Growing up, Christmas was the most anticipated day of the year for me, even more than my birthday. It meant family, presents, food and a preview of New Year’s fireworks, courtesy of my uncle. Celebrations started on Christmas eve at my parents’ house, with my aunties and uncle visiting all the way from next door. There were also some elements of torture: going to church at 10pm for “misa de gallo” (translates as “rooster mass”, which was so crowded that I nearly fainted almost every year), and waiting until midnight for dinner. Both changed later, when I was old enough to opt out of mass (and Catholicism) and someone had the brilliant idea of eating earlier and doing the hugs and presents at midnight.
Food itself was a form of torture: self-inflicted indigestion and sugar rollercoaster. Dinner was roast turkey (slathered with Coke, beer, butter, and a commercial marinade featuring Peruvian chilli, cumin, garlic and vinegar), “Russian” salad (beetroot, potato, carrots, peas, corn, apples, avocado, mayo), applesauce, and rice (traditional white cooked with garlic when I was a kid, then mum started making a recipe with olives, nuts and raisins). We drank soft drinks and toasted with cider (in Peru it comes in a champagne-style bottle and is saved for special occasions). After the fireworks and presents we ate panettone with butter, and drank hot chocolate (bitter cacao tablets cooked with water and cinnamon, to which we added evaporated milk and sugar). The panettone and hot choc were totally unnecessary both calorie-wise and weather-wise (it’s summer, people!), but we had them for the sake of tradition. We chatted and played with our presents, and went to bed to try to digest and prepare for the next day’s feast.
On Christmas day we always slept in and headed to my aunties & uncle’s around mid-day. When my sisters and I were kids and got toys for presents we arranged all of them on the couch and stood behind it for the annual photo. Our “traditional” Christmas lunch was Cantonese-Peruvian food from our favourite “chifa” (the name we give to such restaurants, which are very popular back home). I usually went with a couple of my aunties to get the takeaway dishes: savoury chicken rolled with asparagus, “kam lu wantan” or sweet & sour pork with pineapple and wontons, roast duck in oyster sauce, stir-fried noodles with chicken, veggies and quail eggs, fried rice with char siu pork, chicken & prawns, plus soft drinks. Basically sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Topped with an afternoon tea of, you guessed, more sugar: panettone and hot chocolate, round 2. It’s possible that we had leftover turkey on Christmas night.
The flip side of all that eating, which was excessive during the holidays but quality-wise not too far off our regular habits, is a family affected by diabetes, overweight/obesity, hypertension, heart disease, mental illnesses, joint & skin inflammatory conditions, and cancer. It’s interesting to note that dad always had plain white rice instead of the “flavoured” ones, and plain bread rolls (or boiled chicken sandwiches) and tea instead of panettone and hot choc. He was the healthiest of the bunch, yet he always had gut problems and died of colon cancer.
My big sister and I were fat and, even though we both now maintain a healthy weight, our sugar metabolism is kinda broken. It’s great that we now live in the same city, thousands of kilometers away from home, meaning that we are free to celebrate with delicious, nourishing food.