Twas the night before Christmas, but twasn’t as quiet as a mouse in Guatemala. It rarely ever is, but in the days leading up to Christmas, things get even louder and louder.
For weeks already there have been processions and celebrations in my neighbourhood. There’s the daily children’s procession with kids carrying a brightly lit statue of the Virgin Mary, preceded by children playing, if you can call it that, turtle shells and singing songs. There’s the popular tradition of the mobile disco with different dance groups such as the Abuelitos (dancers dressed up as old people), the Monsters (which speaks for itself), the transvestites and the Wild Beasts, the latter seeming to consist of a bit of everything.
This year we even had real drama on the streets with a theatrical confrontation between angels and demons. Then there are of course the “normal” processions. And last night Santa visited too.
Employees receive an extra salary this month and many stores gladly help them spend it by offering great discounts and having huge speakers in the doorway. Because, as every one knows in Latin America, the more noise you make the more you sell.
The market, a busy beehive on any day, is almost impossible to visit right before Christmas. Half of the people try to make a bit of money while the other half haggles for the best deal. Ambulant vendors sell everything imaginable, from underwear and Christmas decorations to curtains, remote controls and selfie-sticks. The vendors who have a permanent stands fight the ambulant ones with foot and nail to get them off their turf while the municipal police try to stop the stand owners from invading the public space with their merchandise. It’s a lost battle for al parties involved. Only the pickpockets thrive.
The yearly Christmas market is an explosion of colour and sound, offering everything for a traditional Christmas. I love the backdrops for the nativity scenes, hand painted on drab coloured cardboard that gives them a gorgeous vintage look. There is moss, sawdust in every colour, cribs, complete three-story stables, pinecones, glittery streamers, bells and whistles… Lights, lights, Christmas lights everywhere, flickering and beeping their high-pitched Christmas tunes all at ones. And maybe best of all, hundreds, no thousands of small ceramic figurines for the nativity scene. Colourful men playing the marimba and maracas, pastors with sheep, chickens, geese, dancers, horse, infants, kings and many, many more. I thought it would be a nice idea to buy small ceramic dogs for my dog-loving friends, but it turned out dogs never attended the nativity scene. Apparently chickens, geese, marimba players and even one zebra did attend, but dogs, no. It let to some hysterical conversations with the vendors but in the end I went home empty handed.
Tonight there will be mass and family visits. Lots of tamales, music drinking and to top it off, lots of fireworks at midnight. And that’s basically it. Tomorrow at noon another round of fireworks, but besides a few kids in their new clothes scavenging for recyclable firecrackers, there’ll be hardly anybody on the streets.
That’s Christmas in Guatemala.
So for now, as they say here: Ho-Ho-Ho, Feliz Navidad!