Feliz Navidad: Christmas Tradition in Guatemala

Merry Christmas eCard 2014 -- by Karina Noriega

Merry Christmas eCard 2014 — by Karina Noriega

The very best holidays wishes from your most consistently absent best friends 🙂

One of the hardest cultural differences for me to accept when I first moved to Canada was the ludicrous idea that kids didn’t open presents until the morning of the 25th. I was instantly threatened. If I had been any younger I may have questioned Santa’s dedication to Canadian children.

“We don’t have to wait too, do we?” I grumbled. The entire holiday season became battle ground for tradition.

Christmas Eve had always been a day of exceptions. The ‘eat-all-the-candy-you-can-fit’ exception. The ‘playing-with-dangerous-fireworks’ exception. The ‘staying-up-all-night’ exception. Us kids willingly took naps on Christmas eve; we simply had to be awake for the arrival of the big fat jolly dude bringing the goods. At midnight o’clock, we put the baby Jesus under the tree, then we opened all presents and played until couldn’t keep eyelids peeled any longer.

Let me explain this better. Holiday traditions in Guatemala (as experienced in my own family, not to speak for all Guatemalans) start long before Christmas eve. Remember ‘La Quema del Diablo’? That cleansing from evil is the beginning of nightly celebrations leading up to the impending birth of baby Jesus (little JC is the main man in this holiday, sorry Santa). Nine days before Christmas the festivities explode with ‘posadas’(*1) taking place in the streets of every town and city throughout the country. And on Christmas eve, families attend mass together before heading home to celebrate the birth of Jesus by gathering around the nativity scene(*2) to lay down the baby Jesus on his manger when clock strikes twelve.

*1 Posadas

Meaning accommodations, posadas are a reenactment of Mary and Joseph on their journey as they seek lodging. 

*2 Nacimiento —> Nativity Scene

A staple of every home and business in Guatemala, elaborate and colourful nativity scenes are constructed under the Christmas tree. Complete with little mountainside moss, crude huts, farm animals and tiny people in indigenous dress, they set the scene for Mary, Joseph and the manger awaiting baby Jesus.
(It’s not until this moment that I’m realizing that our portrayal Bethlehem – where Jesus was born – is more like a Guatemalan village.)

The Christmas tradition is not all business though. The countdown to midnight is the most exiting few hours of the year for any child. My entire extended family gathers at my grandmothers house. The whole place is decked out with lights, pointsettas, wreaths, decorations and of course, a vibrant spruce tree flanked by waves of brightly papered boxes topped with exorbitant bows of scarlet and gold.

Wafts of turkey dinner and grandma’s stuffing infuse every room. Entire tables are set up solely to display an international range of desserts. We eat with our limitless eyes. If not for the fireworks, the gluttony would be enough to finish of any child or adult.

The fireworks in Guatemala City are a truly extraordinary sight to behold. It is 4 million people simultaneously shooting coloured spectacles into the sky until the smokes glow above you. Every sense gets rocked. It’s warfare. As kids, we mainly chased each other with ‘canchinflines’, tiny missiles making a high pitched whistling noise as they erratically paint sparks into the air, and whatever they come in contact with (us included). [One time, my cousins managed to set my brothers by curly locks of fire!]

At some point during our inexhaustible pyrotechnique display, Santa would stealth pass our homes multiplying the piles of gifts from cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, siblings and grandparents. After our prayers and the traditional welcoming of baby Jesus, we tore into our presents like complete animals, but respectfully and with gratitude of course 🙂
All this while Canadian children where forced into sleepless nights in their bedrooms anticipating Christmas day. To be fair, at least they get to play with their new toys after unwrapping them. We more so collapsed into our new teddy bears, branding streams of drool down their bellies before we got carried off to bed.

~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~

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One thought on “Feliz Navidad: Christmas Tradition in Guatemala

  1. Pingback: An Extraordinary Journey to Guatemala & You Are Invited | Karina's Extraordinary Life

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