Last updateFri, 02 Jan 2015 5pm


A Midwesterner Moves to Mexico: When Santa speaks Spanish

My grandson has a very specific wish list for Santa. Batman and Play-Doh. No surprises. No binoculars that he’s been talking about since September. Just Batman and Play-Doh.

But he doesn’t want to talk to Santa.

“He’ll speak Spanish, Grandma, and I won’t understand him.”

We’ve been through this before. When he started pre-school, he told us he couldn’t play with any of the other kids until he learned Spanish. That one seemed to work itself out on the playground where laughs and tears are the common language.
But Santa? Well, that’s different. They definitely need to understand each other.

I get it. The challenges of a foreign language that you’re not fluent in can be daunting. I avoid making calls on my Mexican cell phone because it talks to me in Spanish for a minute or so before it puts my calls through. I have no idea what it’s saying, but always feel like I’m getting a lecture about my insufficient language skills.

I walk out of stores with things I didn’t want and sometimes without my change because I tend to say “si” or “no” indiscriminately when asked questions I don’t understand.

Having a face to face conversation in Spanish about my greatest wish? Well, who knows what kind of trouble that could get me into.

Luckily for my grandson, there’s a tradition in Mexico where you write (or draw if you’re a three-year-old) your wish list on a piece of paper, tie it to a helium balloon, let loose of the string, and off it goes directly to Santa. No face to face contact needed.
My first thought when I learned of this tradition was that it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve yet to see a single post office or mail carrier on the streets. Some of the houses have mail boxes, but they appear unused and neglected. Our own occasional pieces of mail arrive as elusively as Santa – without a stamp and slipped under our door when no one’s looking. Sending balloons instead of letters to Santa made perfect sense.

But I’m guessing I’m wrong since most of the traditions here have a more historical basis.

If the seven points of the traditional Christmas star pinata stand for the seven deadly sins, I’m pretty sure that the balloons stand for something other than “no home delivery.” I just haven’t had much luck finding out what that is.

I did, however, discover that in parts of Mexico there’s a tradition of sending additional balloons on January 5th to the Three Wise Men, who might then show up with more presents the next day.

I initially saw this as some sort of genius “oops, Santa forgot” type of balloon. But here again, I’m undoubtedly wrong. Even I can see a historical basis for Wise Men bearing gifts.

Although I don’t think this is a tradition I’m going to tell my already well-indulged grandson about. In either Spanish or English.
Unless, of course, there’s been some mix-up about the Batman and Play-Doh.

Jeanne is a transplanted Illinoisian who arrived in Guadalajara hoping for siestas. She was sad to discover that siestas are a thing of the past, but is still finding lots to love about Mexico.