Thursday, December 18, 2014

The good thing about traditions is that you can always remake them

Christmas Eve 2012, Utila, Honduras
    Today is my birthday, my third one in a row celebrated outside Canada. I wouldn't dream of whining about the lack of good birthday cake in Central America when I'm sitting here on a balmy 32-degree day with a fan blowing on me to keep me cool, but I do want to note that living away does require the reinvention of how you celebrate.
    Christmas, for instance. We've been gone from Canada and our families for the last three Christmases as well, and I admit to being piney sometimes for things like the family breakfast where I'd make cinnamon buns and we'd all drink champagne and orange juice, or the whirl of festive parties we'd go to at this time of year. We moved past the whole gift-giving insanity a while ago, but I still really liked the tradition of making up a stocking for family members.
     But Paul and I have developed our own Christmas travelling tradition now, and I quite like it. In 2012 - my first ever Christmas spent away from my family - my son and his family came to visit us in Honduras, and we went to the Caribbean island of Utila for an absolutely marvelous, gift-free Christmas. Christmas Eve dinner, once a time of baked ham and scalloped potatoes, gave way to tacos in a beach-front restaurant with a knockout view of the setting sun. Last year, we went to Guatemala and Belize, and ate our Christmas dinner with a random collection of other travellers who had also holed up at the tiny Hotelito Perdido for the holiday.
Christmas Day 2013 at Hotelito Perdido, Guatemala
     This year, we'll be on a Pacific beach near Leon, Nicaragua, when Christmas rolls around. I doubt that there will be anything particularly Canadian Christmas-like about our Dec. 25, but travellers do tend to draw together more on days like that, I guess drawn by an instinct to create "family" in whatever situation they find themselves in. We'll be in a little bed-and-breakfast, and I imagine we'll end up sharing some conversation (and probably a drink) with whoever else is there that day.
    I got thinking about traditions today because a well-wisher said she hoped I'd have lots of cake. I did always look forward to a good cake on my birthdays in Canada, most especially a tuxedo cake from Save-On Foods (seriously, they are really yummy).
    Unfortunately, cakes in Central America just aren't my thing. They've got standard layer cakes, but any that I've tried have been mediocre at best with icing that's some kind of frothy stuff that bears no resemblance to good old butter-cream frosting. Their special-occasion cakes - both in Nicaragua and Honduras - are tres leches (three milk) and Pio Quinto, both of which are wet cakes like a trifle. I hate trifle.
     In fact, I haven't found a dessert in Central America that I like. But is that so bad? I get home often enough to gorge myself on Dutch Bakery nut tarts at least once a year, or maybe a killer danish from Crust. This 58-year-old body doesn't actually need to be tempted by dessert. I'm treating myself to a small bag of Fritos corn chips at this very moment, and Paul brought me a chocolate-covered marshmallow clown head on a stick earlier. Surely that will suffice.
     Tonight, we're going to head down to Avenida Bolivar, where the First Lady of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo, has indulged her obviously overwhelming love of twinkly lights at Christmas. We're going to walk from one end of the street to the other, taking in every giant twinkly-light camel, Santa Claus, Wise Man and candy cane. Then we're going to go to the movie theatre and watch "The Hobbit" - which, happily, will be sub-titled and not dubbed.
    Happy birthday to me.

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