When I first arrived in Puerto Vallarta the holidays were just around the corner. A time that can be unsettling when you’ve just settled into someplace new. I walked into my first holiday season as an EX-PAT, thinking this would be the first time I would be spending it alone.
But when others were nestling, all snug in their beds, waiting for their gifts to arrive in Santa’s sleigh, mine arrived in a yellow taxicab in need of a car wash. A young man I had met when I first arrived sent me a text. It said, “ Feliz Navidad, I pick you up at 6.” At 6 he was there and we drove into town then up into the hills. The road into his simple casa held a rickety row of white plastic tables and all of the chairs were filled by brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, neighbors and friends. This was Christmas in the hood and the perfect metaphor for Christmas. A stranger welcomed into an inn.
When I arrived, I could see the questions on their faces. Who is this gringo with the white beard, but that ended quickly, followed by smiles and hugs and Feliz Navidad. Even though my Español was poquito, poquito we had some great conversations. Somehow we all got the jokes or close enough and laughed and patted each other’s backs. Tequila it seems is a great translator.
On the center table were two LARGE pottery basins. One held Pozole the other Chicken Mole, slow-cooked chunks of chicken in an intense green sauce. Gotta say I loved the Mole, but the warm Pozole left me cold, This was, I am sure, a good one, but not for me. I smiled and nodded my way through 2 bowls at the insistence of the hosts. Christmas miracle, I had room for the Mole.
Strangers passed by, dogs stopped, looking for handouts, some chicken strutted by clearly happy that they were on the ground and not on a plate. The cervezas kept coming. The table was crowded with a rotating flow of guests. People came. People ate. People left. Others took their place. The oldest was in his 90’s. The youngest 2 months. At the stroke of midnight, everyone jumped up and gave each other hugs.
I said to someone, “few homes have lights.”
“Yes,” he said, “we spend our money on this instead.”
He took me to the rim of the hill he lives on, overlooking the ramble of houses, that somehow manage to fit themselves into the steep PV hills. The little backyards of so many of them were crowded with people.
Here, in what has become the season of commercialism, I saw something a little different. The kids got few gifts, one or two each. I brought a Matchbox trailer set and a stuffed animal. They got their gifts at midnight and were beside themselves with joy. These people, this giant family has little, but they have so much because they have each other. There is a focus on happiness here that is not reliant on things. Maybe because they can only receive and give one gift, that one gift is precious. That gift has meaning. I have witnessed my own little ones coming down Christmas morning to a gift extravaganza that petered out a half hour later in a heap of wrapping paper.
I watched my amigo work out a dilemma. He felt he could not buy his wife a better present than his mother and viseversa. At 12 midnight I saw a King Solomon solution. He got them exactly the same thing. Same bag. Same color. Same wrapping paper.
What strikes me once again everywhere I look, on the street, in the stores, on the busses is how genuine the people are. I see it in their kids. I am very impressed at how polite, happy, friendly, chilled-out and respectful the children I have encountered are.
Children in this culture are part of the dynamic, not the central focus. Children here, like children in the generation I grew up in, are not far removed from their elders, poverty, struggle and the family as necessary for survival. That pulls everyone close together. In many ways what I’ve experienced so far is a step back in time. Grandma’s on the porch, your aunt lives across the street, your brothers around the corner. It’s kinda nice in our i-phone world.
If the true meaning of the holidays is spirit and love, then I must have been a very good boy, because boy did I get my fill of it and I am eternally blessed for having received so much. Come and see for yourself how sweet life can be in this stunning place. The guardian angels at Coldwell-Banker in the Marina P.V. will guide you all the way. This Christmas my middle boy Zack is here and I am showing him why his loco old dad lives here. It took just a few minutes for him to get it.
So mi amigos, I wish you all that life has to offer, in health and happiness and like the old postcards used to say. Having a wonderful life in Puerto Vallarta. Wish you were here.
Come share my dream