Surprisingly, this is only the second time that Melissa and I have been outside the United States at Christmas. The first time was in Penang, Malaysia—a mainly Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist island where Christmas celebrations were minimal. This year, in predominantly Catholic Colombia, Christmas themes are everywhere. So we’ve been missing our loved ones at home a little extra this year.
In planning our trip, we wanted somewhere small and quiet to spend Christmas week, after AJ and Francesca flew back to the United States. We chose the little town of Jardin (pronounced “Hardeen”), a beautiful place surrounded by green hills a four-hour bus ride south of Medellin.
Little did we know, when we booked an AirBnB room for the first half of the week, that the room would be in the middle of a family’s apartment and that the size of the family would swell as relatives from Medellin arrived for the holidays. So we’ve had the good fortune to spend Christmas in a family home—complete with a big Christmas tree and a Christmas Eve dinner around the family table.
Our host, Paula, and some of her relatives speak English after years of living in the United States before returning to their native Colombia. As we’ve explored Jardin—walking around town, sitting in the cafes that ring the main square, taking horseback rides through the countryside around town—we’ve met other friendly English-speaking Colombians who spent time in the United States or Canada. Being able to communicate well has made us feel even more like part of the family and part of the town.
According to Paula, Christmas in Jardin is celebrated mainly on Christmas Eve, with a big dinner of tamales and then presents exchanged at midnight. Christmas Day is a quieter affair: Kids spill out into the streets in their new clothes, and families have picnics or take walks in the countryside. With daytime temperatures in the 70s and little rain this time of year, it’s easy to celebrate outdoors.
Throughout our travels in Colombia, we’ve seen Christmas decorations galore: from bright lights and elaborate nativity scenes in churches to scarf-wearing llamas giving rides to children in plazas. Many homes and businesses decorate their windows and balconies with lights and ornaments. I’m always amused to see images of snowmen and snowflakes in a place that never gets snow!
Here in Jardin, the preferred form of transport around town is little Southeast Asian-style tuk-tuks. One Christmas lover has decorated his tuk-tuk with a Santa and sleigh on the roof. It lights up at night, as he drives around town, for extra festivity.
Feliz Navidad (to all of you who celebrate Christmas) and a very happy 2019!