I arrived in Venezuela late at night on the 23rd just in time for Nochebuena/Holy Night/Christmas Eve. For most of Latin America, Christmas is really celebrated on the 24th at night. That’s the case for Christmas in Venezuela as well.
The day started out like none I’ve ever had. Dissatisfied that I didn’t eat anything when I arrived the night before after such a long journey, Luis’s mom took it upon herself to make an awesome breakfast and then knock on my door to announce that “room service” had arrived. Amazing and representative of the spectacular hospitality here.
Luis and I went to a nearby park next to Lake Maracaibo and walked a lap around the park. So green, so many palm trees, so nice outside! I’ve had white Christmases, blue ones (when offshore in The Middle East), and this would be my first green Christmas!
Then we met up with some of Luis’s friends in the city. They took me to the old part of the city, which is colorful and beautiful. It was also completely empty. They take Christmas seriously here and everyone was at home with family, or at El Pozon where we went next.
El Pozon is an annual concert given on December 24th and December 31st in Maracaibo. They have local and national acts playing music on a stage erected in an intersection seemingly designed to host such occasions.
It was all music I’ve never heard before and I really enjoyed it. Most of all, it was a completely different way of celebrating Christmas – namely with short sleeves and sweat on my brow. It was a solid 90F/33C with minimal humidity outside and sunny – perfect weather for me.
The main event that night was something I wasn’t prepared for at all. It was amazing. But after my shower, I saw that Luis’s mom looked very elegant and Luis looked professional as well. Since I live out of a backpack, my range of clothing is quite limited. But no problem. I have a ready-made solution. I have black jeans that can somewhat pass for formalwear.
But then I withdrew one of my two collar shirts from the garbage bag my clean clothes reside in. I picked the blue one because if I wore the black one I’d be in black from head to toe – and by chance Luis and his mom already dressed this way. Fine. Only one problem. Wrinkled doesn’t even begin to describe the shape my shirt was in!
We got out the iron and went to work on my shirt. The breaker kept tripping delaying things, and we were already a bit late since the goal was to leave at 8pm and it was already about 8:10pm. In the end, my shirt was presentable enough not to take any elegance away from Luis’s mom if standing next to her and we were the first ones to arrive. Perfect!
It was the house of a family friend. He is originally from Switzerland, ironically the small town of Saint Gallen which I visited in 2008 during a trip to Europe to do MBA interviews! He’s been living in Venezuela for more than 50 years. His wife is Luis’s godmother.
The house on its own was beautiful. Add the Christmas decorations, Hans’s spirited and upbeat personality, all the wonderful people who were there, and the kids who kept breathing life into the event as the adults all struggled to stay awake, and it was just a beautiful and wonderful night. There was even a knight decorated in Christmas attire.
You can see here that each person had his/her own seat with a ready starter plate of cheese and a wrapped gift. The food was a mix of traditional Venezuelan dishes and, not surprisingly, I ate too much.
As I’ve said in the past, it never gets old being invited into other people’s lives and sharing wonderful moments with them. In this case, I talked a lot with the people there. Someone was constantly asking me if everything was ok, if I liked the food and festivities, even doing so in sometimes strained but often perfect English. Hospitality.
One of Hans’s sons lives in Barcelona, which for now is where I’m planning to volunteer here in Venezuela. He gave me his phone number and told me to call him when I’m there so I can come over for dinner. It was a sincere offer and I’ll take him up on it.
Lastly, there was a performance by the dancer/ballerina of the family. As they’d say in Spanish, preciosa.
Normally young people go out after the family festivities and start partying around 1am or 2am. We planned the same, but we were both dead tired. I ended up sleeping until noon, so compared to the bad decision of taking a motorcycle the day before, going to bed was a great decision!