Monday, December 26, 2016

Simply Christmas

Navidad this year was simple and precious.  It is the first time in my life I haven't spent the holiday surrounded by friends, family, platters of goodies, gifts and, well, more gifts.  I love my family traditions, but this year was more peaceful than usual...and I was more at peace.

We started Christmas Eve morning with a volunteer brunch in our house where we exchanged our Secret Santa gifts.  The quetzal limit was 25 (about 2 dollars) and you'd be surprised with what we came up with for so little.  Afterwards we all headed to our sections for work (we cover the caregivers' positions so they can go home for Christmas).  I covered the nurses in the clinic.

From my SS: don't judge

In my section we gathered around the Christmas tree and sang Christmas carols in English, German and Spanish, accompanied by a guitarist.  Afterwards we ate cookies and then the kids took turns opening their two gifts.  The gifts were simple but the kids were ecstatic to receive anything and I think it's pretty rare they get to pull wrapping paper off of anything!

That night we gathered outside the church for the Pasturela, a Christmas nativity pageant performed by the kids, complete with fire...there is definitely a fire thing here.  Coal, wood, sparklers, fireworks: it all gets burned on Christmas Eve.

After the performance (lovely!) we gathered together in an outside, covered area to partake of TAMALES.  If there is anything you want to know about Guatemalan Christmas traditions, it can be summed up in that one food.  And boy were they yummy!

After dinner, we gathered at a bonfire and the kids were given sparklers and small firecrackers (yes even casa de bebes...I had visions of thirty kids lined up at the clinic for burn treatment but surprisingly no one was hurt!).  We were given bolsas of fruit, peanuts and candy from a dear family that came to spend their Christmas Eve with us.

My Christmas present came early.  As I sat in front of the bonfire, one of the little boys from the baby house came and plopped in my lap.  He grabbed my hands and wrapped them around himself with a tight hug and then promptly fell asleep.  We sat there for several hours until I felt like my arms would fall off and my bum and legs were numb.  Picking him up, I carried him back to his house and helped put him to bed.  Seriously, made my day.

The next morning we slept in and ate a late breakfast.  Then everyone leisurely enjoyed movies, riding bikes or doing nothing until after dinner.  We started Mass in the church with caroling but then processed outside and all around campus, our way lit by candles on the walkway.  We returned carrying the baby Jesus wrapped in a swaddling cloth and placed him on the altar.  After Father began Mass, Jesus was carried to his manger under a Christmas tree and then we had Mass.

The caroling was beautiful.  It's neat learning Christmas songs in Spanish.  It's even neater being a part of a simple and beautiful Christmas celebration.  There is something to be said for not having things.  I did put together presents for all my kids, the nurses, doctor and the kids in the clinic....but really they were just tokens to say: "I thought of you." Because the only thing I really took home from this is that Jesus gives HIMSELF as a person to us and out of love and gratitude, that is the best thing we too can give to each other: OURSELVES.

God bless you!  ¡Feliz Navidad!  ¡Y Próspero año y felicidad! 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas Eve!

Luke 2:1, 11-12

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Merry Christmas from our Belen to yours!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Las Posadas: Is there room at the inn?

This week we started Las Posadas, an advent tradition I am growing to love and wish we had back home!  

All the children come together to sing, pray and walk around with Joseph and Mary carried on their shoulders.  They are looking for a place to stay.  

We do this daily, going to a different casa each time.  When we finally arrive at the one assigned for the day, we stand outside the door and sing back and forth with the people inside, asking for room in their home.  After what seems to be a long debate, we are allowed inside.  

Once the doors open, it can take a moment for your eyes to adjust to the bright lights, balloons, streamers and pre-nativity displays set up inside.  

We enter and listen to a small presentation of the advent story: the angel appearing to Mary or Joseph taking his wife and fleeing after seeing the angel in his dream.  Then the house invites us to share in a refa (snack) or meal.  Last night we had tamales and the night before that was sweet breads. Yum!

This has to be one of the most meaningful and beautiful advent traditions I have come across.  As we walk and pray, especially in the dark with candles, it is so easy to remember Mary and Joseph journeying alone to Bethlehem.  And when it is cold, and windy, and dark, you can so easily identify with how brave they really were as they went on their way.  

