As I stood in the kitchen peeling Camotes for “candied yams”, my American contribution to our Bolivian Christmas dinner, sweat ran down my legs and car alarms chirped as the BANG BANG BANG of Christmas fireworks continued. As my host family sat near by chatting, my host’s step dad walked over and poured me an ice cold glass of Paceña beer. Muchas gracias, salud! This was Christmas in Bolivia.
As is tradition, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with a big late dinner, starting around 11PM and finishing just in time for the big midnight fireworks. The entire city explodes with noise and color at 12AM, kids run in the street throwing firecrackers while parents shoot off rockets into the sky, no firework is illegal in Bolivia and it seems that most people enjoy the liberty on Christmas Eve. After the late night of celebrations, Christmas day is spent relaxing and visiting family.
I’d met my couchsurfing host and her family the day before when Hilda so kindly met me at my dark, haunted hostel in the town center- I had arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra very early the day before needing to rest up. So we spent the Sunday at Hilda’s church, a beautiful community-focused presbyterian Korean/Bolivian church full of welcoming people. I loved seeing the mixing of the two cultures and really appreciated the Korean style lunch we shared after the service. We celebrated Hilda’s graduation that night with a traditional Bolivian barbecue- even though my stomach was still horribly distressed, it was delicious.
My few days with Hilda and her family were so special. Because they were all so warm and welcoming, they made me feel like part of the family. Her grandma even fixed us fresh from scratch cheese empanadas for breakfast- they were the most amazing empanadas I have ever tasted, by far. They’re the best in Santa Cruz, maybe even all of Bolivia. My new goal upon arriving home is to learn the art of empanada making 🙂
So many thanks to Hilda and her family for sharing such a memorable Christmas with me!!