This may come as a shock (to newer readers), but Christmas in Chile is pretty different than how it's normally celebrated in the US. I spent the majority of the past two weeks fielding questions about what a traditional American Christmas is like, and after a while my responses boiled down to "it's just like the movies, with snow and everything". The responses varied from a smiling "I knew it!" to a muffled "wow." to a nod and request to pass the beer. Now, let me describe the other side of the coin for those of you living in the states.
The celebrating starts on Christmas Eve, around dinnertime. I went to my friend Marco's house, where we had a large Christmas dinner with prime rib, chorizo, pork, Chilean salad (lettuce, tomato, and avocado pieces dressed with lemon juice), corn, and french fry-like mini potato balls. We were all quite full afterwards, so we moved to the balcony and sipped champagne for a while.
Marco lives in a fairly large complex of apartment buildings, and from his balcony we can see the communal area/pool and entrances to many other apartments. At about 11:30, I noticed that there were suddenly a lot of little children with their parents wandering around the common area of the complex, talking and playing with each other. "Why are there so many kids out now?" I asked Marco.
"Because man, in Chile, Santa Claus comes by midnight. At midnight, all the kids go back to their homes and unwrap their gifts. The kids outside are the ones that still believe in Santa," he replied. As he mentioned it, I looked down to the pavement and noticed that many of the kids were intently staring upward, scanning the sky for a sleigh and 8-9 reindeer. I smiled, remembering my own childhood when I also scoured the Christmas Eve sky for the same thing.
At 12:00, the kids all went back inside. Marco and his family each got each other one thing, so their exchange lasted all of 10 minutes. Afterwards, we sat on their balcony drinking wine and talking to the neighbors and their families who came to the complex for the night. It was quite pleasent.
Yesterday, I spent the majority of the day skyping with the family and watching the NBA kickoff. Around 2:00, I had a traditional Christmas lunch of Chinese food. Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra.