Last Christmas I was in the Cordillera Blanca, sitting alone in a travel hostel. I was chewing coca leaves and wearing a beanie that said ‘Huaraz’ on it, while having a group chat to my family over Skype.
I did get a present, a Dragon Ball Z T-shirt from my secret Santa, but that came two weeks later when I returned to my housemates on the coast. I realised that day that it was important to be with people for Christmas, and if I continued to push them away, for no matter the reason, I would be in the same position I was in another thirty years, with a hermit beard and drunk on whisky, yelling at the TV.
For two months, or maybe more, my girlfriend Tiffany’s mum has been preparing Christmas, and checking to see if I will be attending. We did have Christmas at her grandparents and the thing I really noticed this year is the true celebrations, the true moment, happens on Christmas Eve.
We stayed up until midnight eating, and then as all the fireworks crackled and boomed across the city, we had a toast, took turns kissing a baby Jesus, and then opened the presents. This year I did okay! I was given four t-shirts, a coffee mug, a box of Cadbury chocolates, a love letter, and an empty notebook with David Tennant’s Doctor silhouetted on the cover. Most of these gifts came from Tiffany. She also self-published two copies of my novel manuscript and it looks terrific.
The decorations and the ceremony of gift giving was exactly the same as at home, but the food was subtly different. At home we always pull crackers and then put on the cheesy paper party hats, and laugh at Grandma’s pink one. We read the lamest jokes that are in the crackers, like, “what do you get when you pour hot water in a rabbit hole?”
“A hot cross bunny!”
We will groan and then eat.
This isn’t home, but Peru, and I am grateful for being part of a community again. The food is similar, but with more emphasis on turkey than on a glazed ham. There was a rice dish with bacon bits (this is Peru. You can’t set a table without rice), and salads. There was a potato dish I enjoyed which had potato, (Peruvian) corn, and pineapple. There were bread rolls and apple sauce, and wine and beer, and champagne.
Tiffany and I had baked a Pavlova. We told everyone that it was an Australian cake, to peak their interest, but New Zealanders may object to the ownership. I was worried about how it turned out, given it’s the first one I prepared. It was bloody great but the base may have been a little too thick in comparison to the centre.
Most of the Peruvians were a little apprehensive to try it, preferring to leave more room for their ‘Panatone’, a sort of fruit cake that they are obsessed with.
I would have loved some brandy flavoured custard, but I mentioned it to my work colleagues a few days before, and they asked “what’s custard?”
Oh boy, I thought. But realised I had no idea on how to explain what custard is.
12 hours later, after sleeping on a full stomach of turkey, we returned for leftovers. I had given a hamper (that work gave me) of Peruvian goodies, and all the family decided to raffle off the items into numbers. It was sheer madness. Everyone was so excited. Tiffany’s mum insisted on keeping the container. It would not be part of the raffle. An uncle received a box of oats. I drew a packet of lentils. A 13-year-old girl won a bottle of champagne. She cheered along with her branch of the family.
My Girlfriend’s Mum: The pavlova was really good…slightly burned but I would eat it again. I wouldn’t put bananas in it though…the strawberries were good, the kiwi too but i didn’t like the banana on it. Maybe some other fruit.”
Girlfriend’s Sister: The base tastes like coffee. I don’t like the bananas.
My Girlfriend’s opinion: I really loved it. It wasn’t as sweet as i thought it was gonna be, which is good because it made me want to eat more.
I was surprised it came out that good actually…because, usually, on my first tries, things don’t come out that good
I wanna try making it again…maybe with a thermometer so we know the actual temperature and it comes out even better…and I think the same about the bananas. I think it goes better with a bit more sour fruits. It’s a good combo of sweet and fresh.