Alexandre had to work on Christmas (sad), so I went to his parents' house alone. I went to their house on the 23rd so that Alexandre's parents wouldn't have to find time to come pick me up from the bus station during the hustle and bustle of preparations on the 24th (when Alexandre's family celebrates Christmas).
On the 23rd, alone in Alexandre's room while his slightly antisocial family members were each locked away in their own "wings" of the giant house, I read Lindsey's post about maintaining some traditions in Brazil. I had my moment to pout a little over how it was the third holiday season in a row that I was missing with my California family, and how Alexandre's family just wasn't interested in the least in trying any of my American traditions. ("Why would we bake cookies? The maid is making the desserts." etc.) I realized how Alexandre's family is very good to me, but what I was missing from the season was the idea that we worked on something together for the holiday, as a family, whether it be making the food, or buying and wrapping presents, or even cleaning up. On the holidays, my California family and I have intimate time together (we can wear pajamas to the table, and there's no one standing around the table serving us and listening to our conversations) and we share common goals, even if they're simple ones. Lots of you in the blog world wrote about how your Brazilian family does a secret Santa exchange. The irony is that my California family does that, but my Brazilian family isn't very interested in the present part of the holiday. (Alexandre's mom just buys something generic, like soap, for all of the guests.) In one way, it's kind of refreshing that the focus isn't on consumption, but it's disappointing when that focus isn't necessarily replaced by some other quality-time tradition. Alexandre's mother puts on a beautiful show, and everything in the house (decoration-wise) is just right. The result, however, is that things can feel a little stiff and stuffy.
So yeah, I used the night of the 23rd to feel sorry for myself a little bit and get that out of my system so I could be ready to make the most of things on the 24th and 25th. I talked to Alexandre about it, asked him what his family would be interested in doing in terms of bonding over the holidays. He told me that his sister usually bought presents for their parents, and to ask if I could go with her, and that his mom actually buys gifts and food for a women's shelter in town and delivers them every Christmas Eve. He said she's been doing it since he was a kid, but she never mentions it to anyone anymore because she assumed no one felt like being a part of it (!!). Well. That just wouldn't do.
So on the morning of the 24th, I talked to the sister-in-law about her present shopping. She said she was planning on going but had no idea what to get, that she was just going to walk around the mall and would probably settle on perfume/cologne or something. I offered to go with her and even supplied some successful gift ideas. (A history book for the FIL -- I'd heard him talking about it with Alexandre -- and shoes for the MIL -- I'd gone with her to a shoe store a couple of weeks before, and there was a pair of shoes she'd wanted that was sold out in her size. We went back to the store and they had gotten an order in!) So we got to do that together, and I felt a little better.
Then my friend Karine from Caipirópolis showed up in town! I was so happy to have her there with us for Christmas. Alexandre's brother drove me to go meet her at the bus station.
After picking up Karine and getting the OK from her, I offered Alexandre's mom our afternoon to help with her gifts for the women's shelter. She seemed quietly pleased that other people had taken an interest. (My guess is that she'd tried to get her kids involved when they were tweens and had gotten such negative responses that she'd just accepted it as her own, almost secret project.) She'd bought some little gifts, like toiletries and hair products, and Karine and I wrapped them. She'd asked the maid to bake a cake, so Karine and I helped decorate it. Then we went with the MIL to the shelter. It's a really good place. It's a different idea from the traditional American women's shelters that are kept in a secret location and all that. (Those must exist here, but this wasn't one of them.) The idea of the place is to help pregnant women and new mothers get on their feet so they don't feel obligated to give up their babies for adoption or try to find some shoddy, illegal abortion. The women can live there with their kids. The shelter helps them find jobs (usually as maids) and offers daycare while the women are at work.
There weren't a lot of women there when we got there (Christmas eve day is a busy time for maids, so most of the moms were working), but apparently the ones there were expecting us. The gifts from the MIL have turned into a tradition for the shelter, and they were excited to see what she brought (the kids were especially eager to eat the cake). Alexandre's mom is an OBGYN, so while Karine and I entertained the kids, she sat down with the two mothers who were there to ask them about their babies' births, their breastfeeding, and general health issues, and to answer any of their health questions. Help like that is invaluable, in my opinion. I'm terrible with babies, so I let Karine handle the youngest ones and I chatted up the kids with more developed frontal lobes. They tried to convince us to stay for their Christmas party that night, but heartbreakingly, I had to deny them. All in all, it was a really important experience.
I was long over the pouting phase by dinnertime, and I really enjoyed myself. There was some silly family drama, and Alexandre's parents offered holiday sanctuary for Alexandre's cousin, who was in the right in the dispute. She and her boyfriend came to dinner, and the person in the wrong didn't. The result was a beautiful night with engaging conversation, lots of laughs, delicious food and drinks, and -- wouldn't you know it -- good, quality time together. I give it a 9, because we needed Alexandre there to make it a 10!
The tree and the plates, ready for guests and dinner
me and the buffet (we became very close that night)
the present my family sent to Alexandre's mom
Karine and me, all dressed up!
Enjoying Sergio's story
fancy fruit: cape gooseberries from Colombia and American-style blueberries (from the South of Brazil). Sorry, but I'd take a mango over these any day!
Chocolate-covered cherry truffles...now we're talkin'!
So it took a little extra effort on my part, but all in all, I'd call the holiday a success. :)