Fireworks explode across the night sky. City streets and brick houses appear below shooting sparks and colors. Not a soul sleeps. We watch in awe and excitement as the clock strikes midnight; it’s Christmas morning.
Upon realizing the fiesta below won’t be stopping anytime soon, we head inside and shoot off a confetti cannon, a jolting surprise for those who had fallen asleep on the couch. Hugs and well wishes are shared by everyone, followed by a traditional pork dinner and the seasonal sweets panetón and hot chocolate.
Before long, silence fills the room and the food, our stomachs.
Being away from family and friends, comfortable traditions, and favorite foods is always difficult, especially during the holiday season. Despite these challenges, I decided to spend Christmas with my host family again this year, waiting to leave for vacation with some fellow volunteers.
This year I hoped to share a few more of my family’s traditions. We began by setting up our arbolito de navidad and decorating it with a few ornaments. Yet something was lacking, so I began scheming to fill the empty floor below its branches.
From the year prior, I knew that gifts are given primarily to children and rarely among adults. For me, gift giving has always been an important part of Christmas, and I couldn’t resist. Soon, the ground around our little tree was full of boxed surprises for my host family. Not surprisingly, my host siblings were not overjoyed by the tradition of waiting until Christmas to open them!
On Christmas Eve, we were invited by family members to spend the evening with them in Tarma, a larger town 20 minutes from our community. We dozed off watching telenovelas, built a small campfire, and shot off fireworks while waiting for midnight, the arrival of Christmas Day.
As we waited, I thought often of my family and friends back in the U.S. and missed them dearly. I found my mind wandering to my family’s faces, a baked salmon dinner, the recliner next to the fireplace, and gifts being exchanged.
This time around I had lowered my expectations, having recognized that many of my favorite traditions and memories cannot be recreated here, especially without my family. But this fact, like many other aspects of service, I have begun to accept and mentally frame in more positive ways.
Peace Corps requires serious mental flexibility. A constant flow of new experiences awaits our interpretation. I’ve learned that when situations are unchangeable, changing my attitude or perspective is the most powerful tool not only for survival but also to experience joy where it may not have been found.
So I leaned back against the dusty brick wall and decided to be present, allowing myself to be captivated by the colorful explosions which illuminated the dark, sloping hills of a town I have come to love.
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