Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas in Morocco

My artisan-made cookie cutters
When I first tried to explain to my host family that Christmas was coming, they said “Bonani?” I did an off-the-cuff etymology of the word and figured it was a borrowing of the French bonne nuit (good night). So I said, yes, I thought so. Of course, I was wrong. It’s actually a borrowing of the French bonne annee (Happy New Year).
For several days we went along in blissful misunderstanding. When I finally realized the mistake, I explained to them that, no, Christmas was a different holiday, always a week before bonani, and it was big, the biggest American holiday of all. I said it was comparable to Leid Axatar. My host father said, “Do you slaughter a sheep?” I said, no, that we traditionally eat turkey. “Skram,” he called me – “cheapskate.” We had a big laugh.
A plate of cookies I made up for Sulayman, my host nephew,
who was still at school when the party started
But I set about preparing a celebration for Christmas, which was clearly totally unknown to them – in fact, I have yet to discover what the word for it in Tamazight is, if it exists at all. A friend in the States sent a tiny tree with tiny lights and tiny ornaments. I had one of my dagger-maker brothers make some cookie cutters for me. Two of my Peace Corps friends came to my house and helped me get everything ready for the little feast.
The afternoon of the 23rd, my host family (10 of them, anyway) came over. We had Christmas music playing and served cookies (frosted Christmas cookies, oatmeal, and jelly-filled) and apple cake, along with hot chocolate. After eating, I explained that gift-giving was also a Christmas tradition. I gave them each a pair of good socks filled with apples and oranges, M&Ms and candy canes. They were thrilled. “Not skram,” my host brother said.
My tiny tree with some presents for America around it.
The next day, one of my friends and I went to another PCVs house to celebrate the holiday with Americans. There were seven of us in all. We each contributed a dish and had a real feast – a chicken tajine, mashed potatoes, green beans, deviled eggs, cauliflower-cheese pie, apple cake and apple sauce. We went for some long walks in the countryside around their house and played games. I must say, it’s fun and a great comfort to be around countrymen and women at times like this.
On the 27th a friend and I took off on my first real vacation in Morocco. I’ll fill you in on that in my next blog. I know I keep promising that. This time I’ll keep it.
A potted olive tree with homemade decorations made a
great stand-in for an evergreen at our PCV Christmas

My contribution to the Christmas tree decorations

Our PCV group on one of the hikes

I visited a manger and found sheep. The mother fretted
a bit.

Our PCV feast.


  1. I hope you did better explaining Christmas to the natives than David Sedaris explaining Easter in French in "Me Talk Pretty One Day."


  2. Haha! I didn't even attempt an explanation.