Before the holidays, we mentioned our plans to go to Surabaya, have a Christmas party, make tons of cookies and our efforts at making paper snowflakes. Well, the holidays have come and gone, and we are here to report that all efforts were a success!
You may be wondering what Christmas is like in Indonesia (with that whole 90% Muslim thing and all), but I’m here to report that (in the cities) it’s on full display. While there was never much sign of Christmas in our village, even though there are some Christians here, once you set foot in any district capital, the stores, restaurants and hotels all had signs or trees up and Christmas carols were in full force. Walking through Hypermart to do my holiday baking shopping in Kediri City the Tuesday before Christmas, I had to smile when the songs playing in the store were the most religious baby Jesus songs I had ever heard. At home, I kept my iTunes on a constant playlist of Christmas carols, and in the few days before I left for Surabaya I was in the kitchen every night rolling sugar cookies, or putting together magic cookie bars, lemon squares or peppermint fudge. I made sure to give my host family a sampling of what I had been up to the night before I left.
Now, onto the festivities…
While Will was able to head to Surabaya a few days early for a meeting, the holidays kicked off for us on the 23rd with a holiday lunch for Peace Corps volunteers hosted by the U.S. Consul General and his wife in Surabaya at their lovely home. As we walked in off the hot streets of Surabaya and into the Western Christmas-decorated and air conditioned home full of Americans and adorable clean dogs, the sounds of soft Christmas carols played over the speakers and we felt like we were transported back home as we were offered a guava juice or Bloody Mary. We dined on grilled chicken and corn, juevos rancheros, spanish rice and ice cream sundaes. Previously in his Foreign Service career, the Consul General had actually served in Havana with my good friend Jessica (who will be posted in nearby Malaysia next year!), so we have a mutual friend in common and he made sure to take a picture of all of us together to e-mail to Jessica.
The next day we went over to the Java Paragon Hotel to check into our apartment. Once we checked in, we had a team of people ready to help decorate and set-up. Out came our Christmas lights, stockings, paper snowflakes, glass jars (empty and cleaned of their peanut butter contents), tea light candles and portable speakers. This, folks, is how you make mobile/disposable Christmas decorations that don’t look like you are having a party for six year-olds.
We took one last run to Hypermart to stock up on a few last minute supplies, came back to the apartment, showered, changed, made some last minute food and put out all those cookies. Right at 7pm we lit the candles and started the holiday play list. We had about 25-30 people come the party and there were many amazing additions to the food table. The place looked great. Some people dressed up. It was all very un-Peace Corps-y, and I think everyone was okay with that.
Will told me that for him, it’s not Christmas until he has breakfast casserole with eggs, sausage and cheese. Well, that happens to be what my family eats for Christmas too, so that’s what I made for breakfast. In the morning, the six of us staying in the apartment opened our batik stockings (which we had all filled with fun small presents for each other), and sat down to a breakfast of casserole, tropical fruit and donuts and coffee.
We spent the remainder of the day and night listening to music, swimming in the hotel pool, eating leftovers, singing karaoke and then went out for burgers at about 11pm. When I got home I got to Skype with my entire family while they were in the middle of opening their gifts on Christmas morning.
It wasn’t a normal Christmas by any means, and not being with my family was hard, but it was actually really fun too. I got to channel my anxiety about being away for the first time into doing things that I love (hosting parties and cooking) and making it feel like Christmas, not only for Will and me, but for our friends, too.
The next day we hopped on a plane to start our island hopping vacation. Stay tuned….