I’d like to take this time to reflect on my first Guatemalan Christmas. In order to do so I have to rewind back about two Wednesday's ago. It was this day that I began to notice the holiday transformation. That Wednesday I came back from a morning at the Salina to Fernando painting the house. The “summertime” in Guatemala marks the end of the rainy season and therefore, the most opportune time to do outdoor house work. Fernando told me that every year they paint their house for the New Year. This is no easy feat since they have two stories and a large cement fence that encloses their property. It took him two weeks with a few days off here and there to complete the task- in the spirit of holiday giving I leant a hand and helped him paint the front entrance wall. The fresh coat of paint was just the beginning and as the days neared Christmas the whole house slowly got a facelift. First, the curtains went up in the kitchen and living room, then all of the trinkets and dolls still in their plastic wrapping (Guatemalans like stuffed animals) came down off the shelves to be dusted and all the windows in the house were cleaned with windex. For the next two weeks every time I walked into the house there was a distinct disinfectant smell in the air. The day before Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) Seño Lili changed her tortilla cloth from the standard colorfully striped design to a Christmas holly cloth and I even got a Christmas mug for my coffee in the morning. “Everything new for the New Year” they told me. Then on Christmas Eve day the protective blankets came off the couches in the living room. This was a big deal- those blankets are to my Guatemalan family like plastic couch covers were to my Great Aunt Billie- essential in ensuring furniture longevity. With the couch cushions showing I could sense big things were about to happen. Lastly, the morning of Christmas Eve Fernando got a haircut. “How do you like it?” he asked me. “Like new” I replied. The transformation was complete.
Christmas Eve I spent the day at Mama Noi’s house making invitations for Rocio’s 1st Birthday party out of foam paper with Jenny. Sidebar- Rocio completes 1 year on January 3rd and I’ve been told that there will be 300 kids in attendance at the celebration= we had lots of invitations to make. While we cut and glued and Rocio made "viejitos" with her orange popsicle face, Seño Lili and Mama Noi were busy making tamales. Lots of tamales. At 6PM it was time to go home and get ready for the night. Christmas Eve or Nochebuena is a big deal in my town. They celebrate the holiday as a community and everyone gathers at the town center for a dance.
Mama Noi’s house sits across from the court and thus is prime real-estate for any town function. We started the night off there and ate a meal of tamales, escavech and fresh fruit punch. Then as always, we took a little rest in the hammocks. At this point Hilmer, Rocio’s dad, came over with firecrackers and we lit them off as the people in town began to fill up the area outside the basketball court. Kids were running around setting off firecrackers and the baile DJ started blasting music from his loudspeakers.
I have often told my family how much I enjoy dancing which prompted them to insist that I dance at the Nochebuena baile. At about 10PM Fernando (with the help of a little liquid courage) took me onto the dance floor. At first I was excited to get out and dance but was quickly reminded of how much I still stick out in town. As soon as I started to dance I felt like everyone was staring at me. After about three songs a tall skinny guy came up and ask Fernando something. I heard him respond, “Not yet” and the guy walked away visibly upset. I’m not sure but I think Fernando nixed his attempt to cut in. At this point Fernando started to get a little sweaty. Drips ran down his forehead and his hand became slippery but still he happily danced me in and out and through the crowd on the dance floor. We bumped (literally) into Mattihus dancing with a cute little muchachita- made Fernando proud. And I saw a few of the girls on my soccer team dancing with their boyfriends. After a good six songs I politely told Fernando I was tired. When we left the dance floor I had a wet spot on my shirt from Fernando's sweaty hand. I showed it to Lili which caused her to break out into a laughing fit. As Fernando and I made our way back to Mama Noi’s patio no fewer than four guys I know asked me, “when do we get to dance?” I smiled and said, “later” but thought, “Oh no, what have I got myself into?” Back at Mama Noi’s we waited for midnight. It is tradition in my town to give a hug at 12AM Christmas Day. I was told that everyone hugs their family. This concerned me because in a town of 1,000 everybody is at least cousins. Logistically this midnight hug could get a little complicated.
At about 11:30 out of nowhere Fernando’s “sons’” families pulled up in a pick-up from the capital. Sons in quotes because the two men were introduced to me as “hijos” but are actually not his blood- he helped raise them when he lived in the capital in his early twenties. So the family instantly grew by about ten including a little newborn baby Roger Rafael (after Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal-his parents are apparently tennis fans. Don't worry, I was confused too). They arrived in perfect timing for the hug. When the clock struck midnight the center of town exploded with fireworks, everyone cheered and began their “Feliz Navidades” and hugs. This lasted a while until the music picked up again and people were back at it on the dance floor. Uninterested in being passed around the dance floor I declined invitations back into the baile. At 1:30AM the music was shut off and all made their way home for a good nights rest before Christmas.
Christmas day I woke up at 8AM threw on my bathing suit, tank-top and shorts (the typical Guatemalan doesn’t swim in a bathing suit. They go in the ocean in a t-shirt and shorts- one of my least favorite cultural differences.) and went downstairs to wish everyone a Feliz Navidad. We ate breakfast, packed up the truck with food, beverages and beach supplies and were off to the barra at Las Lisas to spend the day at the beach. We swam, cooked-out and watched the kids play in the water all day long. By the time we got home at 7PM I was exhausted from all the time spent in the sun. I took a quick shower to rinse off the beach sand, turned my fan on, slipped into bed and got a good nights sleep.