The charming and fashionable, tattooed and pierced duo of Bob (a retired Anglican priest) his partner Gerry (a newly retired Catholic school teacher) and Mark (Bob’s son from a previous marriage) were our hosts for Christmas dinner. As we sat down to an amazing Christmas feast I marveled at the fact that we had only known our hosts for a few weeks and to the other six guests we were complete strangers.
We had met Bob and Gerry at the pool in our apartment complex in November and had struck up a fast friendship with them. They had an apartment overlooking the pool and when Gerry wasn’t working on his tan you could find the two of them sitting on their patio and we would walk past daily and stop for a chat. They had been coming to Puerto Vallarta for many years and had some great tips and advice on where to go and what to do along with interesting life stories, which they were very open to sharing with us. Within a week of meeting they had invited us to share Christmas dinner with them and we were thrilled. Over the weeks leading up to the big event we spent time getting to know each other over dinner, poolside chats and games of Yahtzee. A wonderful thing about traveling is that you have the time and opportunity to create friendships that you may not have back home.
Christmas day dawned sunny and warm as usual and Nathan and I attempted to recreate a semblance of our “normal” Christmas by closing the curtains to the brilliant sun, cranking the AC and making his family’s traditional Christmas morning hot chocolate and toast. We then snuggled up in bed to ward off the chill of the AC and watched four hours of Christmas movies, laughing as we recited the lines we had heard more than a dozen times over the years. “You’ll shoot your eye out” and “Frageeelee…must be Italian!”
Finally we crawled out of bed and started to get ready for the big event. Although our generous hosts had said not to bring anything my Mother had taught me never to go to a party empty handed. I had made a batch of my famous Sangria and we had also purchased a traditional Piñata to smash open after dinner. I’m sure we were quite the sight walking down the road (the guys had moved to a house next door) with our bottles of Sangria (one of which was dripping down my back as it leaked through my pack), a large Piñata and the two dining room chairs we’d been asked to bring.
The next five hours were spent eating, drinking and laughing while getting to know our dinner companions. To no surprise Bob and Gerry had assembled a great eclectic group of people and in spite of (or maybe due to) the fact that we were all vastly different in age, background, sexual preference and religious beliefs the evening was full of great conversation and new friends were made. Our group of eleven was comprised of a cornucopia of careers such as ministers, priests, artists, bankers, police officers, teachers and entrepreneurs along with a kaleidoscope of personal characteristics and preferences. However I can happily say that the commonality was that everyone was very open and genuine with a great sense of humor and the ability to share stories and laugh at themselves. This, in my opinion, is one of the great things about spending time with an older generation. It seems that as we age we take ourselves far less seriously and stop worrying so much about how we are perceived by others.
Before long we were sharing tales of relationships (gay, straight and open to either), on using dating websites (how to weed out the creepers and the merely fishing plus the pros and cons of posing on horseback for a profile pic), of being on the job (the Police officer’s Christmas Eve tradition named “Come to Jesus” which entailed threatening to “put the hurt on” drunk/abusive husbands or Fathers in order to ensure a happy Christmas for their families) and stories of favorite Christmas memories (the artist whose father would make toys out of wood including hundreds of building blocks which were still intact for his great Grandkids to played with). Also, in addition to celebrating Christmas we had a 60th Birthday girl who was presented with a tiara and given the prestigious job of being blindfolded and whacking the Piñata which turned out to be a big hit (pun intended). After scrambling around fighting over the candy on the ground our Christmas “family” started to say goodnights and farewells and we walked slowly home with just our chairs and full bellies laughing about all the great stories we’d heard and characters we’d met.
Although nothing can replace Christmas with family at home the evening certainly did fill our hearts and gave us a new Christmas memory to tell at Christmas dinner s to come. It also made me reflect on what Christmas represents to me. Christmas may have started as a celebration of the birth of Jesus but over the years, it has morphed into something else which includes Santa and gifts and big family feasts. Of course you can argue that this is a bad thing driven by consumerism and I do see the validity in that argument but it has also opened the door to allow the whole world to join together in a common celebration, whatever their religious beliefs. To me Christmas is not about whose beliefs are right or wrong, how you choose to celebrate this day or what you choose to call it. I feel that, as is the case with most of the different religions of the world, there is common thread that is based on love and acceptance. I see Christmas as a time to remember that we are all in this together sharing one tiny little planet and that we should make an effort to love, care for, respect and accept each other’s wonderful uniqueness instead of trying to change others into what we think is right.
Our Christmas this year was very different from what we are used to but I am actually glad it was. It gave us the chance to completely step out of our normal comfortable traditions and experience things in a new way. Yes of course we missed being with our friends and family, bundling up against the cold, setting up a tree, decorating the heck out of our homes and shopping for gifts (the last two are probably just me not so much Nathan hee hee) but changing things up now and then can also be good. Instead of mourning the fact that we weren’t home with loved ones we instead shared Christmas with a diverse group of great people whom we otherwise never would have known and who shared pieces of their life with us. What a great Christmas gift! To quote the Grinch “It came without ribbons!… it came without tags!… it came without packages, boxes, or bags!” Gotta love Dr Seuss!!
As laid in bed that night unable to sleep from too much turkey dinner (did I mention our diet on a budget includes of lots of cheap tacos?) I thought about how much I missed our families and how different this Christmas was. But not all in a bad way…I would actually say that our Christmas was successfully different. The main reason that Nathan and I gave up everything to take on this new life of travel is to experience the world and meet the people in it and to hopefully learn and grow from these new and different experiences.
In other words to Live, Dream and Discover…and we’re off to a very good start!
Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.