The light from inside the house draws you closer and as you stand on the threshold with Mary, Joseph and the unborn babe, asking entrance, you're reminded powerfully how Christ asks entrance into our hearts as well.  

My favorite night so far was a windy one.  We walked with candles and one of the little boys came up and grabbed my hand, asking me to hold his candle because he was scared of the flame.  We walked the entire way, hand in hand, singing our carols and looking for a place that would take us in.  

(Pic of people waiting inside)

My heart burns sometimes, because even though I understand the foundation's precepts about not adopting out (this is a part of Padre Wasson's philosophy from 60 years ago and now reinforced by Guatemalan law)...many times I wish I could bring these kids back with me!  But God has a place for them.  And God has a place for me.  And He is asking entrance into our hearts, because He has a place with us as well.  

¡Oh ven!, ¡Oh ven, Emanuel!

Libra al cautivo Israel,

Que sufre desterrado aquí,

Y espera al Hijo de David.

¡Alégrate, oh Israel!

Vendrá, ya viene Emanuel.

¡Oh ven, Tú, Vara de Isaí!

Redime al pueblo infeliz

Del poderío infernal

Y danos vida celestial.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Cookies and Glob

I decided to make Christmas cookies with my kids this week so we could pass out plates to all the other houses as Christmas presents.  What I didn't plan was for my frosting to turn out bipolar: one bowl of a perfect avocado-colored (don't ask) butter frosting and the other a bowl of pink glop (that was the frosting I made without butter because I realized I only had half of what I needed the day I needed it...and it's not like I could just duck out to the store for a time I'm going to steal someone else's know, if they have some).

The day before I made the frosting, some of my fellow volunteers came over (bringing cookie cutters, sprinkles, and a rolling pin that was delivered from the US of A) and what started as a simple cookie-baking activity quickly consumed almost my entire day.  The stove is TINY and we only had one real baking sheet...which unfortunately didn't fit into the stove like one would expect...leaving the cooking process slow and, well, really slow.

They did turn out really yummy!  Just a little soft...but every time one broke I reassured my fellow cooking elves that it was okay because that meant we had that many more cookies to give away.  Not sure if they bought it.  But they did believe me when I explained that a broken cookie doesn't have any calories: they all fall out when it breaks.

The actually "making cookies with my kids" thing was today.  This involved decorating and a lot of sugar.  The two who could actually spread the frosting went to town while my friend and I smeared the (avocado-colored butter cream) frosting (because the pink glaze was just too globby) and helped guide eager hands with the sprinkle shakers.

yes I know that looks dark green...until you stir it in...

We made I don't know how many cookies but managed to fill a plate with enough cookies for each person in the girls, boys and baby houses.  We also brought a plate to the padre and the special education director, per the kids request (okay, I asked if they wanted to and they said yes).  

Okay yes, we used some pink glob...but only after we ran out of avocado butter cream.

The kids LOVED it!  I mean, they liked decorating and eating, but they LOVED visiting everyone and telling them they had made them cookies.  It was like Christmas only in reverse...I seriously believe they were happier giving than they would have ever been if someone had brought us the cookies.

Afterwards we sat down to watch Frosty the Snowman in Spanish.  The kids were not excited about Frosty, but Abracadabra the rabbit?  He has a new fan club of 11 Guatemalan kids, all pointing and yelling "Mira!" whenever he came on the screen.  I'm still smiling as I remember.  :o)  

Buenas noches!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

La Virgen de Guadalupe and getting our Christmas on at NPH

The festivities have begun!  Here at NPH and also in Antigua.  Yesterday for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe I went into town and did some people watching before getting my first Guatemalan pedicure with a fellow volunteer for her birthday.  I am VERY glad I didn't know about this before because I'm pretty sure a nice chunk of my savings would be depleted right now!

So just a few pics from around NPH and Guate showing us getting our Christmas on!

Visitors, clowns and donations.

Shutting down the streets.

Stands set up for photo ops with Our Lady, complete with live animals!

There were quite a few Juan Diegos running around!

Not quite rivaling the Christmas Markets in Europe but definitely reminded me of them!