Christmas Traditions On Ambergris Caye, Belize

Caribbean Christmas

Dec. 18, 2014, Ambergris Caye, Belize: On Ambergris Caye, Belize, Christmas is celebrated with the annual San Pedro Christmas Boat Parade.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

For those of us who grew up in snow country, it seems odd to be walking around in T-shirts and flip-flops on Christmas Day, but, having lived here on Ambergris Caye for seven years now, I've come to appreciate that Belize offers a unique collection of blended Christmas traditions. Home to more than 10 different ethnic groups, this country boasts the most multicultural holiday celebrations I can imagine.

First and foremost, Christmas in Belize is about spending quality time with family and friends. Government offices, banks, and most non-tourism-oriented businesses shut down for the week surrounding Christmas Day. Festivities and family time continue through Boxing Day (Dec. 26) at least, a throwback to Belize's days as a British colony.

One important Christmas tradition, remembered throughout Belize, is to spiff up the interior of your home. This is a Belizean's way of inviting the Christmas spirit. One Belizean friend told me not to judge a local's home by the exterior this time of year. It's what's inside that counts come holiday time. She explained that everyone brings out their gold, red, and green curtains, tablecloths, etc.

And, in preparation for all the holiday visiting, Belizeans don't just decorate the insides of their homes this time of year; they give them a facelift, too. They repaint the walls, hang new drapes, even replace the linoleum. This is the Belizean version of spring cleaning, and the entire family pitches in.

Many Belizeans put up Christmas trees, but typically the synthetic version. Those who can afford it decorate the outsides of their homes, too, with elaborate lights. Blow-up Santas, reindeer, lobsters, and manger scenes are especially popular. In San Pedro Town, where we live, The San Pedro Sunleads an annual tour to vote for the best decorated house.

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Celebrating The Festival Of Lights And Christmas In Medellin

Christmas In Medellin

Dec. 17, 2014, Medellin, Colombia: Medellin’s annual Festival Of Lights is the best time of year to visit this beautiful city.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

I've been spending Christmas abroad since 2001 and have come to love the traditions and celebrations that take place throughout Latin America. But Christmas in Medellin is the most impressive extravaganza I've experienced. 

My first half-dozen Christmases overseas were in Ecuador and were the most enjoyable Christmas experience I'd had in many years, probably since childhood. My home city of Cuenca was not exactly a small town, but celebrating Christmas there certainly had a small-town feel. It was the first time I'd experienced all the events, parties, camaraderie, and celebrations of Christmas without the Black Friday woes, gift-buying frenzy, and deluge of forecasts for the economic outcome of the Christmas season. 

In Uruguay, Christmas occurs in midsummer and is the unofficial kickoff for the beach season. Punta del Este, which is a world-famous beach resort, was probably the least Christmassy place I've been. Everyone's focus was on sun, sand, and barbecue. The professional fireworks that every home seemed to have, however, were impressive...especially at New Year's, when gunpowder hung in the air like a thick fog.

Here in Medellin, things are different. There's a full agenda of exhibits, cultural exhibitions, shows, and celebrations. But what sets the city apart this time of year are the lights. 

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Planning For Christmas In France

A French Christmas

Dec. 16, 2014 Pau, France: Christmas traditions in France include the Gallete des Rois and the Buche de Noël.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

For my family and me, one of the great things about living an expat life has been the combining of our own holiday traditions with those of our adopted country. Our first year in Pau in the Pyrenees-Atlantic department of Aquitaine, France, was spent with another expat family who, like us, had decided to stay in their new home country rather than race "back home" to meet up with family scattered all over the place. 

So we celebrated Noël and Christmas. Noël is the French word for Christmas and comes from "les bonnes nouvelles," or "the good news," as in the good news of the coming of Christ. My friend and I divided the mainly food-related work between us. She got to search for a turkey, and I assembled all the sides, including cranberry sauce, parsnips, and Brussels sprouts—a must-have for any British Christmas Day lunch. 

