Christmas In Fila Naranjo: Round Two

On December 26, 2016 I woke up with such a relief – I had made it through my very first Christmas away from home. I remember reassuring myself that my second year of service would be different; I would make it home to spend the holidays with friends and family. I would break out my winter boots, frolic in the snow, and snuggle up next to the fire with my favorite dog, Maple, and a massive cup of hot cocoa while the holiday tunes rang out in the background. Oh how glorious it would be.

My cute little Maple waiting for me back in Wisconsin. She’s all grown up!

But, when the final quarter of my Peace Corps service began filling up with new projects, community invitations and events, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to swing a trip home in December. After accepting that I would be spending Christmas again in my site – a rural community of 200 people – I did my best to do it right this time around.This year, I was determined to bring a little taste of my own culture and tradition to Costa Rica to make the holidays feel a little more like home. I needed the essentials: Christmas cookies, Christmas music (we will listen to Feliz Navidad on repeat if need be), and presents for my host family – the people who have shown me nothing but kindness and acceptance and allowed me to live in their home for the past 19 months.

Christmas cookies and gifts for the kids

Since Christmas is generally celebrated on December 24 here in Costa Rica, my 12-year-old host niece, Fabiola, and I spent the day before making over 80 Christmas cookies so the children could decorate and eat them the following day at the community party. While you might think 80 cookies doesn’t sound like that many, with my DIY homemade cookie cutters, made from cans and masking tape, and a portable oven that fits 5-6 cookies at a time, it took us almost 6 HOURS.


While we were making cookies, my host dad went out into the woods to cut down our annual Christmas tree, which is not really a tree at all but a very thick, bushy branch chopped down from a large pine tree. After returning with the “tree,” he and my host mom set up the portal, a nativity scene that almost every house displays in or outside of their home. Generally, baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until Christmas Day – the day that he was born – which I learned my first year here after purchasing my host mother a new baby Jesus, thinking that the first one had been lost. He was not.

Jose bringing back said “tree” (left), decorated tree and portal (right)

On the morning of Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) – per tradition – a pig was killed and the men of the family began roasting the pork and the pig’s skin to make “chicharrones,” a traditional Costa Rican dish. Meanwhile, the ladies boiled up yucca, a popular root vegetable here, and plantains – enough food to last everyone through the night. From 11am-11pm we feasted on chicharrones, yucca and plantains, decorated Christmas cookies, sang karaoke, and danced.

chicharrones (left), chicharrones, yucca and plantains (right)

Cookie frosting party!

When I woke up on December 26, 2017 it wasn’t the feeling of relief that I had experienced my first year that I felt, but pure appreciation, gratitude, and happiness. It turns out, I was home for the holidays this year and I spent it surrounded by the people I love doing what we love to do: laughing, eating, singing, and dancing.


Still in my pajamas, I sat down on Christmas morning and exchanged presents with my host family and realized that what I thought I was missing last year was here all along – the feeling of family and togetherness – that truly does makes Christmas the most wonderful time of the year.


One thought on “Christmas In Fila Naranjo: Round Two

  1. Henry Brown January 8, 2018 / 9:39 am

    Great pictures I remember a Christmas in Jamaica, WI as a PCV in 1970’s.
    We had a party at the local Catholic Priest’s residence.
    Walking on my way home I saw a moon bow.
    Colorless rainbow made by fog and moon.
    I worked with AIDS patients and local kids in 4H clubs.
    It lead me to study genetics and work on the US Human Genome Project and HIV genome project.
    Now I am studying the Hispanic Paradox.

    NM wants to study soda tax. Costa Rica too?​

    I manage databases at State Of NM Dept. of Info. Tech. Did my thesis at LANL on Human Genome.

    Many states, Indiana example below, are building analytics groups to control costs.

    100 most costly diagnostic claims in Medicaid

    I import Indiana csv data into R Studio, a free tool for data analysis.

    Train high school students in Costa Rica?

    The model below is using R Lang, a free tool widely used in data analytics.

    See attached Indiana_100_top_Medicaid_costs.jpg

    R Studio install


    ​NCGR uses for bioinformatics/R Language – Free summer internship for NM college students

    PHS is hiring in health analytics in ABQ – Few in NM are trained in algebra, R and analytics

    New Mexico has many Medicaid costs related to diabetes. 24.7% of NM population will have diabetes.

    The soda tax in Mexico has successfully reduced sugar consumption.

    Mexico and New Mexico share a very special chronic disease profile.
    Both populations are among the healthiest in the world.

    Sugar may have the single biggest health effect on the Hispanic Paradox?
    Can State of New Mexico study the effects of sugar on the genetics of the Hispanic liver? Using NM Medicaid data?​

    Can NM Medicaid data be used to model health care costs? Related to sugar?
    State of NM collects MMIS data at DOIT. Can State of NM develop models too?
    “Each state’s Medicaid agency collects enrollment and claims data for persons enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

    These data are collected in the state’s Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS). Each state’s MMIS is tailored to the needs of that state’s Medicaid program​.”

    40% of US hospital budgets now pay ICU/chronic disease costs. This cost is going up annually.
    State spending on health care now exceeds education spending. Due to diabetes?

    Teacher and state pensions are at risk due to expanding spending on health care.

    I completed a thesis at the US Human Genome Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory while at New Mexico Tech in 1990’s.
    I work managing NM State databases at DOIT.

    Can Peace Corps study the effects of sugar on health costs in NM?

    ​Henry Brown
    ​505 795-3680


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