Yes, I know, this is really late! Time has been flying!
Aside from the even vaster numbers of people and things than usual, the thing about the market that I noticed to be different on Christmas Eve day than on a normal market day was the prevalence of pineapple, papaya, coconut, apples and purple grapes. While I normally see all of these things in small quantities, on this day they were the primary fruit to be found with many stands specializing in just one of them. I knew there must be a special holiday reason for it, and I felt a little sad that I wasn't living with a Guatemalan family to find out the answer. Fortunately though, I go to a very small Spanish language school that is located in the home of the director, where she lives with her mother and her teenage daughter. I found out soon enough!
That afternoon, in the middle of my Spanish class, the director, Rosa, came to say hello and to make sure I was coming back later that night for the Christmas party. Talking to the locals, it seems that Christmas Eve night is when families get together to celebrate the holiday, and Christmas day is for relaxing and recovering. When I told her that I wanted to come to the party, but that I was starting to get sick and wasn't sure if it was a good idea, she immediately dragged me into the kitchen to show me the giant cauldron of simmering fruit punch on the stove, called ponche. Standing on my tip toes I peered in to see cut up papaya, coconut, and pineapple swimming in a mixture of water and juice. It smelled delicious and Rosa said that if I wanted to try it I would have to come to the party later that night because it wasn't ready yet. She didn't have to twist my arm anymore as the punch was enough to make me come back; however, another teacher then came in with a bottle of rum and poured me a small shot with the excuse of trying to kill whatever virus was trying to make me sick. I found out later that night that ponche tastes best "con piquete", or spiked with rum.
Christmas Eve night involved a lot of drinking of ponche con piquete, dancing, playing silly games with new friends: Rosa and her family and other students at the school, and waiting for midnight when the whole city leaves their houses to light fireworks in the streets. There are 3 things to note about this fireworks tradition: 1) If you didn't know that's what was happening, you'd think you were in a war zone. The sky is lit up an eerie yellow, there is residual smoke streaming over the building tops, and there are erratic and jarring booms and whistles of firecrackers and other much more dangerous fuegos artificiales. 2) The fireworks here are crazy dangerous! I swear they would all be illegal in the U.S...and probably for good reason. My favorite souvenir I kept was a wand-shaped one that says: "Warning shoots flaming balls". After that it says: "Do not hold in hand". Following the lead of the locals, I held mine high and proud as magical flaming balls appeared at the end of my wand and disappeared in an arc of rainbow color over the brick wall in front of me. I'm not sure what was on the other side of the wall, but as far as I know nothing started on fire and no one was hurt. After my wand finished I felt pretty happy and giddy and satisfied that I had participated in this Guatemalan tradition. Little did I know that we were just getting started. Rosa just kept producing giant packages of unknown fireworks potential. There was one guy student there and she kept making him set up and light the fireworks, (because he was the guy!), while the rest of us cowered in the doorway so that we could make a run inside if necessary. After one of the biggest fireworks began shooting fire-light, straight-up, 100 feet into the air, before tipping over on its side and shooting the flames right at us, I decided sexist or not, I was okay with the guy lighting the wicks. 3) It was really fun and beautiful to see the whole city participating in this tradition at the same time. Aside from being outside in the freezing cold, feeling hungry and a little tired, and also concerned for our physical safety, it was fun to be apart of the tradition and easy to see why everyone looks forward to this day; kids love it!!! It was also good to eat tamales after the fireworks were done because we were all hungry and tired after a long night of drinking ponche in anticipation of midnight. I went to sleep happy.
(Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera to the Christmas party:( So no photos to share... )
|The Aftermath: Fireworks residue left in the streets on Christmas morning|
I traveled to a nearby town called Totonicapan, to watch a convive, or party/carnival, in the streets with a friend from my Spanish school. All we knew was that there were going to be people in costumes dancing in the streets. Apparently the community has been doing this for many years, (although I forget how many, maybe 50 or so?), and many of the costumes represented some Hollywood movie character from the year's biggest hits. It was a little bizarre, many of the characters were frightening to look at, but it was fun and high-energy, and I remember laughing a lot and I kept thinking my cell phone was ringing in my pocket, but really it was just the vibration from the giant stack of speakers we were standing next to! Guatemalans love loud music! Here are some photos from the street party and from the nativity scene in the church:
|Yes, those are Avatars in the background|
|The giant stack of speakers!|
|If you didn't know...you might guess we were in Disneyland, rather than in Guatemala on Christmas Day..|
|Elaborate nativity scene: the more lights=the better.|
|Candles in the Church|