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On Christmas Eve, David Miller ponders ceremonies, music, snow, and as usual, transcendence.

The author in Colorado Flatirons. Photo: Lau

NOCHEBUENA is the “good night” before Christmas.

Here in Argentina it’s also when Santa comes–the kids staying up until 12 when it switches to actual Navidad and a family member dressed as Santa appears pillow-stuffed and possibly wine-drunk at the door. Presents are distributed. Everyone stays up all night. This is the answer for those who ask how Argentine kids seem to have no bedtimes but can still get up and function each morning. Like most things it comes down to imagination.

Birthdays are the same. No sense in wasting good nocturnal hours. I found myself promoting this earlier in the summer on a cross-country drive from Colorado back to Georgia. My bro Will Kimzey and I had committed to “Oklahoma in the dark” a new and spontaneous manifestation of our blow-it-out-in-a-single-push road trip style. PFunk was in heavy rotation. Once the clock got to 11:55 a.m. I started watching it carefully for my surprise happy bday bust-out. You can’t miss a second.

Right now our neighbors the Colques are hacking their back yard with a gas powered weed-eater, the preferred lawn tool in Patagonia perhaps after the machete. Not having any portable stereos, they’ve been parking cars back there the last several nights, pumping cumbia beats, playing soccer, and having the inevitable water fights.

The music takes me back to a Nochebuena in Colorado, 2005. After a day of fresh pow at our local mountain, Eldo, I got back to my truck and KGNU‘s Latin Christmas tunes.

Even though most of the songs were simple sons and rhumbas about things like christmas trees and eating roasted pig, something about the juxtaposition–the Rocky Mountain snow still floating down and filling in the lines I’d left in on the mountain (another pow day tomorrow), my hands and face still stinging cold, but this music on the radio that could’ve only come from someplace warm and near the ocean–all of it combined in a moment of transcendence where it felt like I could almost make out ‘where we were headed’ (towards this music). It was a moment of both ultra stoke and nonspecific loneliness, and I think there may have been a bit of sacred weeping.

It’s difficult for me to register events or contextualize emotions without there being some kind of soundtrack. Certainly iPods have stifled some of the spontaneity and chance that post snowboarding parking-lot moments like these might turn transcendent, the DJ down in the valley seeming to pick each tune in a way that helps your life push downstream a little smoother and maybe with a bit more reach and gamble and appreciation than if you’d chosen your own playlist.

But then it’s all a matter of how the day unfolds. Yesterday morning I was reading Kierkegaard’s journals and listening to Outkast at the same time, an overtly discordant pairing until the track “Unhappy” came on and Big Boi sang, “might as well have fun cuz your happiness is done when your goose is cooked.”

Layla just woke up and ran in here naked, holding two of her “babies” and asking for her morning jugo. I’m reminded again of how it works. It’s time to slice oranges. Merry Christmas.



About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.


    Great post. It’s amazing to travel during the holidays, especially when you’re in foreign territory. It’s too bad people don’t see the beauty in celebrating Christmas from all different traditions and perspectives. It could be a lot of fun!
    Happy Holidays!

  • lat42south

    You hit it square on the nail no doubt about that. This sunday paddling a great xmass gift i say. loved the last story to way good. merry xmass bro

    • David Miller

      thanks brudda! can’t wait until sunday. not sure if it’s raining up there, but it seems like we’re getting even more juice this weekend.

  • Reeti

    This is such a beautiful piece David. The sense of place and of celebration in a particular cultural context is fascinating. Thanks for sharing :)

    • David Miller

      Thanks Reeti.

  • Tim Patterson

    Love the flow.

    • David Miller

      big up tim.

      i imagine good celebrations taking place up yonder.

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