A Chilean Christmas

What does December bring to mind? Snow drifts? Elves? Menorahs? Holiday lights? Most likely winter. Could summer arrive in December? As someone who grew up at 45ºN latitude, the question seems absurd. Although, later in Texas I experienced Decembers that were not very cold, they were still called winter. In Arizona and New Mexico, people may enjoy balmy Christmases most years. But, the United States Christmas tradition is centered around snow. Below the equator in South America, December holidays are warm and generally sunny.

In August of 2001, we left Austin at 30ºN latitude in late summer with 75ºF temperatures (24ºC) to land in Santiago at 33ºS latitude in spring with 50ºF (10ºC) temperatures. Since our latitude had flipped north to south, December brought a heat wave in our newly adopted home. Chile is traditionally a Catholic country and Papa Noel (Santa Claus) wears shorts there. Just kidding about the shorts. Christmas occurs in full summer. Sounds odd to a northerner to celebrate without snow, but the Chileans like to point out that the very first Christmas in Bethlehem was not in freezing temperatures. The same could be said for the first Hanukah.

I’ve lived in the Midwestern United States for all but a dozen years of my life, the word December conjures a good blanket of snow on the ground. Instead, we had perfect T-shirt weather. In the Chilean capital that time of year, the average temperature is 20ºC (67ºF) with a high of 28ºC (82ºF). In Santiago I saw no snowflakes. No Christmas trees were for sale downtown, so we decorated our apartment balcony with lights.

We invited my sister who lived in New York to fly down to celebrate with us. The three of us spent Christmas Day outdoors at the Baños Morales mineral springs in the Cajón de Maipo nestled in the Andes mountains above Santiago. Taking advantage of the warmer weather, three days later we traveled south to the San Rafael glaciers in Patagonia. A small boat took us on a day trip to see the blue ice wonder. That was a truly novel December.

baños morales chile
Baños Morales, Cajón de Maipo, Chile
moreno glacier chile
Glacier San Rafael, Chile

Each month in South America I would need to rethink to which season it belonged. January is hot, with the sun close to its peak? When is fall, if not in September? For at least half the year, it was difficult for me to calculate which months equated which equinox. I could focus and mentally translate the month at the end of the year as summer, but it was an effort. Can you retrain your reflexes? Quick, what season is March in the southern hemisphere? If you guessed autumn, you’re right. (If you live in the southern hemisphere, what season is July in Canada? ………….Yes, it’s summer.)

Before we left South America in October of 2002, winter drew to a close and spring sneaked in. Yet it was fall when we arrived in Madison, with freezing temperatures and nearly winter weather. I was no longer certain which season it “should” be. My goodness did we miss the summer we skipped that year!

That first Madison winter, my partner Evan wore his Andean alpaca hat with the ear flaps and a thick parka every moment he was outside. In a surprising turn of events, the next year he was shoveling snow in his shirtsleeves and the same hat! That new traditional outfit continues to this day.

How about you? If you went to Chile in June (winter), would you rather go to the northern Atacama desert or the southern Patagonia glaciers? We chose the first option, to see salt flats and ancient pictograms in less drastic heat. Now here Madison, summer and fall are over. We’ve experienced several snow storms already this November and days with freezing temperatures. Oh, for a diciembre chileno!

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. Olé! -Rebecca

Para leer este ensayo en español, haz un clic en Una navidad chilena



Rebecca Cuningham

8 thoughts on “A Chilean Christmas

  1. When I was a kid, leaving Wisconsin in late November to go to Florida was a real drag – I SO wanted to play in the snow. As a younger adult, we did spend one winter holiday in the Virgin Islands – not Christmassy, but who cares when you are in ‘paradise.” 😀 (I’d probably trade all my ‘white Christmasses’ for quality time snorkeling on healthy coral reefs – if I didn’t have to worry about their being killed off by human practices.)

    Liked by 1 person

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