Crackling over Christmas

By bogotapost December 11, 2014

Debating the joys of Christmas with two people who share very differing views on the festive period.

Alejandra Chipatecua explains why she’s an advocate of a nice, traditional Christmas:

I love Christmas. All year we worry about things like working, studying, paying the rent and putting up with that annoying boss or neighbour. Finally, it’s Christmas time – a time to relax with the people you choose to be with.

I understand that some of you may be spending Christmas in Colombia away from your friends and family, but to cheer you up, here are some reasons why Christ- mas in Colombia is great.

Firstly, gifts. While it is unbelievable that one single word can electrify both women and men, gift buying is about more than just shopping. It’s about finding that perfect present for someone that you care about – and the anticipation of seeing the smile on their face when they open the gift.

And it doesn’t have to be about money either – if you don’t want to contribute to capitalism, you can cook them dinner, or make a gift, or simply sing a song – because it’s a way to say thanks for all the beautiful things that happened this year.

Christmas goes beyond giving to those you love- it’s also a time when we think about those less fortunate than us and give to charity. Did you know that in the USA, charitable giving increases by 35 percent during the holiday season?

Next, there’s Aguinaldos. This is a game that you can play with your friends or co-workers – a fun and slightly silly Colombian tradition. There are many different ways of playing it, but the most common one is “Si o No”, the objective being that one of the players can’t say ‘No’ and the other one can’t say ‘Yes’ for an agreed amount of time.

Winning depends on being smart enough to find other words – and the reward could be a little extra money towards this year’s vacations, or demanding that your competitor does something embarrassing. Whatever the result, it is a great opportunity get closer to your family and friends, have a laugh and potentially waste a bit of time at work.

Christmas in Colombia? Here’s all you need to know about it!

Another thing that makes Christmas so great is the food. As in many places around the world, for Colombians sharing food is about sharing time, sharing an experience, sharing love. It’s part of what makes Christmas special – festive food is different from what you eat every day.

Festive treats include buñuelos, natilla and arroz con leche (rice pudding). And if you don’t like the delicacies on offer, just enjoy the fact that every single meet-up with your friends will end up turning into a big party, regardless of whether you have to work the next day.

It can’t have escaped your attention that here in Colombia we love Christmas decorations. Lights and decorations are not just about brightening up the city; they bring the community together, and fuel social change by getting people out into the streets.

Medellin’s lights bring Colombia fame by being some of the best in the world. People may think this is a waste of money, but I would point out that since the days of the Romans, societies have invested in promoting social interaction.

Decorations go beyond the pretty lights. As Colombia is a mainly Catholic country, when you visit a friend’s house in December you will find a nativity – a little town in the dining or living room with hay, small people, one baby in the middle, one cow and one donkey. This is the symbolic representation of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, popularly named “Pesebre”.

Bogotá Christmas lights
La iglesia de Lourdes lit up for Christmas.

Finally, there are all the fun Christmas traditions. Different cultures have different beliefs, but we must admit that in Colombia there are some particularly peculiar ones, which all seem to come together at the end of the year. Even if you don’t believe in them, you have to admit that they are really funny. Seeing your friends at midnight on December 31 running around the neighbourhood with bags so they will have more vacations is the most common one.

Or what about people putting rice and lentils in their wallets, pockets and purses because (according to them) this will attract money and abundance? What would you think if your girlfriend or boyfriend comes to you with yellow underwear to celebrate the beginning of the New Year? Enjoy it! It is a tradition to attract prosperity and success the coming year.

Whatever festive traditions you adopt, don’t waste time being a scrooge. Life is too short – and whether it’s through gifts, food or games, the most important thing is to take the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, and reflect on the things you can change or improve about your life next year.

Merry Christmas!

 Self-confessed festive grumpus Fred Ellis tells us what it is he hates so much about Christmas:

I am a troll. A cold hearted stony troll, devoid of emotions and feelings. Scrooge (McDuck or otherwise). A grinch, to our American cousins. A moaner and a whiner. A pain in the sodding arse, I believe.

Why do people call me all these things? Because at this time of year I am afflicted by Seasonal Affective Disorder: I hate Christmas. Let ́s be clear on this, I’m not talking about mild dislike or a slight aversion: I really fucking hate Christmas like a sub-Saharan African confronted with Bob “I don’t like Bathdays” Geldof. For the past 17 years I have barely received nor given a gift on special days (I dodge birthdays, Valentine’s, Mother’s Day and the like too). I can’t see why you should have to wait for a certain time of year to give someone you love a present.

