The Holiday Season

Trip Start Jul 29, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Flag of Mexico  , Oaxaca,
Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ahh … just getting back on my blogging horse after taking off the saddle for the holidays. I not only took a break from writing, but enlisted a handful of photographers to take photos for us during my down time (read: I forgot my camera on a few occasions).   After a fun month, we're back into our routines.  I’m excited to get writing again.  What follows is a series of vignettes from our holiday season in Oaxaca.  

Like in the States, our holiday schedule was full.  Sure, it’s all relative.  We had plenty of free time, but I also needed to consult our calendar on numerous occasions, which is something I haven’t needed to do often during our time in Oaxaca.  No school for the kids, parties at friends’ houses, school gatherings, festivities downtown, time with family … in Mexico.

While Leah was presenting her work at an academic workshop in Berlin and visiting a friend in Copenhagen in early December, the kids and I kicked off our holiday season with a, you guessed it, German tradition.  We joined our friends Oliver and Vera, parents of two of Micah and Zola’s classmates, for a viewing of the movie "Fuerzangenbowle", accompanied by sweet breads, mulled wine, and good food.   Oliver, the German half of the couple, has watched this movie every December for the past twenty plus years.  I won’t go into the plot of the movie, but the title refers to this: 1) simmering red wine with cinnamon, cloves, star anise, oranges, and some other things I can’t recall, 2) dousing a hard cone of sugar with 50+ proof rum and laying it on a specialized device over the wine, 3) lighting the rum-soaked cone of sugar and watching flaming drops fall into the red wine, and 4) drinking said delicious wine.   The adults enjoyed the fruits of our own Fuerzangenbowle while the kids watched the Smurfs in Spanish.

A couple of days after Leah’s return from Europe, we were treated to Micah and Zola’s school holiday presentation.  Micah, Zola and all of their classmates were dressed in white, accessorized with hats and scarves.  Under the canopy of a draped mesh sun shade, parents, grandparents, siblings, and family friends sat on chairs, pillows and hay bales. The focal point of everyone’s attention was a spiral made out of tree boughs and candles, laid on the ground.  The kids sang songs and provided their own accompaniment with drums, recorders, and a triangle.  Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night (with verses in Spanish, English, and German) were two of our favorites.  Then parents were asked to accompany their children, from youngest to oldest, on a stroll into the tree bough spiral to light and place candles.    It was a beautiful ceremony and left us feeling like valued members of our school community.  Following the program, we got to partake in good food and drink, watch the kids go after a piņata, and socialize with other parents.  And, yes, in the spirit of a true school holiday program, there was a fundraising element.  The cool thing was that the things for sale that evening were really neat, all hand made by the kids and other members of the school community.  We certainly did our share to add to the school coffer.
Wednesday, December 19 marked the last day of school in 2012 for Micah and Zola.  On that day, they were treated to a nice surprise – a field trip to a farm for rescued animals.  I was recruited to be a chaperone/driver and was struck, amused, and delighted by how very Mexican the experience was.  We had four cars for twelve students and seven adults, but figured we could get by with three cars.  Without car seats, it was easy to fit four little butts in the back seat of our Nissan Sentra.  One of the teachers drove with me.    While one of the other drivers was filling up her tank along the way, my car stopped to get freshly squeezed juice.  The kids all shared the same straw.  At the farm, the kids got to see and hear stories about dogs, raccoons, horses, an emu, a falcon, rabbits, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens, doves, a monkey, crocodiles… You can imagine what a hit it was with the kids.  After eating our bag lunches, we loaded up our vehicles and headed back to school.  Though we got stuck in traffic and arrived back at school after the normal pick-up time, all of the parents waiting at the school gate were unfazed, just standing around calmly socializing with one another with smiles on their faces.  I have enjoyed being a part of this laid back community.

Two Hanukkah gatherings were a fun part of our holiday experience.  Our friends Brian & Abigail and Judith & Sergio each celebrated Hanukkah with latkes, songs, and lighting of candles.   What a great addition to our already multicultural holiday season.