Raw cranberries and sprouts can be found in most French supermarkets these days, but parsnips? They're animal fodder, right? No, they are divine when roasted with a splash of orange juice and are almost, but not quite, impossible to find in France at Christmastime. I persuaded the owner of the local fresh produce store to snag me a kilo on a trip to Spain, where they are more common. While I struggled with the veg, my friend searched and searched for a decent turkey from a local farmer. At first, all she found were long-legged, athletic-looking numbers; not a succulent breast among them. Finally she got what she wanted, paid the farmer, and made a date for collection of the bird...plucked, merci beaucoup.

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Christmas Eve Pase del Niño In Cuenca, Ecuador

The Three Wise Men, Bart Simpson, And Richard Nixon—Christmas In Ecuador

Dec. 15, 2014, Cuenca, Ecuador: The Pase del Niño that takes place every Christmas Eve in Cuenca, Ecuador, is the biggest in Latin America.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

For tourists and foreign residents, Cuenca's Christmas Eve Paseo del Niño parade, or Passing of the Child, is a colorful, often bizarre, mixture of the sacred and the profane. To locals, it is a time-honored Christian festival of thanksgiving and homage that combines Catholic and indigenous traditions. Everyone agrees that it's a lot of fun.

The eight-hour-plus procession features floats and decorated cars, many festooned with flowers, fruits and vegetables, empty beer cans and liquor bottles, roasted pigs and chickens. There are also bands, dancers and street performers, stilt-walkers, and various Biblical characters. In recent years, the Three Wise Men have made an appearance on Harley Davidsons and Mary and Joseph have cart-wheeled the length of Calle Simon Bolivar. Everywhere there are children dressed in colorful homemade costumes.

Introduced to Latin America by the Spanish almost 500 years ago, the Paseo del Niño is a Christmas celebration in which likenesses of the infant Jesus are carried through towns and villages. In Ecuador, the tradition remains strongest in the Andean region. Organizers of the Cuenca parade claim that theirs is the largest Paseo del Niño in all of Latin America; as many as 50,000 will participate in the procession, with about 200,000 more watching from sidewalks, balconies, and rooftops.

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10 Lessons For Overseas Living

10 Things I've Learned Living Overseas


Dec. 14, 2014, Panama City, Panama: Kathleen discusses some of the insights into overseas living that she’s picked up on in the past 17 years.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Seventeen years living overseas, first in Ireland, then France, now Panama, have taught me...


1. Patience...the kind of patience you learn doing time...

The other day I stood at the counter of a small grocery shop in Panama City watching as the young man on the other side of the counter tried to tally up my purchases. One item I'd presented was missing a price tag, so the young man walked from behind the counter to the back of the shop to find a matching item that did show a price. Several minutes later he returned.

When he looked down to enter the amount into his adding machine (the shop didn't have a cash register), he noticed that it was out of paper. He walked from behind the counter again, this time disappearing behind the door to the left. Several minutes later, he returned with a roll of adding machine paper.

As he began to replace the paper in his machine, his phone rang, so he laid the roll of paper on the counter to answer it. Several minutes later, he finished his conversation and picked up the roll of paper again. Several minutes after that, he'd succeeded in getting the paper installed in the machine.

After adding up my few purchases, he reached beneath the counter for a bag to put the groceries in but found he was out of bags, so he came out from behind the counter and disappeared again behind the door to the left. Several minutes later, he returned with a single plastic bag. Four other customers stood in line behind me. I guess he was counting on them not wanting bags.

My items placed in the plastic bag, the young man looked up at me. "That's US$12.65," he told me in Spanish.

I handed him a 10-dollar bill and a 5-dollar bill. The young man reached beneath the counter for the cigar box where he keeps his change. No singles. He called out to the young woman stocking shelves, who finished what she was doing then joined the young man behind the counter and counted out change for me from her apron pocket.

This is the kind of scene that plays out all day long every day all across the developing world. You muster the patience to take it in stride. Or you leave the developing world.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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