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Our Christmas in Belize

The Christmas season is here, our first in Belize. There is this movie that the kids and I used to watch — Curious George’s Christmas, which explained that the joy of  Christmas is not wrapped up into ONE day; rather, the days leading up to Christmas, with the decorating, the cookie making, the singing, coming together with friends and family and all the other prep is equally exciting and joyous and is all a part of what we mean when we say “Christmas”.

So, what is Christmas like in Belize? There are many traditions that are surprisingly similar to what I’m used to, like the kids’ school had a holiday show. But then each tradition might have a slight Belizian flair to it. Take the Christmas skit from Fay’s class (Fay couldn’t really participate her class’s skit because it was all in Creole but the teacher had her join in a song at the end)…

School Christmas Show

Fay’s teacher explained the premise before the skit began. She said “This is a story about a family preparing for Christmas. The mom tells her husband to go out and get the food for Christmas so she can make diner for them and the kids. But he never shows up until after Christmas dinner and church. When he does show up, he is drunk.”

The skit was hilarious. The kids up on stage had SUCH a good time playing grown ups. The mom kept yelling at the dad for not getting things done and went about her business, killing her own chickens (2 kids played chickens), making dinner, and going to church. The whole skit was in Creole, so there were all these little phrases that kept making the audience crack up and wail with laughter.

We also had lots of singing and poem reading in the Christmas show. Rex’s class did a dance to “All I want for Christmas is You” and also read a poem. Here is a video of the poem. When the microphone gets passed to the second row, Rex gets to hold it. He’s second from the left.

Decorating

This year, Ryan and I are decorating, not just for ourselves but for the hotel and restaurant as well. I had to figure out what we would do for Christmas decorations. Luckily there were a lot of decorations left over from previous years. I found two fake trees, lots of ornaments (thought some were rusted or broken) and about 6 wreaths. I did a whole cataloging of what we had and what we might need and we planned a shopping day to Belmopan. Also, I had read about “handmade for the holidays” gift fair in Belmopan the first weekend in December, and I wanted to check that out. We drove with the kids for 1 1/2 hours to get to Belmopan and we went to Brothers Hardware first. I asked about Christmas lights, but they had none. I wasn’t sure if we were in the wrong place or if we were too late to buy Christmas decor. But, after Brothers, we headed to the school/office supply store called A&R. Jackpot. There were trees and ornaments and garland and lights — everything we needed. We bought a nice tall tree for the restaurant and a bunch of ornaments.

We also went to Brodies, a well loved grocery store and looked for cookie cutters and treats. Brodies has lots of items we can’t find in Hopkins or Dangriga, so its nice to make a stop when you are near one. I picked up Molassis and cocoa for cookie making and my favorite bath soap from Neutrogena.

We stopped by the holiday gift fair and I was surprised to see that it was so small. Belmopan is the capital of Belize and has about 15,000 people (Belize as a country only has 350,000 people). The fair was nicely promoted on FB and I saw some people talking about going on FB. But when we arrived there were only about 15 tables and very few shoppers. There were some really yummy food options though. A food truck with burgers and chili fries and a bbq stand with a few lunch options. So we stopped for lunch and looked around, but did not buy any gifts.

Holiday poster  Belmopan Event

Belmopan Event

There was one more stop I wanted to make after the fair — to a store called ArtBox. I had to drag Ryan and the kids there because they were ready to go home. But I had heard good things and there was a big sale. It was well worth the stop because Ryan ended up finding new furniture (> 50% off) for our upcoming coffee shop and the kids found ice cream. The store was absolutely beautiful with lots of hand carved wood gifts, furniture and other nice gifts.

We headed home and the next morning I decorated our restaurant tree with the breakfast crew Jose, Albert and Amilcar. A tree goes miles to make it feel like Christmas around here. There is no snow and we won’t have family arriving this year, so every little touch helps.

Christmas Tree

Buying Gifts

Sometime in November I started to get worried about how I would get the kids their Christmas gifts. All Fay really wants for any holiday are books. Books are hard to find in Belize, unless you are borrowing them from the library. For Rex, I wanted to find a building toy or more legos, but the only toys I’ve seen for sale in Belize have been for younger kids. We can’t order directly from a website like Amazon because you are likely to pay high shipping costs and possibly hight duty fees. Luckily, around this same time, I met a neighbor who told me about a guy in the midwest that specializes in shipping items to Belize and will get them right to my doorstep. I knew about companies that shipped entire containers or large truck loads (like when you move here from the states), but I didn’t know, up until now, about services for smaller shipments. I contacted this guy right away and I was told I was 4 days away from his Christmas packing deadline. “Get them here by Friday and I can have them to you by Christmas”. I ordered a bunch of things on Amazon Prime…(essentially overnighting them to this guy),  and he said he’d let me know how much I owed him upon delivery! Kinda a blind faith deal, but I really wanted my tree to have gifts under it. Turned out the shipping was super reasonable and they were here about 10 days before Christmas. I was so relieved and also excited to have this connection for any future shipping needs.

Belize City Sign

Also, about a week before Christmas, I joined 4 other women from my community to do a little shopping in Belize city. A luncheon was being thrown by the International Women’s Club to raise money for charity. I was invited to join these ladies at the lunch and also to do a little shopping before and after. It takes 2.5  hours to drive to Belize City from Hopkins, so we left early, at 7:30am. And we packed A LOT into the day. We went to the one department store in Belize, Mirabs. It was like a breath of fresh air. So many Christmas decorations, and home goods and toys. I bought a couple Christmas decorations for our new apartment ( I did not pack any from NYC except for a couple family hand me down decorations). I also bought some and some stocking stuffers for the kids.  I was excited to find a couple of navy bath towels for our home. Living at a resort that has nothing but white towels, I was getting really tired of my white towels and desperately wanted to see another color hanging in my bath. Its the little things I guess.

