So you're wondering about life in El Salvador. Aside from the physical location change, what about traditions? What about Christmas... ?
Christmas in El Salvador is generally big. During the middle of November most of the capital city of San Salvador transforms into a Christmas influenced land. Traffic circles, parks, main highway strips and shopping centers get covered in lights, giant lighted polar bears, etc.
The commercial push is also big. There are many products available. Christmas lights, christmas tress, etc can be found at "La Ferreterria". These include Vidri, Gold Tree and Freund. Most Christmas decorations are the same price or more expensive in El Salvador.
Christmas lights can be found in the Market as well as the hardware stores. Here is just a general idea:
Artifical Tree (6ft) - $150-200
Christmas Lights - $2-6
Garland - 3 for $1
Rope Lights (20ft) - $14
Inflatable Santa - $150
In other words, they are expensive. Things go on sale during the month of December with as much as a 40% discount. After Christmas it's always cheaper (to prepare for the next year).
Most Christmas food can be found in the supermarket such as La Despensa de Don Juan or Super Selectos. Hiper Paiz, Europa also carry most stuff. The only hard to find item is Ham, this can be found at Kreef in Santa Elena or Super Selectos (Santa Elena/Metro Centro).
15 - 19 lb. Butterball Turkey - $24.99
Wine - $3.99 - 12.99
Vegetables (Canned) - $1.00
Jone's Diary Ham (8 lbs) - $24.99
Christmas Cookies - $1.99 - 6.99
Chocolates - $1.99 - 3.99
Christmas Basket (Gift) - $10 - 59.99
Sparklers - $1.00
Roman Candles - 3 for $1.00
Mortars (20 shot) - $19
So now you are wondering, what is the tradition here? It's fairly simple. Christmas might as well be the 24th, because the 25th is practically a normal day in El Salvador.
The 24th, buses still run, businesses are open late, fast food is open til 8 and 11PM, etc. Everyone gets together with their family around the late afternoon. Some families prepare large dinners, chicken or turkey is the food of choice. There is usually music, alot of talking and around 9 or 10PM the alcohol appears. Some families skip this part but the vast majority do not, especially the male members.
Everyone talks and drinks until Midnight, gifts are given to the children at midnight, sometimes before. At midnight everyone lights off fireworks, it's tradition. The sky is filled with loud booms and fireworks. No, not cheap fireworks - the professional mortar kind used in real firework shows. It's a WONDERFUL sight.
The chatter and fun goes on until the wee hours, some don't stop until 6 or 7AM, others tire out around 3AM.
Some families have slightly varied traditions but most celebrate in a very happy manner. I observed several families utilizing the secret santa game on Christmas. Before Christmas the entire family would put their names in a basket and each would take a name (in secret). They would buy a gift for that person. At midnight, the would start, the first person to go would describe the person who they have a gift for (without using their name). Once everyone guesses, that person got their gift, and had to describe their person. The game continued until everyone had a gift. They would then open the gifts.
Gifts are usually cheap and very limited. Kids don't receive much (except the wealthy). Everyone is happy regardless.
On the 25th, the roads are quiet, the parks empty and everyone with their families. The day seems normal compared to Christmas in other parts of the world. Many stores are closed but all fast food is open and gas stations, etc. There are some buses that run their routes, although not all. It is a little quieter, but almost feels like a normal day.
There are varied Christmas events. Alot of clubs, bars and restaurants have Christmas events.
CIFCO brings some great shows during the holiday season, this year the two Christmas oriented shows that came were:
-Trans Siberia Orchestra (Music)
-Russia Christmas on Ice (Skate/Music/Dance)
Again, Christmas is a very happy time in El Salvador. It is sad to see it go and I know things will get quiet and possibly even boring from here forward.
It is ashame the Christmas spirit doesn't last all year, but at least it gives us something to look forward too.
Feliz Navidad to all my dearest readers. Cherish what you have and keep hope for the future.
(Below are some images of Christmas in El Salvador. These were not taken by me and their ownership and copyright belongs to their respective owners).