We were delighted to get to host the very first south-of-the-border Christmas for the Bruner side of the family.  When Leah and I made our plans to be in Mexico for this year, we figured we’d spend the holidays on our own.  Instead, we were joined by my mom and dad, brother, sister, brother-in-law, and niece, who came to Oaxaca for a week. 
Following a trip to the market, with eight of us packed into our car, we had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner of Oaxacan grilled fare - shrimp, thinly sliced beef, pork, green onions, and sausages.  We accompanied our Oaxacan mixed-grill with fresh guacamole, salsa and rice. Interestingly, at least to us, many Oaxacans eat turkey for Christmas dinner. We followed suit, indulging our Mexican acculturated tastebuds with a traditional US feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and green beans. It was delightful!

Every year, two days before Christmas, the Zocalo (main square) in the Oaxaca City Centro is transformed into a display of amazing art.  What’s the medium, you ask?  Oil, watercolors, bronze, clay, minerals?  Try radishes … and corn husks … and tiny flowers.  It’s amazing. On the Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes), thousands of people file through the Zocalo to view Zapotec radish art.  The red and white tubers are the stars of the show, but there are also amazing creations comprised of corn husks and flowers.  It is an incredibly festive event; a bit overwhelming with the masses of people (thousands come, literally, from around the world to witness the art), but definitely cool.  We got to soak it in with my family during their first evening in Oaxaca. 

The list of activities we enjoyed together is long, and included visits to markets, a tour of Monte Alban, exploring the museum of the Santo Domingo church, roof-top dining, playing soccer and football (which Micah had been dreaming about), strolling down the pedestrian zone in the center of the city, taking runs and walks near our house, date-night with Ben and Carolyn, shopping, swimming in the hotel pool, and of course, chill time together.  Suffice it to say, it was a very fun addition to our family holiday tradition. 
From what I have come to understand, while Santa does visit Mexico, he is not as prominent a figure here as he is in the States.  He may deliver some presents (certainly to expat kids), but the real present-bearers are the “three kings”, who deliver presents to children who leave their shoes out on January 6. Leah learned about this tradition during a school fundraising meeting on January 4; this was lucky for Micah and Zola, who received a couple of presents (marbles and a Star Wars light saber) in their shoes just like their Mexican classmates.  We got to partake in another, related part of the “kings” tradition on the 6th – sharing a Rosca de Reyes sweet bread and Oaxacan hot chocolate with friends.  Only, it’s not that simple.  Baked inside the large donut shaped sweet breads are a couple of small “baby Jesus” figures.  If a person finds a baby Jesus in their piece of sweetbread, they are obliged to bake tamales for everyone on February 2.   A friend of ours was just explaining all of this to Leah and me when Micah pulled a figure out of his bread and said, “Mom and Dad, I found a gnome.”  I thought it looked like a space alien.  Apparently, the little figures used to be locally-produced, porcelain baby Jesus dolls.  Now they are white plastic, and made in China. See the photo and tell me what you think.  Hmm … we need to figure out how to make tamales.

I just got back from a run.  As I was passing a house in the mountains, watching cows graze by the side of the road and listening to roosters cock-a-doodle-doing, I heard a new sound: a “hey, hot stuff” cat call whistle.  You know the whistle I’m talking about?  Now, as a skinny, middle-aged runner, you might imagine that I am well acquainted with such cat calls.  Sure.  But this one caught me off guard.  I stopped, looked over my shoulder, saw a parrot looking back at me through a window, and chuckled.  If I ever get a parrot, I’m going to teach it to do the same thing.
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Patricia on

I so love your posts and the pics. I especially love the pics of MIcah and Zola on the ride. Amazing. One question: what do you do with the roasted green onions? Are they chopped and put on something or do you just eat them as is? Happy New Year!

Hunt on

Thanks Steve and Leah these blogs are relly enjoyable and brighten our lives here in the snow and below zero---yes you heve to get a parrot thatcan whistle--- much better than those chickens

srbruner on

The green onions are put on one's plate just like you see them, then eaten by chomping off the sweet and smokey bulb. Sprinkled with lime juice and salt, they're delicious.

Uncle Bob on

How to deal with the parrot in good 'ol Minnesota fashion: bring a duck call--or better yet, a moose call--and give the parrot a big blast or two. If you do that frequently enough, maybe the parrot will begin to imitate it, no doubt to the consternation of its owner.

We love the blog posts. Keep 'em coming.

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