29 November 2014

Ex-Expat: Holidays

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in the USA, and the first in several years that we have cooked the traditional turkey dinner.
While it's true that this is a purely American holiday (or perhaps because of that), American expats around the world celebrate it. And that means Turkey and all the trimmings! But turkey is incredibly difficult to find, and mind-bogglingly expensive.  The first time I tried to fix one in Costa Rica, I "heard" that "maybe" the Automercado had some (that's a high-end grocery store that I had been to once, 'cause it's just something you had to see).  Later, when that high-end store was our neighborhood market (gulp), I priced a turkey - hah! A medium turkey (12 - 16 lbs) could be had for... Wait for it... $100. Yep, a gold mine.
We had chicken.
The Automercado was also the only place to find stuffing in a box (that's my speciality) and cranberry products.
We splurged on the trimmings :-)
To contrast, here are some recent ads in New Mexico: buy a ham and get a free turkey, free turkey with $100 grocery purchase, turkey for 89c per pound while supplies last!
Being back in the land of nearly-free turkey felt a bit like winning the lottery!

When we left the states, the Thanksgiving weekend was the typical kickoff of the Christmas Season. Christmas in another country has its own kind of hype, but the differences are interesting enough to let the hype slide (for a while).  In Costa Rica, this is the beginning of summer; it's the end of the year, and people have their bonuses to spend.  Festivals are in full swing - booths are full of hand crafts as well as cheap stocking stuffers (and the food! OMG, the food... Yeah, I just went away for a little bit, on a choriada* dream).
Sale announcements blare from store fronts into the streets via portable speakers or travelling amps-on-a-truck (yes, eardrum breaking, and not ignorable).  Christmas isn't completely focused on one day - gifts are given through Epiphany (January 6), and the frenzy is just not as intense.  I still remember seeing a woman buying a roll of wrapping paper a few days after "The Day" - and it wasn't for next year :-)
Eggnog is available year-round, but tamales are a Christmas treat!  Instead of Christmas Goose, there's Christmas Roast Leg of Pork.
We felt an unbelievable amount of relief to be away from the USA Christmas orgy.  Now, we not only have to re-adjust to the spend-spend-spend mantra, but we have discovered that the "jolly season" is even *longer!*  It has extended itself to *before* Halloween!
Perhaps you can tell, we're not fans.

The summer season in Costa Rica peaks during Easter week.  This was one of the oddest things for me get used to - Easter was never a big deal for us (every year, we bemoaned the fact that there were no work holidays between New Years Day and Memorial day).  But there, it is *the* biggest holiday.  The month of March is full of festivals and weddings, and then the Thursday and Friday before Easter Sunday are national holidays. Many people take the entire week off; the beach (any beach!) is the destination :-)
This is the holiday for cooking! Pastries are filled with chiverre (I am so gonna miss that). Fish soup is also very common (that, I will not miss :-\ ).
As strange as this may seem, I think this will be the hardest holiday difference for me to get used to.

This is from an Oxcart festival...

* a choriada is a crêpe made from fresh, sweet corn - I liked mine with a type of natural sour cream, and all wrapped up in a corn husk

This is part of a series On Being an Ex-Expat.  Click here to read the first post.

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