Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Nepal 2011: A Mixed Bag

Before the holidays started, I was surprised to learn that there are many Nepalis who celebrate Christmas in Nepal. There is a population of Nepali Christians who celebrate Christmas similar to the way I did growing up (with a Christmas tree and presents), but there are also a number of Nepali Hindus and Buddhists who celebrate without the tree and gifts.

A hotel all decked out for the holidays

The first Christmas tree I saw was at Bhatbateni, the grocery store. They had put out a few trees and thrown some light strings over their bushes, and as Christmas approached, I saw more and more hotels, restaurants, and stores putting out decorations. During Tihar, one of the holidays here, people cover (sometimes from roof to ground) their houses with lights, so many people have lights in store.

I asked some Hindus here why they celebrate Christmas, and a lot of them told me that it’s just for fun. One person said that she has special “Christmas friends” who she calls up every year to celebrate with. Another person told me that Christmas and New Year’s are just another excuse to drink!

After our Thanksgiving celebration, I was trying to think of ways to celebrate. And some people were debating wether or not I was even allowed to celebrate at all. Before my break started, I was sitting in the lunchroom at school talking with some of the people who work there, and we had kind of a funny conversation about celebrating. They were asking me about whether I was a Hindu or a Christian. After women marry in Nepal, they traditionally take on the caste and religion of their husbands, so some people assume that I’m Hindu because Tri is. But then they were trying to figure out if I could be both Hindu and Christian and therefore be allowed to celebrate Christmas. I would definitely say yes! I’m allowed to celebrate 🙂

But my plans pretty much amounted to nothing. Even though I wanted to celebrate this year, I was feeling both lazy and sad on Christmas Eve. I was really missing the US and sort of wallowing at home in the dark (because there was no electricity), thinking about how hard it is to celebrate a holiday without having others around to celebrate it with. It makes me all the more impressed with those people abroad who work so hard to organize Dashain parties and celebrations. But anyway, I started to feel better once the lights came back on, so Tri and I decided to make some cookies.

Roasting the Peanuts

Peanut Butter

One of the things I miss most from the US is good peanut butter. I used to slather it on bread, crackers, put it in my cereal. It was seriously a staple food for me. They have a few brands of peanut butter here, but they’re all incredibly sweet and have trans fats in them, something I try to avoid. So lately we’ve been making our own. There’s a little shop on the way to our house that sells different types of daal and nuts, and it’s convenient for us to get our peanuts from them. Once we get the peanuts to our kitchen, we roast them in a frying pan. We then throw them in a small food processor with some oil and honey, which results in some pretty darn good peanut butter.

Because we had made some peanut butter that day, we wanted to incorporate it into our cookies, so I looked for a recipe for peanut butter cookies. I found one online for cookies with peanut butter filling. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it again, but trust me, those cookies looked amazing. We decided to try it out, but I can get kind of lazy about following recipes, so I just winged it. I mixed a simple batter of butter, flour, and sugar and then rolled out little patties onto which we put peanut butter balls. We then sealed up the cookies and stuck them in the oven for a while.

You can imagine that without following the recipe, the cookies didn’t come out right, and surprise, surprise, that’s exactly what happened. They were far from fluffy with a gooey center, which is what the picture on the website insinuated we were going to get. In fact, they didn’t really taste like cookies at all. They were more like little dense buns.

So it wasn’t the Christmas cookie I was hoping for, but it wasn’t all that bad either.

For New Year’s Eve, because we hadn’t done much for Christmas, I wanted to actually put some effort into celebrating. That day we were trying to figure out what to do, and I suggested we try to go to the Chhauni museum. I know, I know, going to a museum is not necessarily the typical way to ring in the New Year, but I’ve heard this is a neat place with a collection of old Buddhist and Hindu statues, something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve been wanting to go for a while, so this would have been a real treat. But it closed too early for us to make it, so we scrapped that idea.

