by Hannah Nevitt, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant

As we were watching a series of Lifetime Christmas movies on television, I asked Dario what he would like for Christmas. As I understood it, families in Costa Rica (especially in the more rural areas) exchanged small gifts of chocolates or toys. Hearing this I was surprised when he looked at me with big puppy eyes and asked for a “Fully loaded Hummer” from the United States! I’m not kidding.

After explaining to him that “Hummers” could not be gift-wrapped, nor priority mailed to Central America from the United States, he finally settled on asking me for hair gel (so he could do his hair like his older brother), and a candy bar. Whew…that is more in my price range anyway!

The “Nochebuena,” or Christmas Eve was finally upon us! While Dinia was preparing for dinner, I was busy wrapping presents in “superhero” wrapping paper, and decorating gingerbread men with festive buttons! The “rompope” or eggnog had been spiked, the candy canes were out, and the kids were already inspecting the gifts under the tree!

As we sat down for dinner, Dinia said a prayer and meticulously lit a series of candles. She then surprised me with a bottle of red wine, which we opened and made a toast to “Felicidades y salud en el ano Nuevo” (Happiness and health in the coming year).

Our meal was simple but beautiful. We had ribs, baked red potatoes, mixed vegetables…and of course, rice, their staple. While I tried to savor the moment, the kids were rushing to eat as quickly as possible so they could get to their presents. Once again, a sign that some things are the same no matter where you are!

The time had finally come to open presents. The entire family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents gathered around to watch the kids dive under the Christmas tree and open their gifts.

The gifts were small but meaningful. To little Veronika (the Shirley temple look-alike) I gifted my pair of sunglasses…since she joyfully steals them from my room everyday! To my host-brother Jordi, a book called, “The Motorcycle Diaries” to inspire him to read. To Delany, my 10 year old host sister, a Disney Princess pouch filled with glittery lip gloss and fingernail polish.

And last but not least, Dario…who I gifted with a remote-controlled mini Hummer. Ok, so I gave in a little to the puppy eyes! But he was so excited and it was a fair compromise to the real thing. As I sat there taking photos and watching the kids play with their gifts I was reminded of home, of family, and just the simple pleasure of being together.

As for me, my Christmas present was the best of all. It was something free of charge, and something I had waited four months to see…The Lava.  After four months of cloudy and dormant nights, the Arenal Volcano had awakened from its slumber. From the sidewalk just outside the house we could hear and feel the rumbling. From the open street we could see the outline of its massive peak through a misty haze.

The moon had lit the sky just enough! Streams of reddish-orange liquid were rapidly flowing down the sides of the volcano. It reminded me of a magic wand, spreading beams of light through impenetrable darkness.

Drinking my glass of wine, along this rural road in Costa Rica, I had to smile. Fireworks started to light up the sky, mariachi bands were starting to play, and the kids were starting a game of flashlight tag. As I looked up at the moon, I was reminded that no matter where I am in the world, it is the same moon my family is looking up at. And that somehow makes me feel closer to them.

As I looked up at the moon, the fireworks, and the flowing lava, I raised my glass in salute.

To my family, my dear friends, and everyone else in this small, small world;

I wish you Peace, Love, and Feliz Navidad.