Feliz Navidad

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So the traditional Christmas meal in the Dominican Republic is Pig on a Stick. Let me give a little back story here. Sunday, December 23rd was a normal Dominican day. Kathy was sick in bed and I watched the kids. Late in the afternoon, Kathy was feeling a little better and I went for a bike ride to get some exercise. Nothing out of the ordinary. The next day, craziness. Quite literally, on every corner, there was a guy with 3 or 4 whole pigs on sticks. Small pigs, not too terribly big, that they would hack you pieces off and sell by the pound. We had to drive to Santiago to drop Phyllis off at the airport and we noticed them they whole way there. Some had chicken wire wrapped around them to keep the meat from falling off the bone. I didn’t want to try it–I needed to try it.  However, I’m slightly weary about buying meat off the side of the road (for now). When we got to Santiago, we went to the grocery store to buy some last minute items for our Christmas dinner and they were hacking a pig on a stick up in the bakery section. Free sample time. It was like crispy bacon on the outside and juicy tenderloin on the inside. Ridiculous. Kathy wanted a bite of mine and I got all possessive about it. I think next year, we’ll be roasting our own for sure.

This being our first Christmas out of the country, we couldn’t help but notice the differences between our Christmas traditions and those of the DR. We went to a mall in Santiago yesterday and Santa Claus was there. The mall was packed, yet there was no line to see him. In fact the photographers were beckoning anyone walking by to take a photo with him. He was a little creepy. I guess tradition here states that Santa wears the red suit, full beard and also a full face of white paint. Like a mime Santa. Maybe it’s my childhood fear of clowns, but I wasn’t getting anywhere near him. Another difference is that the traditional Christmas meal here happens on Christmas Eve, hence the pig on a stick. When we got back from Santiago, it was after 9. We saw Yelissa in the alley and asked her what she was doing. Her family was getting ready to eat dinner (Dominicans eat dinner late, I think siesta throws them off. They respect the rules of siesta). She told us the menu was rice/beans (of course), a potato/beet salad, and pig on a stick. She said that her family had bought the head only. We said goodbye, put the kids to bed and a short while later, she was knocking at the door. She had brought a massive bowl full of their Christmas dinner over to us. Even though I wasn’t remotely hungry, I tried a little of everything she brought and it was all delicious. The best was what I can only assume was cheek skin/meat/fat. It bordered on being too rich. Like something we ate at Cochon in New Orleans. And it came from a family that has dirt floors in their house. Thank you God for the perspective. I know I needed it.

Today started like any Christmas would with a 5 year old and a 4 year old in the house. Luke was up at 7:15 just staring at all the presents Santa brought. He came in our bedroom with wide eyes and an ear-to-ear grin. “He came. He ate all the cookies and drank all the milk!” He ran off to wake up Emily with the same story and before we could start the coffee, the wrapping paper was flying and it felt like Christmas. The holiday that is best if you are a kid or have a kid (or grandkid). We spent the morning on Facetime with all our family back home. It can’t replace seeing them and hugging them and loving them, but it’s still an amazing invention, that Internet. We are counting the days for visits from family. That has been the hardest part of all of this and we so look forward to seeing our loved ones again soon. We spent this afternoon with Luke, Naomi and Ethan, just hanging out, playing, installing a basketball hoop for Lukie and cooking some amazing food. Some American staples with some Dominican thrown in for good measure. The yucca balls were the best ever, and Kathy and I made an entire apple pie from scratch. We refilled the bowl that the girls brought over last night with a huge helping of our meal and sent it back over to the neighbors, and our kids played all afternoon with their kids and got to share their new toys (with some coaxing) with their new friends. We want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Plankenhorns.

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