Toasting to the New Year

Then Tri called his friend, and she said that she could meet us in the afternoon. We drove over to Jhamsikel, where she works, and ate pizza and pasta at the Vespar Cafe. Then, since none of us had any other plans, we decided to stay in the area for the evening. We made our way over to Saleways to buy snacks and refreshments and then drove over to where she’s staying. We just hung out and talked and talked until late with a few of her friends. (late meaning about 9:30, which really is late in Nepal 🙂 ). No, we didn’t go to a big bash or stay up till midnight, but for the first time in a long time, I felt really relaxed. I miss being able to talk to people other than Tri in my own language (I talk to Tri in English all the time, but I don’t have deep conversations with anyone in English aside from him). I guess it kind of felt like college again.

Anyway, Happy New Year everybody!

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People Watching from the Juice Shop

Kathmandu Valley is home to three cities: Kathmandu, Bhaktipur, and Patan. Although I always tell people I live in Kathmandu, I actually live outside of the city on the way to Bhaktapur, and I work in Patan.

Since I came to Nepal, it’s been quite a struggle for me to learn the geography of the Valley and get to a point where I can aptly identify the winding, jumbled streets in the urban areas. It’s difficult not only because these areas are seemingly haphazardly organized but also because they have names that, being in Nepali, are hard for me to remember. I don’t go to Bhaktapur often (I actually haven’t been there since studying abroad because tickets are expensive for foreigners), but I’m in Kathmandu and Patan all the time and am finally starting to get a sense of where things are and how to get around.

One place I’m getting to know very well is Lalitpur, a district right next to Kathmandu. Places like Kupondole, Jhamsikel, and Patan are all part of this district. My brother-in-law works in Kupondole, so from the start of our time in Nepal, Tri and I have been frequenting these areas. My new job is located in Patan, so now I spend even more time in this area, particularly along the main chowk, “road,” in Kupondole.

One benefit to hanging around Lalitpur is getting to visit the fantastic restaurants clustered there. Jhamsikel is inhabited by lots of expats, drawn in by the INGO’s and NGO’s stationed there. So some great places to eat (I assume aimed at foreigners) have cropped up in that area, places like The Roadhouse Cafe and Vesper Cafe (they make some of the best pizza in the Valley).

Although there are plenty of sit down restaurants showing up in Lalitpur, there are also lots of small, right-off-the-street type of places, with maybe just a small bench or a seat or two. When I talk about right-off-the-street, I don’t mean the street vendors who sell things like roasted nuts, soda, momo (Nepali dumplings), or paani puri (deep fried roti shells filled with potato stuffing and topped with sauce). Although I would avoid the street vendors–I know many a foreigner and Nepali who ate from them and got sick–these right-off-the-street joints can be clean and have great food.

A few weeks ago, Tri’s brother introduced me to a little juice shop on the main road in Kupondole, called Dhawalagiri Juice and Fruit Shop.

The Juice Shop

Because I’ve have some bad run-ins with dhiarrea this fall, I was a bit weary of their drinks, but the owner assured me it’s just juice, no added water. Tri’s brother suggested I try the mausam juice. A mausam is like a tangerine but green and slightly more sour. I took my first sip and loved it! Once I had slurped down about half of it, I added some bire nun, a type of mountain salt that has a slightly sulfurous taste. The mix of sugar, salt, and sulfur was at first a little strange to my Western-trained tongue but was ultimately very refreshing.

People Watching

Aside from the juice, the best part about this store is getting to people watch. In the space of a minute, all sorts of things can happen on the streets. The range of emotions and states of mind is mesmerizing. As I was enjoying my juice, the policemen were talking and laughing, keeping themselves company in the cold; a man raced by hurredly on his cell phone, and an old woman and her grandson ambled by happily, presumably on their way home. All sorts of other commotion was going on as well. Buses tooted their tuneful horns and cars streamed by, a few street dogs walked briskly down the sidewalk like they had some important business to attend to, and a group of tourists with cameras hung around their necks looked about confusedly.

When I stop to think, just quiet my head for a moment and enjoy what’s going on around me, it’s then that I realize how far I am from where I grew up. Usually life whizzes by, or rather, maybe I’m whizzing by the rest of life. I think part of it is the atmosphere in Nepal, part of it is being in a city, and part of it is the age that I’m at. But when I stop for just a moment and really soak in what’s going on, not only am I amazed by all of the stories unfolding around me but I am also shocked and bewildered in a grateful kind of way when I remember where I am.