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Start of Summer and Christmas Eve

Summer vacation, hot weather, and Christmas arrive all together here.

As with everything here, the end of the year school parties, field trips, and other events came with little notice or time to prepare. It felt for weeks like we were in a constant flurry of making food, packing kids off on trips, or figuring out how to get to the school’s farm, located 25 kilometers outside the city, without a car. It all culminated in a graduation party for the boy’s class that, including a dinner organized by the parents, went on past our children’s entirely graceless exit at 1am.

Then suddenly there was summer, a season we left only five months earlier, stretching long and languid before us. The heat came all at once. Glorious sunny 75 degree days were pushed out without warning by 95 degree scorching heat that left us all feeling like our oven had swallowed us whole. The kids bickered constantly and we adults didn’t do much better. However, living in a city that faces an estuary has its benefits, and by evening when the sun finally sinks low it is almost always pleasant. This is summer, though, and the sun doesn’t sink until after 8pm, which is what finally convinced us to adjust our schedules to something more resembling that of most Uruguayans’. We started taking the kids to the park at 8pm, eating at 9pm and finally putting them to bed between 11pm and 12am. It took some creative darkening of their bedroom to finally convince the girl to sleep past 7am, but now even she has come around to the new schedule.

If Halloween in October was disorienting, Christmas in summer felt almost hallucinogenic. For our family, the highlight of the holidays has always been the lights and decorations that add some sparkle to the darkest part of the year. We look forward to the chance to snuggle in close at home in the cold, but here there is an abundance of light and snuggling only resulted in heat rash.

The shopping mall down the street spent weeks creating a winter wonderland complete with a ride-on train that went through a tunnel in the three story tall Christmas tree. There was an abundance of fake snow, an animatronic Santa in a sleigh, oversized squirrels, and dancing bears swinging to songs about snow and firesides. We took the kids there quite a bit because the train ride was free and the air blissfully air conditioned.

For the most part decorations, especially lights, around the city were sparse. The season is no doubt one reason, but electricity here is also very expensive, so stringing up more than a few lights is a serious financial commitment. While we’d been distracted by the charms of summer, parks to visit, and a new ice cream freezer at the mini market downstairs, we occasionally lamented missing our annual drive through the suburbs to admire other people’s lights. Then, on the night of the boy’s end of year party, we accidentally stumbled upon the decorations in the center of the city. ¬†Driving back to the city with another family at 11pm, seven of us crammed into a car made for five, windows rolled down and sweat rolling down us, we drove up one of the cities biggest avenues and into the blue glow of lights. Strung high above the street reaching from one side to the other were lavish banners of lights. It went on for blocks and blocks, punctuated by even more intricate displays at the plazas. We drove slowly, heads out the windows, gaping and basking in the glow. It was noteworthy enough to merit a photo gallery in the paper, which you can see here.

In the week or so leading up to Christmas Eve firework stands popped up all around the neighborhood. Every few blocks there would be three or four tables laden with bottle rockets, sparklers, firecrackers, pop cracks, and so on.  With each passing day there was a steady increase in the number of loud, unexpected explosions.

On Christmas Eve the city closed in on itself. By early evening the only places left open in our neighborhood appeared to be the Catholic church and the firework stand located conveniently adjacent. Traffic was negligible and the playground nearly deserted, but the heat wasn’t taking any kind of vacation. As dusk settled, we stood on the sidewalk while the kids threw pop cracks.The church disgorged a group of worshippers dressed in everything from flip flops and shorts to semi-formal attire.

It was dark by the time we got home, and families were piling into cars, covered dishes balanced on laps. We lit sparklers on the balcony, an idea much less terrifying in theory than in practice, and watched as apartments and terraces filled with families and extended families. The booms of firecrackers and the pfffts of bottle rockets grew steadier until at midnight the city exploded with fireworks. Our apartment is high enough up and angled in such a way that, if we lean out, we can see coastline from nearly every window and it seemed that every bit of coastline had its own set of fireworks. The explosions, bouncing off the buildings, were deafening and the still hot night air was quickly filled with clouds of smoke. Nathan and I stood at the open windows and other people leaned out their windows or stood on rooftops or balconies to watch.The fireworks went on so long that they finally lost a bit of their magic. We grew restless and turned our attention inside again. The noise finally subsided and the air gradually cleared of light and sound until the city was once again strangely silent and still.

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