My primary objection to Christmas is the mindless, stupefying consumerism. The orgiastic festival of buying and buying. Back in the old days it was at least partially excusable because you were giving gifts to other people, yet every year the tide of banal self-obsession leads to more and more people buying ‘presents to me’.

Like pigeons flocking to a shit-stained statue, no matter what dross the shops provide, the herds of Christmas shoppers buy it all up and congratulate themselves on a bargain. If you’re buying bath salts and socks for people, you probably shouldn’t even fucking bother, to be honest. You might as well buy them a sign saying “I know fuck all about you and care a smidgen less”.

Consumerism in the shops is then matched by gross overconsumption in the dining room. Roman emperors would blanch at the sheer amount of food many people gutbucket into themselves. Coupled with that is the food itself. For the majority of the year, turkey is something to avoid, synonymous with Turkey Twizzlers… yet people then scrabble around to find a turkey that could feed all of Ciudad Bolivar and get madder than a box of frogs if they can’t. Why? It’s a notoriously hard bird to cook with few redeeming qualities.

Then there are calories upon calories being shoveled into everyone’s faces… while a large wedge of the world can barely afford to eat. Christmas may very well be about eating – it is certainly not about food. At least the booze is pretty good, especially Port.

Some will say I have it wrong. That under- pinning the whole idea of Christmas is religion. Frankly, that’s none of my concern. I’m an atheist of many years, going back to when I was ejected from Sunday School at the age of four for rebelliously playing with Lego.

Whilst I have no problem with people exercising their right to freedom of worship, why does it have to be splashed all around the place in giant gaudy lights? I don’t want any children shoved in my face, whether they be small saviours or regular odious little crap-machines. Especially not the former, baby Jesus is frankly terrifying.

Gruss vom Krampus
Be careful what you ask for!

What about happiness to all men? Fuck off, mate. Like many British men, I loathe being told to be happy. I revel in misanthropy and disappointment. More to the point, I feel somewhat of a fraud being happy, as though it’s not my normal state and an Escobar Hippo is about to trundle into the room and take a gigantic shit on whatever happens to be amusing me. Having people wave mistletoe around and exhort me to “get into the spirit” rather leaves me cold inside.

Christmas for many people appears to be an exercise in organising disparate groups of people into a common celebration. You might be sitting on your fat arse, but someone somewhere is working a double shift to get all the food on the table. Finally, peace and good will seems to me to be something for the whole year, not just a few weeks. Like the famous WWI football truce, what a celebration for the ages and humanity… although they went back to gunning each other down in droves a few days later.

There is a useful word in English: ‘twee’. It can be perfectly used to sum up all those baby Jesuses (Jesii?) and the ridiculous Swiss fantasy of trees and cottages. Unless everyone here is going to be celebrating up in the Sierra Nevada, it’s a bizarre European dream that drives most decoration. Also, those sodding pesebres.

Apart from the odd ones that are done out in artistic re-imaginings, they are gruesomely treacly and twee. Everyone caring and sharing in the popular view, whilst behind the grim reality of a selfish, greedy and unequal society looms over like the ghost at the feast.

Music at Christmas time is universally awful. Even Fairytale of New York is not actually that good, although it at least has a suitably miserable tone.

Normally the lyrics are full-to-bursting with smug cheeriness. Until such time as Nick Cave decides to write a doom-laden dirge about how he’s alone at Christmas and contemplating murder/suicide/murder-suicide, I shall continue to wince at xmas hits, arranged like British teeth and sung like strangled hyenas.

Only the clothes are worse. Wearing an ironically bad jumper doesn’t make you cool, it makes you a fucking idiot. Irony is an excuse for scathing comedy, but few people are comedians.

Well, that was cathartic to write… but there’s a slightly more serious edge to my writing, which is that when I volunteered at a crisis charity, Christmas was the busiest time of year. People rang in their droves to tell us how much they were dreading xmas.

It is a time where people drive themselves to debt with the fear of not getting things perfect, and a colossal waste of resources. Nonetheless, I realise most of you enjoy this charade, so why not try these things over the break?

1. Volunteering – I did this for years in London and it was always worthwhile, some would say in the true spirit of xmas, although you *can* do it all year round too!

2. A limit on gifts – my mother’s side do this, no more than £5 per present, extra points if free, recycled and/or handmade. Confusion reigns over the use of young children’s (my cousins’) labour.

3. Donations to charity in lieu of presents – a bit hippie, but also probably more useful to the recipient, especially in this country with 29.3% of people living below the poverty line.