Sunday, December 25, 2011

Guatemalan Christmas: A Nation Addicted to Fireworks and Rightly So

Last night was one of the most spectacular Christmas Eve's I have ever experienced!

We had previously been told that most people would go to church around 6-8 pm and that family dinner would be at midnight, along with opening of presents.  We should have expected fireworks, since kids light them in the street every night. In reality, Christmas here is like the 4th of July at Disneyland.

We spent the late morning in an Internet cafe, studying some Spanish, facebooking and enjoying some coffee.  Lunch was a little later and a little lighter than usual, and our Foster Mother, Paula, told us dinner would be at 9, then they would go to the park for fireworks, then presents at midnight.  I suppose they went to church around 6, but I wouldn't know, since I took a 4-hour nap to be able to stay awake until midnight.  I woke up around 7, and Matt and I headed to the Parque Central with Derek, another student living at the same house as us.  We had some Ponche de Leche, a warm milk drink with cinnamon, and Matt decided to buy some fireworks for later.  We wanted to light some sparklers in the park, but the wind kept blowing out our matches before they would light.  Luckily, there were some local kids, the experts, who were happy to help in exchange for a sparkler for themselves.  Not a bad deal for about 2 cents a pop (a pack of 10 cost 1.5 Q, each being 15 centavos or about 2 cents). 

Back at home, before dinner, we decided to light the Hanukah candles and also some fireworks with Paula, Byron (her husband), and Estafanie (her 11-year-old daughter).  The Cono is a cone that shoots sparklers up from the top.  There were also some that shot loud whistle-rockets and some traditional fireworks.  Of course, there were sparklers aplenty.  We used a candle to light everything since the wind prevented the matches from lighting.

Dinner was quite large and delicious.  There was chicken, Soufle de Arroz - a mashed rice and vegetable dish, cooked vegetable salad, a hot Ponche de Pina drink (sort of cider), coca cola, bread and tortillas, and Christmas cookies.  

After dinner, we had about an hour and a half to kill before presents, so we decided to head back to the Parque with Estefanie and Mio, the 4 th student living with us.  Mio is Japanese, but here in Guatemala, the locals think all Asians are Chinese (like Mexicans in LA?), so we call her la Chinita Japonesa (the little Chinese Japanese girl).  While it is usually okay with a large group, Paula was a little worried for Estefanie's safety and charged me with holding her hand to make sure nobody got away with her baby!  I guuess all mothers can be protective!  

We bought some more fireworks, including a Tank with wheels that moved when you lit it and helicopters that whizzed into the air.  We also bought something called "the machine gun" which sounds like the name as a string of crackers go off.  Our first Cono was a dud and we were very disappointed until another local park-kid asked if he could help.  He pulled a wick out of one of the machine gun packages and stuck it into the Cono and it went off!  He and his little sister, Juana, were happy to help us with the rest of our fireworks, enjoying our sparklers and all the fun.  Juana is 5 and her brother looked about 7.  At one point, one firecracker made a loud sound and Jauna sort of grabbed onto me for protection.  Being a little paranoid, I was afraid she was using it as an excuse to rifle my pockets.  But I quickly realized two things: 1) I was wearing my skirt, so my steelable things were higher on my body than where she was, 2) the things that I had in my pocket weren't of value (expired id, business cards), so I stopped worrying and we had a great time.  We headed back home for presents at midnight.  The family bought me a pencil bag made with indigenous weaving and Matt got a bracelet.  We bought the family a thermos for hot water, since their last teapot/hot water container broke and gave Estefanie a little Teddy bear mug filled with candy and a scarf.  

At midnight, the fireworks  really went off.  The whole town, nay the whole country, was lighting off all the good ones!  For a sold 20 minutes, there were huge displays in all directions from all over the city.  Just when we thought the last might be going off, a whole new batch would start up.  Some were very large, but being set off from the neighbors' back yards.  There was smoke in the air and the sounds of firecrackers, large and small, echoed off the walls for the better part of an hour.  Even after we had gone to bed, we heard the sounds of a few more fireworks being lit some where in the city.  I can only imagine this is what the 4th of July would be like if all sorts of fireworks were legal in Los Angeles.  It was just unbelievable - everyone in The city celebrating this holiday together.  It was truly unlike anything I'd experienced before.

Today, at noon, people set off more noisemakers, to celebrated Jesus's half day of life I suppose, and the celebrations continue.  Most of the city is pretty quiet and shut down, but luckily, the local Internet cafe and bar, el Cuartito is open as is a restaurant at the Shalom Hotel.  (no, it's not run by Jews - there are many businesses here with Hebrew names like "tienda el shadday" and "shalom hotel". The guatemalans are really into Hebrew, being good Catholics.  Israeli tourism has also had a noticeable impact here.  Many people have asked me if I am Israeli, when they discover I am Jewish, as they have never met a non-Israeli Jew!)

Well, Merry Christmas to all from Xela and happy 6th night of Hannukah!  

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