Noche de Paz, Noche de Amor

I love Gabby and Scott but don't have time for all their nonsense talk, 
send me straight to the pics!

Christmas!  Our favorite time of year.  We all know how it works back in the States.  However, things are a bit different here.

For starters, things are pretty low-key.  We didn't get our Christmas Tree (arbol navideņo) until Decemeber 22nd.  In fact, it wasn't really a Christmas tree at all.  Instead, our brother Francisco hiked up the mountain behind our house and chopped off a branch from one of the Cypress trees.  It smelled nice and piney, but it didn't have the same shape as what we're used to.  It really did resemble the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  We propped it up in an old coffee can and gave it some support by tying strings to it and tying the other end to the wall.  Afterward, it was time to decorate.

We untangled the Clark Griswald ball of Christmas lights and put them on the tree, which, of couse, was complete with mechanical Christmas music.  Next, the boys unwrapped a good-sized ceramic nativity scene and placed it beneath the tree on a bed of pine needles.  Even though the donkeys had long since lost their ears, and Joseph was a no-show due to the fact that he was shattered to smithereens in an accident a few Christmases back, the scene was very pretty.  We tried to fid a Power Ranger replacement so Maria wouldn't be "soltera" but the one I found was no good.  "Es chica" said Marlon.  Sorry Maria, I tried.

We didn't have a huge box of ornaments for the tree.  Instead, we made some.  The tradition is to hang mandarin oranges (the REAL kind... not the kind that come in heavy syrup in an aluminum can) and candy from the branches of the tree.  Scott particularly enjoyed the idea of edible ornaments.  This is definitely a tradition we will bring home.  The candy not the mandarins because the cans would be to heavy and the slices would get all drippy and then all dry. We both wanted more ornaments, so Gabby got all Martha-Stewarty and corralled the kids.  We were a virtual ornament factory, cranking out decorations made from old plastic lids and magazine cutouts.  The kids had a really good time, and we did too.

Christmas Eve is the big celebration time here.  We went to the market in the afternoon to buy a bunch of food and goodies for the festivities.  When we finally returned home, it was time for church.  We headed up the mountain to the pueblo of Cantel (we live in the Fabrica de Cantel) to the chapel at 7:30pm, fully expecting to partake in the service.  Instead, we found Graciela's sister there, in charge of making 200 sandwiches for the post-service get-together.  Rather than leave her with all of the work, we chipped in.  So, we stirred a cauldron full of chicken salad, and spooned it onto about a zillion loaves of bread.  We missed the whole service except for the short drama that starred our brother, Edwin, as one of the two (not three) kings and the sandwiches were finished just in time.  The service ended with the fourth of four of the world's lowest renditions of "Noche De Paz" ("Silent Night" in Spanish) and the congregation made quick work of the chicken salad sandwiches.

We arrived home at about 10:30pm to a house without electricity.  Everyone rested for a bit in the candlelight, until one of the kids broke out the fireworks around 11:15pm.  It's the tradition here to set off fireworks at midnight on Christmas Eve, so our family did it up right.  You could hear people shooting off fireworks throughout the whole valley.  The local fabrica (factory) sounded it's siren at midnight as well.  In Guatemala, I think their motto is:  "The Louder The Better."  It was pretty incredible, especially considering the fact that the vast majority of the fireworks are illegal back in the U.S., especially the kind people have here.  Injuries due to burns are pretty common here, but our celebration went off without incident. 

Just after midnight, the whole family gathered for a big meal by candlelight, complete with hot chocolate.  By this time of the night, everyone was exhausted.  Even though the gift exchange immediately follows dinner, the kids were falling asleep.  This was a change from the norm, for sure.

The first to open gifts were the three youngest kids.  They each received a small, battery-operated car with a remote control.  Next, Martin and Graciela gave us our gifts - tropical parrot figurines with a small snow-globe containing another tiny parrot.  We were incredibly grateful to receive them especially since Martin had told us recently that he didn't have enough money to buy medicine to treat a stomach condition.   What's more, the other five members of the family (Martin, Graciela, Edwin, Francisco and Yadira) had no gifts at all.

As is our custom in the states, we had purchased a little something for every member of the family.  The majority of them opened their gifts very carefully, making sure not to tear the paper.  Each one of them had a bright smile when they finally saw what was inside.  Even though each gift was very small, we were thanked over and over again.  

Still, what was perhaps the nicest part of the whole celebration was that the gifts were just a small part of Christmas.  Instead, the focus was on spending time with family and giving thanks for the blessings in life.  It's a holiday we will never forget.

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