A Christmas Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

This is not the usual Christmas letter, especially since it is coming from only me and not the McKee family as a whole. First, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. As you probably know if you follow my blog, I am living in Peru as a Peace Corps volunteer. This letter is meant to be a simple ode to my family and to share the traditions of Peru at this time of year.

I am not going to pretend that every Christmas in my family was just the most wonderful time, but in general it is my favorite time of year especially now that my brothers and I are no longer living under the same roof all year round. When I arrive home for Christmas or any other extended period of time I clean the house because with mom and dad working and the boys being boys they could use the extra help. In recent years, I have plan the Christmas meal and then mom, the boys, sometimes dad and I go to the grocery store together. We arrive at Whole Foods, one of my favorite places, and if dad is with us he sometimes heads down to the Starbucks/Barnes’n’Nobles at the end of the strip while the rest of head in for groceries. My mom and I make our way through produce checking items off our list, cranberries, oranges, zucchini, onions, garlic, celery, spinach, apples, etc. At this point my brothers decide they are hungry or are going down to Game Stop. “O.K. when you are done there meet up with your father so we can all get coffee. We will call when we are finished here” says my mom. We make our way through the rest of the store; pumpkin for bread and pie, 2 or 3 dozen eggs, probably 3, how much milk to we need? Is there any left at home? Should we get beer and wine? Probably. When we finish we load the car and head down for a family coffee. Conversation usually is varied, but is without a doubt full of laughter. If there is anything that my family can do well together it is laugh. One of my favorite things about this time of year is that all the same stories get told like they happened yesterday, just as hilarious as the first time.

For example, for years we bought our Christmas ham from the Honey Baked Ham store as a good portion of the area did, which meant that if you wanted a fresh one, then you had to get up early and stand in line to get one. My Mom, Gram (Grandmother) and I would head over there early; it was probably 6am when we got there. Then I would stand out in the cold while they went to get coffee. This story always comes up because I would always have to wait in the cold longer than they did. “Yes, but we brought hot chocolate back for you” is what my Mom always replies. Now I know that it seems ridiculous to wait in line for a ham in the cold, but it was really good ham and people would be lined up down and around the block for one. I also love reminiscing about the ridiculous gifts that my Uncle John has sent my brothers and I over the years like tongue scrapers, beano for Sean, Metamucil for me, and for Ian a picture of himself peeing in a field during a family road trip. Or one of the classics, when Ian was little he did not believe that my dad is allergic to Christmas trees so he broke a branch off of our neighbors pine tree and stuck in under my dad’s pillow to test him. There are a million others, but I should probably move on.

Christmas in Peru sort of makes your senses twitch a bit. Essentially think of Christmas in July in the desert of the four corners region. It is really hot, dry and sunny, but there are Christmas lights up on some of the house and trees up in the shopping center. There is not much that happens here that gives any indication that Christmas is on its way. In my town there is a church and everyone is catholic from what I can tell, but we only have mass sometimes because there is not a permanent priest for our parish, which means that there is not really a formal advent. As far as I knew on the days preceding Christmas Peruvians did not do a whole lot, but go the mass at midnight and eat Panetone and drink hot chocolate after wards.To my surprise at 5’o’clock on Christmas Eve my family busted out a Christmas tree and nativity scene. So I got to help decorate the tree which was a little painful at moments when one of my host cousins was man-handling the tree and shoving the branches toward the ground. Ornaments do not hang on branches that are point to the ground, but what can you do. The nativity scene was particularly classic. Mary, Joseph and the Kings were all from the same set, but the animals were hap-hazard and of a different scale. There were all sorts of animals that I do not remember being at the birth of Jesus, but maybe there was a giraffe and toucan there. Then the best part was the baby Jesus who was just smaller than an actual newborn and with a freshly washed baptismal gown on. My host uncle made a point of telling me the baby was Italian (I’m sure it is).

While the neighbor made a turkey, thn the family hung out and discussed what I was going to eat since I don’t eat meat. I feel like I am constantly in the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the aunt goes, “What do you mean you don’t eat no meat? … Glasses break and silence falls across the entire room … Oh, that’s ok, I make lamb.” Great! Sigh. At midnight, the baby Jesus went in the manger and everyone wished everyone a merry Christmas, then we ate panetone and turkey (except me) and drank hot chocolate (lukewarm) and champagne. Panetone for those who are wondering is essentially Peruvian fruitcake. It has raisins and fake fruit chunks that are strangely similar to Dots. I stayed up for another hour or so and hung out with my family until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Sadly, from my perspective, nothing really happens on Christmas Day, but I did eat more panetone and have eaten it many times since then.

It is funny, I used to think that the commercialization of Christmas really bothered me and while it is unnecessary immediately after Halloween I do enjoy the constant Christmas carols and commercials. I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I drive through town in the cold and see Christmas d├ęcor in every direction. As a wrap-up to this letter there are a few traditions that Peruvians have for New Years. First, they eat twelve grapes for good health. Second, they wear yellow underwear for good luck on New Year’s Eve. Finally, they burn a doll which is more like a scarecrow to end the old year and the bad things that happened so the next year is better.

I hope that everyone has an excellent 2010!!

Much Love,


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