. A big part of that is due to globalization and how effectively U.S. corporations export American cultural traditions, but another big reason is that I’ve always been surrounded by a loving family at Christmastime, and this year was no different.
*It’s not my first Christmas in the U.S.A. if you count the very first Christmas of my life, which was spent in the States, but I don’t because I was nine months old and had to fact-check where I spent it before writing this.