So here we are, in what to many is a very unusual Christmas time. I feel for all those who are missing out on family and longed for reunions with loved ones. Having moved away from many of mine, I know how hard it can be but I have also learned how not to let separation at this time of year, be a source of pain and loss.
When we first came to live here 16 years ago, Prainha was a very much more isolated place than it is today. There was no Internet, apart from one friend who had a satellite connection but it was slow, unreliable and expensive to use. No one had a phone in the house, nor were there any mobile phones and so communication with the outside world was limited to using one of the two public phone boxes in the village.
At that time, we didn’t have a TV, there are no newspapers in the village and because of the language barrier, I couldn’t really follow most of what was spoken on the radio. It was very difficult for me to know what day we were on, let alone the date. We arrived in August but as the months moved on, to me it was still mid summer, there was no change in the weather, it remained hot and sunny, every day! All the normal seasonal changes that told me where I was in the year, those changes that I had so taken for granted, were gone. Frankly I didn’t know where I was. Christmas! This didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Neu explained to me that in the village, Christmas is just like any other day, people go to work as normal and while some people put up some form of decoration, most did not, but I needed to make it some sort of an event, if only for the children.
I kept a diary to keep an eye on the date and at the beginning of December we decorated the house with home made decorations and planned a special meal, inviting my sister-in-law to come and eat with us. On Christmas Day the children had their breakfast and opened their presents. Then, before the day got too hot, I went with the children to the public phone boxes were we joined the queue of people waiting to call.
Our first long distance call was to Grandma in London. When it was our turn, we put the pre paid card in the slot and crossed our fingers that it would work, that we’d actually get through because all too often it wouldn’t connect. Grandma answered the call and we sang out Happy Christmas as we’d rehearsed. Grandma said “Oh how lovely, but is it Christmas today in Brazil? How strange, it’s not Christmas until tomorrow here.” I’d got the wrong day! It was a bit of a shock at first but then it made us laugh, it seemed so silly.
On the way home, the children with worried looking faces, asked if that meant the roast chicken they had so been looking forward to, would now have to wait until tomorrow? Of course not, I couldn’t disappoint them! Actually the roast chicken wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for. I discovered later that people don’t really roast chicken in the village and the bird Neu got for me would have been better suited for stew, blessed thing was so tough and rubbery, I think it could have bounced and we were chewing on it for ages. If I’d served that dinner up back in London, I would have been horrified but here on this odd day, well it was just one more thing to laugh about. Bless them, the children and my sister-in-law said they loved it, by which they really meant the roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, veg and gravy and homemade scrumptious ice cream for pudding. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that dinner and the memory still makes me laugh.
Spiritually, the celebration of the Solstice is more important to me than Christmas, which has always been less religious and more about the traditions. When you move somewhere with very different traditions, it challenges the way you think about things and I’ve had to think about a lot of traditions and preconceived ideas since I came here. It can be confusing and hard to deal with but it can really make you see what’s important and leave you happier in the end.
Over the years, things in the village have changed to the positive, in terms of ease of communication. Pretty much everyone has a mobile phone and access to the internet. We have WIFI at home and can chat with people all over the world, as long as we don’t have a power cut. When the internet first came to the village, it was so slow that opening an email was a lesson in patience, how many minutes I watched as the little wheel went round and round, but now we have fast enough speeds for all methods of internet chat and no end of options. We really are incredibly lucky in this respect.
We no longer make such a big deal of Christmas, Neu isn’t much fussed by Christmas anyway and, with his restricted diet, he can’t eat what we do, so it’s only me and one (virtually adult) child having a slightly fancier dinner on the 25th. We do put up some decorations and this year I was amazed to find some mistletoe growing on the Persian Lilac tree in my garden, how cool is that! The part of Christmas that involves getting together with friends and family, is reserved for any time we are reunited with those we love, wherever and whenever that reunion takes place.
That said, I do wish you all a Happy Christmas, I hope that you are able to enjoy the day. I know many people will be on their own and may find it hard, but from one who knows, my advice would be to forget the festive part of this date, reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and let’s all hope that soon we will all be able to celebrate with those we love. It might not be on the 25th but it really doesn’t matter, it’s just a day and we can make a day special whenever we want.
From a very hot and sunny Brazil, I send much love to you all and here’s hoping that 2021 brings everyone peace, joy and good health.