Two years ago, we began a tradition in our family that would allow us to celebrate the holiday season no matter where in the world we found ourselves. After 2014 and 2015, we figured we were getting the hang of this 12 Days of celebration and fun, but this year Nicaragua threw us a curve ball. ACCESS Camp (the annual intensive English camp we’ve helped with the past two years) dates were changed from January to right before Christmas, so we had to be creative. Nevertheless, our 12 Days were spent remembering to celebrate the small things, to be thankful for what we have, and to invite spontaneous joy into our lives.
The 12 Days of [Nilsen] Christmas 2016
1. Dec. 14: A Partridge in a Pear Tree – The Estelí Petroglyph for our Christmas Tree
Over the years, a drawing of El Chamán has become the symbol of Estelí. This year, we added a keychain version of him to our little tree. It’s a small and simple way to commemorate Estelí as one of our homes, something we hope to remember every year when we add this ornament to our tree.
2. Dec. 15th: Two Turtle Doves – Two Terminals Discovered
On our second day of Christmas we packed up and headed off to camp. We took the opportunity to explore two new bus terminals. Public buses are part of the soul of Nicaragua; they keep this country running and you never know what you’ll find aboard – live chickens in the rack above your head, plenty of people packed into the aisles, full size pigs, venders selling anything from herbal supplements to food to flashlights, etc. It’s always an adventure.
3. Dec. 16th: Three French Hens – Three Fantastic Hours of Electives
ACCESS Camp was incredible, as usual. It was our third year working at the camp. The first year we were both counselors for the Oregon state group. The second year, we were both on the coordination team. This year, Emily was a coordinator and Andrew a counselor again, for the Oregon state group.
One of the things we worked on was organizing electives for all of the students. Each day, students had the opportunity to try something new like Ultimate Frisbee, Spoken Word, or American Snacks. As fun as the electives are for the students, imagine how crazy it is to coordinate the preferences of over 200 students, between 10 different class choices, and three time slots! We stayed up way too late, but had some good laughs remembering when we did it last year with Andrew’s parents during their Nica trip (e.g. FERNANDO!).
4. Dec. 17th: Four Calling Birds – Four Quick Besitos
Those of you camp junkies know how busy running a camp can be. Especially since we were split between directing and counseling this year, on this fourth day of Christmas, we barely saw each other. Our solution was to share four quick kisses before Andrew headed off to help his cabin get to bed and Emily to her nightly coordinator meeting. As mistletoe was nowhere to be found, we had to make due with the pines of mountainous Jinotega, where the chilly air helped it feel a bit more like Christmas.
5. Dec. 18th: Five Gold Rings – Five Gratitude Reminders
ACCESS Camp is intense. In addition to being an English immersion experience, we try to squeeze as much of the “American Camp Experience” and cultural exchange as possible into 4 days, at the expense of exhausting the campers and counselors. By this last full day of camp, we were feeling pretty worn down, so we found a few moments to sit together and list 5 blessings – 5 things we are grateful for that we wouldn’t have had without the camp. It wasn’t too difficult, as the kids were loving the camp, and we now have made some great friends through staffing it for three years, but still a good exercise to complete in the midst of our exhaustion.
6. Dec. 19th: Six Geese a Laying – Six Glorious Pepperoni Lovers Slices
After journeying home from camp in the afternoon, we thought we’d keep the American spirit going just one more day – we headed straight to Pizza Hut Estelí and celebrated our successful week with a glorious treat.
7. Dec. 20th: Seven Swans a Swimming – Seven Show Segments
After-camp recovery mode on the seventh day of Christmas looked a lot like a lazy day over Christmas break. We slept in, ate leftover pizza, and enjoyed seven episodes of our two newest (to us) shows: Parks and Recreation and The Wire.
8. Dec. 21st: Eight Maids a Milking – Eight Mindless Hours of Reading
It might have taken us more than just one day to recover from our sleep-deprived camping escapades. We spent our 8th day of Christmas reading a few good books (a mix of Spanish and English) and catching up on our laundry.
9. Dec. 22nd: Nine Ladies Dancing – Nine Lovely Ditties
After resting for two days, we were ready to ramp up the Christmas spirit. We invited over our English Conversation Group, who we’ve been working with on and off for two years. We made Christmas cookies and went caroling (in English!) and just enjoyed being able to share some of our Christmas traditions with our friends and colleagues here.
10. Dec. 23rd: Ten Lords a Leaping – Ten Luxurious Lengua Tacos
OK. So we actually only had three tongue tacos…no, Andrew had three tongue tacos. The other 7 tacos we split were al Pastor, which is this delicious pork cooked with some pinapplely yumminess. But Ten Tasty Tacos didn’t have the right letter alliteration.
11. Dec. 24th: Eleven Pipers Piping – Eleven Pretty Pyrotechnics
La nochebuena, is the biggest day of Christmas here in Nicaragua. So we spent it with a few of our good friends. First, we went to the house of the MINED Departmental Delegate to devour some of her family’s nacatamales. (We helped her family make some around this time two years ago.) Afterwards, we headed to the Vasquez household for chatting, singing, eating, and fireworks – just passing the time with loved ones while we counted down to midnight. At midnight was the most beautiful fireworks display as everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus Cristo by shooting off as many fireworks and bombas as they can. As we played with sparklers and chatted the night away, I couldn’t help but feel calm, at home. The entire Vasquez family means so much to us, and it was wonderful to just have a simple, tranquillo, and familial evening with them. Feliz navidad.
12. Dec. 25th: Twelve Drummers Drumming – Twelve Dear Ones Dialed
As the 24th is the big hurrah here in Nica, the 25th was a quiet day at home. We slept in a bit after staying up late the night before and then reached out to our families back home. Through the wonders of technology, we were able to Skype/Facetime with 12 family members, in three different houses. We loved the chance to connect and share, just a bit, with those back home.
And so concludes our third annual 12 Days of [Nilsen] Christmas and our third Christmas in Nicaragua. We miss family terribly, but we’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to spend one more holiday season here in site with our friends and loved ones here. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be state-side for Christmas next year, but who knows where! That’s the beauty of this tradition – it moves and adapts to wherever we are.
So until next Christmas, good friends, we wish Happy Holidays to you all.
Like this tradition? Find our past 12 Days of [Nilsen] Christmas posts here.