Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Holidays

Growing up, I used to love the Holidays. The season would always start with La Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil...nothing as scary as it sounds) an event always held at 6:00PM on December 7th. On this date, we would gather trash and things to purge from our home. We would create a nice size pile in front of our house and we would burn firecrackers and small fireworks as we set fire to the pile of unwanted house items such as old school papers, newspapers, magazines, etc. We would enjoy a nice cup of hot punch and/or hot chocolate. This event symbolizes a spiritual cleanse by purging unecessary and unwanted items and energies that simply weigh us down. These items represent all the impurities as the year comes to and end and we prepare to welcome the New Year with a fresh new start.

According to some historians, the Burning of the Devil originated in the sixteenth century as a preamble to the festivities of the Nativity. Since in colonial times there was no electric lighting, many Guatemalans attending the procession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and to light their way, they created these fires that lit the passage of the procession. Therefore it was held on the eve of the feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which is celebrated on December 7, starting with this tradition to the festivities of Christmas.

Piñatas of a little red devil have become popular and are placed on top of the pile to be burned. This tradition is slowly becoming less and less practiced in Guatemala due to environmental and safety concerns. Of course, there are people who lack common sense and burn inappropriate items such as rubber, plastic or combustibles, reason why it's no longer what it used to be.

This event was then followed by Las Posadas. Posadas are festivities celebrated during the nine days before Christmas from December 16th - 24th. These celebrations are to remind us of the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem while searching for a place to stay (posada) and wait for the birth of Jesus.

This consisted of a small procession with a throne depicting the Virgin Mary and Joseph. In small neighborhoods, neighbors would go from home to home carrying the small throne asking for Posada (for a place to stay) different neighbors volunteer to house the small procession and offer Mary and Joseph a place to stay for the night. When the procession is being carried, people follow the procession singing songs to the beat of a tortoiseshell and praying.  

Arriving at the house in which La Posada will be received, people knock on the door and sing a song requesting a place to stay for the night. This request is then replied by another song granting them posada. When posada has been given, people celebrate with hot chocolate, hot punch, chuchitos (small tamales) and singing.

After the Posadas, we prepare to celebrate Christmas Eve. On December 24th, we visit family members and friends throughout the day wishing them a Merry Christmas and exchanging gifts. We call this Los Abrazos (the hugs). We make sure to head home before midnight, because precisely at 12:00AM, we all step out to light fireworks and firecrackers. The majority of the country is doing this, so for approximately 15-20 minutes, all you see and hear are fireworks. It's such a special and fun component of the Christmas celebration, especially for young children; because while this is happening, Santa Claus is delivering presents. Once the fireworks are done, we go inside and pray by El Nacimiento (the Nativity). After praying, we go ahead and open presents and then have dinner. It's definitely a very late dinner, but everyone you visit during Los Abrazos, greets you with food and drinks. Reason why having dinner after midnight is not a problem! Dinner consists of Turkey or ham, traditional Guatemalan Tamales, which are Tamales Rojos (red tamales, which are savory) and Tamales Negros (black tamales, which are sweet.) 

They 4th of July brings back so many memories of Christmas for my family and I. Even the smell of the fireworks takes us back...I always tend to get a bit emotional because of it.

My favorite part gearing up for the Holidays, was to set up El Nacimiento (the Nativity Scene.) El Nacimiento was always so special to me, because I grew up seeing my great grandparents (my mother's father's parents) build very intricate and detailed nativity scenes. I remember going to the Christmas market, not only to get the Christmas tree, but also all the components of the nativity scene, which consists of: Aserrín (colored sawdust), Manzanilla (chamomile), Musgo (moss), Chichitas (nipple fruit...the actual scientific name is Solanum mammosum), clay figurines, and so much more! Shopping for these and then setting up the nativity was definitely one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Even though I don't have access to these traditional items, I still set up a nativity scene in my home. I make it work :)

On the 25th, Christmas Day, we light firecrackers at 12:00PM and at 6:00PM and pray. Our family never attended Church for the Holidays, but we certainly carried out our fare share of praying at home!

New Year's Eve is celebrated very similar to how it's celebrated here, but we also light fireworks and firecrackers during and after the countdown. The charm an uniqueness depends on what part of the country you are in. One of the best New Year's Eve celebrations I've had was a few years ago when visiting my family in Guatemala. We decided to welcome the New Year in Antigua, which is the colonial city. It was such a lively and charming celebration. There was marimba being played, fireworks, Toritos (little bulls) which is a man carrying a sort of shell in the shape of a bull, covered in fireworks. When the fireworks are lit, he dances around to spread the fireworks. It's a bit scary, since fireworks are so unpredictable, but so beautiful to look at! 

Once we moved to the United States, we could no longer carry out these cultural traditions. We were able to incorporate a few aspects of some of them, but it's not the same. I have made it a point never to forget these wonderful traditions, but not being able to practice them like we once used to, has definitely changed the way I feel about the Holidays. Of course, our family dynamics have also changed, so we have developed a few new ways to celebrate the Holidays...although they are quite inconsistent, which adds to the Holidays not feeling whole and as meaningful as they used to be. Not to say they are not meaningful, it just feels as though the Holidays are not complete...there's just a missing feeling to them. Regardless, I like to make them as joyful and enjoyable as possible.