Standing in the back corner of the sanctuary, I sway with Ingrid on my hip as we sing Christmas carols and she claps her hands. It’s Christmas Eve and the church is dimly lit for the Lessons and Carols service. It’s an English-speaking church, full of expats from all over the world and Colombian families alike.
Ingrid is mesmerized as we light candles and sing Silent Night to close out the evening. We walk home, pausing briefly to look at the nativity set up in a nearby park. It’s 6:30pm, already dark outside, but the Christmas lights on the buildings brighten the street.
The Colombians celebrate Christmas Eve, staying up until midnight with their family and friends to open gifts and spend time together until the early hours of Christmas morning.
We go to bed early.
Christmas Morning, we get up and make a big breakfast. I’m excited to show Ingrid her presents, as we help her tear the wrapping paper. She coos happily to see the two little toys we’ve gotten her, but is mostly interested in the paper.
One toy is a little plastic book that sings nursery rhymes as you turn the pages. I never thought I’d buy her a toy that makes noise, but she is enamored and carries it around all day. I don’t even mind hearing “Little Boy Blue” thirty times a day, because she is just so cute.
We leave the house with the stroller to head out for Christmas Ciclovia. Ciclovia is a bike event that takes place every Sunday and holiday. The government shuts down some of the streets, and you can bike, run, or walk for miles around the city. It’s lovely. Hardly anyone is out on Christmas, and we walk until it starts to rain.
That evening, we are invited to the home of another embassy family. We have the American standards of ham, turkey, stuffing, and roasted root vegetables alongside Colombian breads and tamales. We enjoy showing off American traditions to our international guests – from Colombia, Holland, Switzerland, and more. We play games, laugh, and have so much fun.
We still miss our favorite Christmas foods – my mother-in-law’s cardamom bread, my mother’s cranberry salad, and my grandfather’s Croatian desserts. We miss opening presents with family. We miss playing games and hanging out with aunts, uncles, cousins, and more. We miss the classic white Christmas, pretty icicle lights on porches and the smell of real Christmas trees.
It may not have felt like a Christmas we are used to – but in the midst of all that we are missing, we are still reminded of all that we have to be grateful for in this season.