Feliz Navidad

‘Twas the day before Christmas and I’m still in Guatemala.

Yesterday was so warm I was sweating, not that I had forseen a white Christmas anyway. We won’t be having turkey or Christmas ham – tamales are on the menu. There’s a tree in my house (along with the mini tree in my room sent to me by friends back home), but no presents underneath. Caroling is nonexistent, but posadas, in which people move statues of saints house to house while singing and banging on turtle shells, have been happening all month. I went to a mall last weekend and it was like stepping into any mall in the states – giant tree and even one of those bubble machines that make it looks like it’s snowing- but most people don’t do their shopping there. Most shopping is done at the crowded outdoor markets where the sounds of regatear (bargaining) and yelling of “¡Buen Precio!” mixes with a hundred screechy versions of Christmas carols being emitted from strings of cheap lights.

There won’t be eggnog and I’m going to miss out on all those beloved Christmas movies that play on repeat at this time of year. But there will be ponche and I hear they set off even more fireworks than usual. I missed the traditional Eve Eve Bowl with my friends yesterday and couldn’t give anybody back home gifts in the way that I wanted to and it’s strange to think that this will be the first year I don’t spend the holidays with my family. And I can’t help but feel a little teary as I think about all the fun they are having together. Without me.

But I’m not as sad as all of this might make it sound. In fact, maybe because it’s so different here, it’s easy to believe that it’s not even really Christmas time – just some strange holiday that kind of resembles it. Or, the point has been made by other volunteers, maybe because we’ve had a little more time in site and feel more comfortable we don’t need to cling to tradition nearly as much as we did at Thanksgiving. Maybe because I’ve received so much love through emails, facebook messages, phone calls and packages I’ve fulfilled my personal need for holiday cheer.

I don’t really know the answer, but I’m more or less content to spend today and tomorrow with my host family experiencing a true Guatemalan Christmas. And, really, how many people get that opportunity?

Clockwise from top left: Lighting of the Muni tree and nativity scene, Posada in action, me overcome with Christmas goodies joy, the overwhelmingly luxurious mall in the capital, and my favorite part of the Christmas parade.

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