Happy Holidays Overseas

Names: Kent and Christine Zimmerman

Ages: 53 and 49

Nationalities: U.S.

Living in: Cuenca, Ecuador

Eighteen years ago, during what seemed to be an incredibly hectic Christmas season in Colorado, my brother and I looked at each other and asked: “What’s going on here?” Dinner at Grandma’s had been followed by dinner at Mom’s, followed by dinner at our house, his house, my sister’s house, my mother-in–law’s house, my aunt’s house…all in the space of fifteen days.

Don’t get me wrong; I like my family a lot. But this had gone from fun to duty. Everybody was exhausted and overwhelmed; the settings and the staging were all perfect, but somehow the magic had disappeared. We were all trying to recreate nostalgic Christmases of the past in the midst of crazy lives.

So the next year when my old boss asked us if we wanted to go to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, over Christmas week, we jumped at the chance. It was such an amazing experience we never looked back. A Christmas in Mexico with all its color, warmth and vibrancy became our new family tradition.

We didn’t miss the snow. The gorgeous blue waters of Banderas Bay and the long, warm evenings saw to that. And before long everybody was coming down—my parents, uncle, aunt, my brothers and sisters, my in-laws…. We had dinner together every night with our feet in the sand and roving mariachi bands playing Christmas songs under the moon.

The holidays melted together in warmth, relaxation and smiles. No more malls, no more driving ice-covered roads, no more feeling like we were missing anything. The pressure was gone.

Christmas Eve was always the highlight. Turkey is available everywhere these days but we went a different direction. Donning our Christmas hats and our finest tuxedo wear (with flip flops), we’d head to a wonderful restaurant in the old town called Le Gourmet, known for its tableside flambé dishes and the quality and flavor of its food. The quality was amazing, and all for the price of a few Happy Meals at home.What a meal!

No Christmas Eve would be complete without the launching of the “Globo” at midnight. A seven-foot tall, six-foot round, paper hot air balloon. With the help of others on the beach, we’d light the ball of fueled cotton attached below the balloon’s opening, and the hot air would cause the giant balloon to rise. Our son Lars had the honor of cutting the kite-cord, and with a huge cheer from the hundreds of celebrants who had by now gathered on the beach, up it flew!

For 20 minutes we would just stand there on the beach feeling the warm breeze, listening to the waves, our heads tilted back as we watched the balloon drifting higher and higher and further out to sea…. There was no doubt we had found the magic of Christmas again…in another land.

Since that time I’ve never looked back. And where we live now, in Cuenca, Ecuador, the holidays are no less special. Christmas is less commercial and more meaningful; family plays a much larger role and the celebrations are breathtaking. With flowers, green grass, blue skies and warm temperatures making up your day, you’ll find the nights crisp, cold and Christmasy, just perfect for a little canelazo (hot spiced wine).

But the true high spot is New Year’s Eve. We’ve never experienced a New Year’s Eve like those in Cuenca, and every year tops the last. And after the party, the beaches and surfing on the Pacific are just a hop, skip and a jump away. You will not find a more perfect spot for celebrating with your family.

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