We also went grocery shopping at the Belize City Brodies, which is much larger than the Belmopan Brodies. I was excited to find frozen peas. Of all things that are strange not to have here, I’ve really missed frozen peas. And I finally found cookie cutters at this Brodies. It was perfect timing because I meant to make Christmas cookies with the kids that weekend.

The luncheon was really nice. I met a few women from other parts of Belize and really enjoyed some down time with the women from Hopkins. There were 10 of us in all from Hopkins, three of which, I met for the first time that day. We also stopped for coffee after finishing our shopping at a coffee shop that very much reminded me of NYC. It was a nice end to the day. Maybe a trip like this can become a new Christmas time tradition.

Friends

Making Cookies

The kids and I made gingerbread and sugar cookies a couple weeks before Christmas. This is an easy tradition to bring to Belize as it just requires a kitchen and some flour. Though, I did have to go to all three of the main grocery stores in Hopkins in order to find food coloring. I was a bit nervous we’d have only white frosting after visiting the first two with no success. Its also very easy to give the cookies away so we don’t eat too many. We’ve got a ton of people working with us at Beaches and Dreams; plenty of people willing to eat a cookie or two.

Fresh cookies

Time off (from school, not work)

The kids got three weeks off of school for Christmas vacation. Huge. If the kids were attending their NYC school, they would’ve only had a week off. And, though Ryan and I did not get time off from work for the holiday, we live where we work, so there is no need for babysitters. At last! Proof that all this hard work and the challenge of moving to a new country is delivering more time with my kids! I say this with a bit of sarcasm because I am definitely working harder that I’d envisioned. Now that we are in the busy season, coupled with the stress of the holidays, Ryan and I are working more than ever. I am finding less and less time for myself, or just time to take a breath. But, take a step back and it is a good busy. If I’m on the computer, I’m doing it on my kitchen table with Fay and Rex nearby. If I’m running around the resort, the kids know where I am and I can pop in whenever I like to spend some time with them. And when 3pm hits, I know it is going to take me so *@^%$#  long to make dinner, that I’d better kick off from work and go hang out in my kitchen, with, no doubt, some chatting with the kids. So, no time off from work and no time to relax, but this holiday break has left me feeling very connected with my kids’ days and pretty satisfied with my work. I don’t want to give them back to school on Monday.

Family

No family here for the holidays. We had video calls with both my family and Ryan’s on Christmas Day. We saw my mom in October and she brought lots of Christmas gifts then. We will see Ryan’s folks at the end of January when they visit Belize. They will bring Christmas gifts (the kids will get to do it all over again!), and lots of missed hugs.

Christmas Morning

Christmas morning felt really good. We opened presents, called family and everybody was in great spirits. The kids were excited for their gifts. Rex started to work on his legos right away. Fay had a ton of new books to start on and I got a brand new mini-fridge! I joked that the era has come when I receive kitchen appliances for gifts. I wanted this mini-fridge because here in Belize, I store many more things in the fridge and freezer. I also would like to shop no more than once a week so I need more room to store things. We have decided it is our drink and produce fridge and the whole family loves it already.

Christmas Morning Christmas Morning Christmas Morning Christmas Morning Christmas Morning

Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner was expected to be a very busy night for our restaurant. We planned a special menu with delicious choices of pork, turkey, steak, seafood…everything. Ryan, the kids and I planned to eat at the restaurant because it would be easier than cooking and we certainly could not compete with the menu. But when it came to the day, we had so many reservations that it would have caused a crunch to have us seated in the restaurant as well. So we ordered the food to go and ate in our apartment above the restaurant. Actually a nice solution! Private family time with fancy food.

New Traditions

Garifuna dances

On Christmas Eve a group of men and women from the village came by Beaches and Dreams (among other spots) and treated us to the traditional Garifuna Charikanari and Jankunu (John Canoe) dances. During the Jankanu dance, men dress up as women. Here is the story behind the dance:

The origin of this masked dance dates back to the epoch in which the Garífuna inhabited Saint Vincent Island (XVII-XIX century). In those days, the British colonizers infiltrated the island, setting their sight on the huge expansions of land and the local work force, the Black Carib.

According to Garífuna oral tradition, Barauda, the wife of the legendary Garífuna chief, Satuye, insulted her husband for not “being enough of a man” to avenge the British. The British were invading their communities and burning their cassava fields. She says, “Women, we are going to have to dress as men and fight against the British. Meanwhile, men, you had better dress as women. Because the only thing you do is flee each time the British come near our villages.

In response, Satuye developed a strategy whereby Garífuna men disguised themselves in women’s clothing. The British entered the Garífuna towns unprepared, not expecting male resistance. They assumed that only women were at home in the villages. Dressed as women, the male warriors assaulted the British and took the troops off guard. That is how the Garífuna cleverly deceived the British.”

It added a nice feeling of celebration to the day, to have the drumming and performers come by.

Another new tradition (perhaps overdue) is that the kids were required to buy or make a present for every person in the family. So Ryan got a book of favors from Rex and a poem from Fay. I got a necklace from Rex and a poem from Fay. Rex got a poem from Fay and Fay got a drawing from Rex.

All in all, a good Christmas.