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Wednesday, 4 December 2013


Christmas in Guatemala is unlike Christmas anywhere else.
It is so loud, brazen, colourful. It is extreme. It is also closer to what the real meaning of Xmas should be.

In the markets there are countless stalls that sell just fireworks. Fireworks are everywhere and going off everywhere. Then there are these long strings of fireworks that, as I child they where called "bangers." Bangers just explode with a loud noise, no colour, no display, just a loud BANG!!

The banger fireworks that I saw in Xela and elsewhere in Guatemala, are sold by the metre. Some of these resemble long coiled ammunition belts that when rolled out, they are very long. I have seen some that where at least 50 metres (160 feet) in length. When lit they go off in a barrage of continuous explosions, lasting for several minutes. They sound like automatic weapon fire. These are often laid out along a street or through a market place. 

Then at midnight before Christmas day the skies are filled with fireworks of every description and size, lighting the sky in an array of colour (and noise) like none I have ever experienced anywhere. This is not an organized event as private parties, families and individuals everywhere celebrate Xmas with fireworks. This array of lights goes on for at least an hour and a half. 

In Parque Central there is a huge Xmas tree that is assembled, decorated and then lit up at night. One Christmas all the decorations disappeared one night up to a certain level on the tree. That certain level seemed to be what an average Guatemalan could reach with their hands stretched up high.

The tree is so special that now armed guards protect that tree all day and night long. There are some people (I am told) that would harvest the tree for the decorations that ordain it. 

I love a parade. I have seen so many I have lost count as to how many I have seen. There are some pretty amazing Santa Claus parades in Canada and the USA, but none if these can equal the Santa Claus parade in Xela, Guatemala. The Santa Claus parade in Xela is different as anyone can put together a parade float and march or dance on in it, no problemo. 

So what makes Xela's Santa Clause parade unique?  

Keeping with Guatemalan tradition and way of thinking, why have just one Santa? So in Xela there is not just one Santa, no there are many Santa's in the parade. Santa's of many shapes and sizes. And we must not forget the Santa's helpers...

who also come in several versions, and so very true to what Guatemala is. 

The parade is colourful, musical, you can dance to it and it is very long. The parade winds a weaving path through the whole city for a good two hours. This means that most people no matter where they live will have an opportunity to see the parade without going too far away from their homes.

Xmas is also family. I was invited to celebrate Xmas with a Maya family. This experience was so wonderful for me. There home consisted of two houses. Out back was a closed courtyard and then beyond where two cows, a goat, horse, chickens and several dogs and cats.

It was all good because....

I was here to experience Christmas with the family in their simple home sharing just food and conversation. 

No presents were exchanged between anyone. Partly I believe because they cannot afford that and partly because to them it is not necessary. 

The main house was a typical Guatemalan home one was one large room. Here everyone lived, ate and slept. 

Across the room a long table was set up and fashioned from several tables and it sat across most of the length of the room. It was decorated with a festive and colourful paper cloth. Seats, mostly plastic ones and the kind that stack, were placed so that everyone had a place to sit at the table. 

We had brought the turkey and without that turkey Xmas would have been celebrated with only spaghetti. I think that would have been just fine as well. Then because I was the guest, it was decided that I should carve up the turkey.

This was such a special experience for me and so different from what I had become accustomed to. In Canada, for so many years, I had become accustomed to that (so called) perfect Christmas. Perfect with its over sized and over garnished Christmas tree that had too many presents underneath that sometimes would spread across the floor. A Christmas where so many people would be giving and getting too much. The glutinous commercialism state that Christmas has become in its perfect state. 

Tired of this cornucopia of too much, I had long ago rebelled. I had in fact not celebrated Christmas for a long time. 

So there I was in this perfect and very simple way, sharing with a Maya family what Christmas should be. The sharing of communication and belief in a simpler way.  It felt good.

That is when I found out that Christmas is Xela is awesome....

Merry Christmas Xela.