I kissed Baby Jesus Thursday night. The event was of huge significance in my Guatemalan life given the fact that I have been to Church about 7 times in my entire life (this includes weddings and funerals). It was no random Thursday night, it was Christmas Eve, or as we call it here la ``Noche Buena.`` La Noche Buena is a very big ordeal, and far more important than Christmas day here.
I was fortunate enough to spend my very first Guatemalan Christmas with my previous host family and got the chance to partake in typical Guatemalan customs. My 2009 Christmas timeline began on the 24th, with the construction of none other than a highly complex nativity scene. What began as a simple baby Jesus manger table turned into a sophisticated bamboo rooftop house for little baby Jesus. Four hours later, we all gathered together to have the traditional Noche Buena dinner: Tamales. Tamales are a typical Guatemalan staple food that are made of corn mush, a tiny piece of meat, and a salsa-like saucy paste. I know it kind of sounds gross, but they are actually quite tasty, especially after they are wrapped in palm leaves and cooked over open fire. Later on, we also got to roast marshmallows over the open fire, which made me quite confused as to where I was exactly.
Lucky for me, my old host family is not really religious, which meant that I got to skip 10 o`clock mass. But going to church is of utmost high importance even for the least religious and so we made our way to church just before midnight to pay our respects. The apex scene of this blog entry goes a little like this: the church is full, mass has just finished, as we take our place in an endless line just at the outskirts of the church. I am not quite sure what we are waiting for, and I let the awkwardness in me fade away as we slowly make our way up. But then just as I start getting serious, thinking about my family, my future, my service…. I see him…. I see large baby Jesus, the target goal, and what everyone has been waiting in line to do: to kiss him. I turn to the other volunteer behind me and whisper… ``what do we do???``… We decide that whatever my host sister does, we will dutifully follow as well. Lucky for us, she kisses him. I am next: the person next to me has already kissed him. I have a minor freak out as everyone stares at the only two blonde twins in the church… I know it sounds like it should be simple, but in a few split seconds, thoughts run through my head: ``Oh god, I`ve never done this before….How do I do it? What if I don`t do it right?? I hope I don`t offend anyone?... Where do I kiss it?? Looks like the foot might be a good option…. Ok here it goes…`` I inhale it and I do it. I look back at the other volunteer and I can tell the same thoughts are going through her head. Apparently she decides the foot is a good option too. We scurry out of there, whispering about our awkwardness until we realize we sped walk so fast out of there that we left my host family behind.
We wait outside the entrance for my host family, and are reunited by their laughter and banter at our exit strategy. We are quickly reunited outside by the midnight bells, the celebration of baby Jesus, and a trillion spectacle of fireworks. And by trillion, I am not exaggerating… Fireworks are shooting from 3 different spots behind the church, two behind the muni building, at least 5 other spots in different points of the village, as many others shoot smaller fireworks out on the streets around the park. It is a shower of fireworks, the best show I have ever seen.
Christmas here is about baby jesus, but also about fireworks. Guatemalans are fireworks fanatics, especially around Christmas; and all around Guatemala at this time, every family crowds and runs the streets with their different favorite fireworks, whether the volcan, cuetes, and other names I can`t quite remember. It`s a science really that kids begin to learn earlier than they even learn how to say the word ¨bomba.¨
The rest of the Christmas weekend was spent relaxing, destressing about stuff I am not supposed to stress about, playing soccer, and painting away. Painting is a hobby I have recently taken up, thanks to the help of my host sister who is a great painter… She even got me a paint set for Christmas! I was truly grateful, especially since it is not a typical Guatemalan tradition to give gifts on Christmas.
I suppose the universality of Christmas is that of a time to be grateful anywhere one might be in the world. I will end then on that note: I am especially grateful for the creativity that this experience has allowed me to develop. I am grateful for my host family, and for the people that for some reason or another just keep returning to the meetings I have for them. I am grateful for the familiar faces I now call family, and familiar mountains I now call mine. I am grateful for my own family and friends at home who think that what I am doing is great, although I think it`s actually quite ordinary and frustrating at times. So thank you life, thank you world, thank you Guatemala. Oh yea and thanks for reading this.