In my phone calls home on Christmas, I talked with my nephew Kevin. He had only one question: Did Santa make it to Guatemala? More importantly, Jesus definitely renewed his presence among us!
This is my first Christmas here, and I am not sure of the difference between tradition and random events. I would say that Christmas was an evening event somewhat like New Year's Eve back home. Once it was dark, streets closed to traffic, all churches were in session, fiestas and fireworks abounded late into the night and early morning! We were invited to share the evening with the family of the teachers in Purushila. It was an outdoor event under the metal roof of their newly constructed open pavilion. We arrived after 9:30 pm. The evening was a family celebration with all members able to share Christmas greetings and blessing with the whole family, pinata, family games, a nice meal and fireworks. To show how well respected Ismael is among the group, he was asked to lead the family in prayer at the beginning of the evening. We arrived back in San Benito at 1:30 am.
On Christmas morning everything was quiet. We went to the home in Santa Ana for a quiet morning. We ate tomales, A Christmas traditional meal that Orfe and actually most women, spent all day making on Christmas eve. To our surprise we saw Ismael's mother walking toward the house down the middle of the rocky backroad. She had taken a tuk-tuk and spent much of the day with us. In the afternoon, Orfe's family members wandered over for visiting on the porch.
Spontaneously, the group decided that we would all go to "the beach"! So two vehicles full of 21 people drove to San Jose which borders the same lake that we see in Flores. This beach was without sand and one had to descend steep steps to get into the water. Some enjoyed a swim and we ate a picnic of tamales and pizza and watermelon. The whole family, including Orfe's mom, played soccer in the dark, and then we all stopped for ice cream at Pollo Campero which was my Christmas present to the family. In our van we played a question game with various people yelling out questions and groups of people answering. This game was led by Orfe's mom. My favorite answer came from Francisco, a six-year old who was wedged in the front seat next to the driver. To the question, "Who were the three kings in the Christmas story?" he quickly responded for all to hear: Hanssel, Jesse and Franklin! We laughed and laughed. At one point, we had multiple photos taken of family members each trying to outdo the others in beauty in the shots.
But little did I know that the night was still young. Again, spontaneously, we decided that we would spend the night in Santa Ana, our first night there. It didn't matter that we had no working electricity (the wires are in place but we have not connected to the main line) or toilet facilities. And the family decided to have a sleep over on the porch of the house in Santa Ana. So, Orfe's mom had the hammock, her two sisters and a brother along with his wife and the boys and 6 other children spralled out on thin matresses on the cement porch after a bonfire with marshmallows and again lots of laughter. Everyone slept in their clothes, and it was actually a cold night in Guatemala so blankets were everywhere. It was a testimony to the wonderful family spirit of Christmas!
Few gifts were exchanged. The most presents that I saw either purhcased or given were for the exchange that took place at the party with the family in Purushila where everyone brought and exchanged a gift. Jesse and Franklin had brought back a few gifts for the family from the States, but overall it was not a day spent on expensive gifts. I received a lovely embroidered pillow cover from Orfe's mom who calls me "Hija" and whom I call "Mom" and one of her sisters gave me a coconut candy bar. Orfe looked out at the chickens in the yard and declared that the fat gray and white chicken was now mine! So, I need to figure out how to take care of Mis Gallina! Very, very simple. Several houses have small lights, and I saw a few small and simple Christmas trees in windows, but not many. I never saw a Christmas tree farm, and I believe that any tree I did happen to see was artificial. We had a few strings of lights at the house which delighted Anita. Stores had Christmas songs playing and some decor and sales, but much less hype than we would find in the USA.
So, did Santa stop in Guatemala? He did. He delivered a very simple and family oriented Christmas Day!
My hope and prayer is that each of you may feel the presences of Jesus in your hearts and in your families!
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012