Every year that we have lived in Panama, we have made it a point to travel back to the United States to visit my family for Christmas. While I love living in Panama the rest of the year, you can’t beat the true Christmas feeling that you get when you are surrounded by snow and drinking hot chocolate by the stocking lined fireplace. Christmas is by far my favorite holiday, and I love to spend it with my family. However, like the rest of 2020, we had to accept that Christmas was going to be different this year. Still waiting for an end to this pandemic and with vaccines just out of reach, we decided that it was safest to stay put this year. While I was heartbroken to not see my family, and also sad to miss out on that Christmas feeling, I tried to make the most of the experience for the kids.
There were some benefits to staying home over the holidays. First, I actually didn’t miss traveling during the most chaotic, crowded time of the year. I also didn’t miss the freezing temperatures (although I would have loved just one day of snow!). But, most of all, this was the first Christmas in a long time that we were able to celebrate with Lita. She came to stay for the few weeks around Christmas and New Years, and the boys really loved having her there.
Making the most of Christmas in the Tropics meant keeping some of our old traditions while making new ones. My mom was nice enough to send a box with some of our family Christmas decorations including the advent calendar we have used since I was a kid. The boys loved counting down the days until Christmas. We also were joined by Snowflake the Elf who made his second annual appearance this year. I always swore that our family did not need to participate in the elf frenzy, but I have to say that it has brought so much joy to the kids. The sneaky elf often put up new decorations while we were sleeping, brought the boys small stocking stuffers, and even sent them a video from Santa.
Another tradition is the events that we have around Christmas. This had to look different too. Due to the pandemic, we kept gatherings much smaller. We did invite some of Asher’s classmates to a cookie decorating “party.” This is one of my favorite traditions. It is bittersweet because it is the one I look forward to sharing it with my grandmother, but I did make her gingerbread recipe (a gluten free version). The kids had a blast being super creative and messy.
A new tradition this year, was that the boys took a turn being elves. We partnered with a local non-profit called Waved to deliver gifts to some of the local children. The boys took their role extremely seriously-not to just give gifts but also to spread the Christmas spirit. They dressed in their most Christmassy pajamas and shouted “Feliz Navidad” to every family as we drove away.
We also had to get creative in how we spent time with the family. We used an Outschool Christmas sing-along class for the boys to get to go to a Christmas party with their cousins in North Carolina.
Another joy this year was that the boys were old enough to watch “Elf” for the first time which is one of my favorite Christmas movies. We invited our close friends to watch it with us, and everyone love it. We also continued the tradition of having a North Pole breakfast on Christmas Eve and invited the boys’ best friend. On Christmas Even night we had a quiet family dinner, opened gifts from far away family as we face-timed, and settled in to wait for Santa.
On Christmas morning, the boys awoke to find that Santa had found them in Panama, ate their cookies, wrote them a letter and left them their three gifts under the tree. There were some winner and some loser gifts (Santa and I have a hard time balancing what they ask for and what we know they will really play with in the the long term). AJC got a new surfboard since he started regularly taking lessons this year. He also got a new remote control robot that became the gift all the grown ups regretted. Parker’s favorite was his new Jurassic Park Indominus Rex which is huge, but he loves it. He also got a fort builder kit and his own knife set so he can help in the kitchen. Overall, the boys were very happy.
That night, we celebrated with a special dinner with our closest friends. We had gotten duck from our local farm, and Brian made peking duck in our newly constructed outdoor kitchen complete with pizza oven. It was his first masterpiece in his new dream kitchen and everyone enjoyed it.
For safety, Panama had a total lockdown the weekend after Christmas. I have to say, I didn’t hate it. It forced us to slow down, spend time with each other (rather than running to social events), and gave the boys time to really focus on their gifts and play with them.
We celebrated the Christmas season until January 6th which is Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day here. They boys each got a small gift that day too. After that, it is always my saddest day of the year- the day to undecorate. As I put everything away, I reflected with gratitude on all the joy the season had brought us. It is not how I wanted it, and not how I hope it goes next year, but we were lucky to spend Christmas together in paradise.