Half the world celebrates Christmas and the New Year in the summer, right after the longest day of the year. Here in Barranca, we’re close enough to the equator that the longest day is only about 30 minutes longer than the shortest, and we still celebrate, watching the sunset from the front porch, enjoying the afterglow on the clouds.
Christmas consists of a few decorations and a family dinner, usually timed to allow the family as much time as possible on the beach. Gift-giving is private, and not nearly as extensive or elaborate as in the US. Our great gift was having our children with us. We tried to stick to a humorous gift and a few stocking stuffers. We all had packages to open.
We shared a few Christmas cookies with our neighbors and enjoyed delicious home made peanut butter made by a young relative of our neighbor. We hope she goes into business because we would be regulars. We tasted Spanish wine from our friend who works for Iberia Airlines.
We planned a get together with neighbors on our adjacent front porches and invited everyone we ran into. Not a big party, but fun, a chance to catch up with those recently returned to their summer places as the weather has made the beach attractive.
When we first spent New Year’s Eve in Peru, in 2006, we discovered that most people stay at home until midnight when they step outdoors to light fireworks and start dinner. After that, young people go partying until morning. We prefer to celebrate while trying to stay awake until midnight. This year it was easy, surrounded by family and neighbors. The young boys present had various glowing things, like bracelets, gloves, and sticks. Sparklers came out just before midnight and then fireworks started going off all along the beach.
There was a big investment in fireworks, and full size twirling and booming fireworks went off overhead for at least ten minutes. It was a lot of fun to see, first one group, then the next exploding. A champagne toast circulated, we shared good wishes, and by the time the fireworks ended there was nothing left but a few olives and rapidly deflating yellow balloons. Yellow is the color of good luck and the New Year in Peru. We all went home happy and content with the friendship of our neighbors.
A certain amount of noise comes with beachfront living, and though we enjoyed the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, the most sleep-deprived night was Dec. 30, apparently designated Late Party Night. After the fireworks at midnight, the music continued until 6 am, punctuated by the smell of wood smoke from the campfires of those camping on the beach. Neither the camping nor fires are allowed, but the authorities were focused elsewhere, and fortunately for us, most campers were packed up and gone by breakfast time on January first.
New Year’s morning was a big surprise. We went for a walk just to gawk at the crowds. The beach was more crowded than we’ve ever seen, with every beach umbrella and beach chair that could be packed onto the beach. There were hundreds of umbrellas, right down to the water line and I wondered where everyone would go when the tide came in. People stood in the shallows or swam in the waves. As usual, half the children squealed with delight while the other half tried to stay as far from the water as possible, clinging to their parents to avoid getting dipped.
Every restaurant along the beach was packed, and a few spontaneous storefront dining rooms opened for the day. Traffic was so heavy that turning the street one way wasn’t enough, and the traffic police spent the day sweating under their black uniforms trying to get cars to move. There was nowhere left to park and I was grateful that we didn’t need to go anywhere, since our driveway was blocked by visitors from early morning to evening.
We know there are thousands of people on the beach for New Year’s Day in Lima. Every year it’s on the front page of El Comercio on Jan. 2. We didn’t expect the crowds to grow so big in Barranca. Maybe that’s progress. The trash collectors, street cleaners, and beach cleaners are the unsung heroes of the holidays, making it safe to return to the beach the day after. The cleaners were on duty before dawn on Jan. 1, and spent a long time cleaning up the mess left by revelers, who were busy making a mess all over again by the time the last of the previous day’s leftovers were being swept up.
While all the New Year’s Day beach fun was taking place, we mostly retreated to our patio,
heading out long enough for a swim, but also sleeping off our late night, playing darts, throwing axes,
and working on the 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is virtually complete after this crowd worked it over. I put in the final 30 pieces or so after we returned from dropping our visitors at the airport..
It was quite a holiday.