I’m dreaming of a green Christmas. The song is the same, but there is no snow, no cold, no skinny dipping in freezing water, no ice fishing, no playing golf with black balls. Here in Panamá, Christmas traditions are very similar to those in the North, but without the snow, cold, and ice.
The beloved carols are sung with the same music, but the words are different. Red and green are everywhere; twinkling lights explode their colors wherever a string can be strung; marchers parade the streets; Santa Claus appears everywhere at once; nativity scenes, big and small, proliferate; children tear into their presents.
No, you can’t build a snowman but, if you’re at the beach, you could build a sandman. No, you can’t snow ski, but maybe you could water ski. Hot chocolate is probably not on the menu, but there is the ubiquitous fruit cake. A traditional dinner might be arroz con guandú with pork. Guandú, also known as pigeon pea, is a legume that grows in the Western mountainous region of Panamá. Peas, rice, and pork is one of the traditional Christmas dinners for family gatherings around the table. Another is turkey but without the stuffing and gravy. Instead, turkey slices are covered au jus with mixed or finely chopped vegetables.
Panamanians are not left behind when it comes to eggnog. It is as prevalent here as in the North. You can find it in the grocery stores in plain or high octane versions (rum). These are known as ponche de huevo or ron ponche, respectively.
As if the joyful noise of singing or the ringing of church bells are not enough, a Panamanian tradition is the exploding of fireworks. Panamanians love fireworks and Christmas is another occasion to ignite the wick-like fuses. These fireworks are just the warmup for New Year’s Eve when all hell breaks loose. That’s a whole other story.