Merry Christmas from Quetzaltenango (Xela)

Rural children waiting for "Santa" along the Pan-American Highway

Rural children waiting for "Santa" along the Pan-American Highway...if only I'd known of the tradition.

Feliz Navidad! It was a festive evening in Antigua with many folks out in the central park for the evening.  Three Santas were there posing for photos in front of the fountain with portable printers ready for action to send folks home with their Christmas memories.  Marian and I walked down to see the goings on and wondered over to the Cathedral since Christmas Eve Mass was happening.  We stood in the immense doorway, half in, half out.

The church was packed, standing room only, and we could watch the priest on a LCD TV on one of the pillars.  The beautiful thing about Catholic mass is that its form transcends language so we could easily know what the priest was saying despite our elementary Spanish.  At one point, the Christmas parade, complete with flashing lights and oversquelched speakers blaring our Spanish Christmas carols proceeded past the Cathedral.

Those of us in the doorway, straddled the two worlds of the spirit of Christmas and the celebration of it.  My attention migrated between mass and the celebratory commotion outside.  At the exchange of peace, I remembered that the last time I was in mass was for my dad’s funeral and I dipped into some grief, missing his presence in my life.  At the close of mass, the parishioners flowed from the church in a river of humanity towards the park.

We’d heard that tamales were the traditional Christmas Eve feast in Guatemala and appreciated that a knowledgeable fellow guest directed us to a local woman who was selling tamales around the corner.  We managed to order and pay for a savory and sweet tamale and took them back to our room to enjoy.  I love tamales and these did not disappoint.  As we ate, I remarked at how versatile corn is…and such a crucial part of the culture here.

We enjoyed a late supper in the tourist part of Antigua, passing on the special offering of turkey for mole and local soup.  At midnight, the streets came alive in a cacophony of cracks, fizzles, and firecrackers.  The ruckus lasted a solid fifteen minutes and signaled the arrival of the baby Jesus.  He would now be placed into nativity scenes in churches, communities, and homes throughout the land and the serious feasting would begin.

Christmas morning came gently and we packed for the drive to Quetzaltenango (Xela).  The drive went quicker than usual because no one else was on the road.  Beside the road were hundreds of children waving at us as we went by.  We waved back and wondered what all these children were doing beside the highway.

Luiz explained that they were waving at us hoping we would be “Santa Claus” to them.  There is a tradition of folks driving out from Guatemala City with small regalos (presents) for rural children on Christmas Day.  We saw one van stopped surrounded by 50 or 60 kids.  In that moment, I so wished I’d know of the tradition so we too, could have stopped and shared some Christmas spirit along the road.

We arrived in Xela and settled in.  We visited the Nativity scene at the Cathedral here and noted that Frosty the Snowman was popular even though it only snowed for the first time in Guatemala in 2009 (at the top of Tajumulco…our climbing objective in a few days).

Our Boxing Day climb overlooks Xela…Santa Maria and we head up tomorrow camping out on the summit.  Check out pictures from our Christmas in Guatemala here:

May the spirit of Christmas fill you and yours with joy, generosity, and light.  Peace be with you and our world.

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