On my earlier post about holiday festivities in Guatemala, I had grumbled about how Americanized the whole thing was turning out to be. I’m glad to report that the first experience was the exception to the rule.
In the US, Christmas means mostly one thing: holiday shopping. Pursuing the best deals and completing arm-length shopping lists is the name of the sport.
A growing backlash against the lemming-like tradition of saturating shopping malls over-capacity has steadily grown over the years. These rebels have refused to follow their marching orders blasted via TV and radio to the masses. These rebels now do their frantic shopping online.
While there’s certainly an attempt by retailers in Guatemala to get people to the stores at Christmas time, I was pleasantly surprised this did not seem to be the all-consuming purpose of Christmas. In Guatemala, Christmas is still strongly rooted in tradition and a bonding of family over Christmas dinner. Gifts were almost an afterthought, except for children.
Not once did I ever hear anything regarding a “War on Christmas”, or the appropriateness or sensitiveness of a Christian nativity scene, of which there were many. The word “navidad” (Christmas) is still very much part of the vocabulary and “Felices feriados!” (Happy holidays!) is not exactly a suitable replacement.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
I was fortunate to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with a wonderful Guatemalan family who made me, a complete stranger, feel more than welcome in their home. I enjoyed ponche (Guatemala’s Christmastime hot fruit punch), tamales, and great roasted pork.
I also saw an awesome nativity scene, which many families take great pride in assembling inside their homes every year. Pictures don’t do it justice. It even featured a running waterfall!
Religious customs also plays a big role in the celebration of Christmas. One such custom is that of “posadas” (shelter). It’s sort of a mini-religious procession which reenact Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, as they sought shelter there to comply with the King’s census request. I encountered many posadas making the rounds and they always brought a smile to my face, even when it meant the street was now blocked and I’d have to find another way around to my destination.
New Year’s Fireworks in Antigua Guatemala
For New Year’s Eve, our family decided to have a special dinner at home.
At around 10 p.m., we headed to Antigua to await the new year.
While the streets were busier than usual, the crowds were not nearly as big as those that gather here during Holy Week. The bars around the park were packed with tourists and they spilled out on the street. Most people walked around, taking in the sights of an Antigua decked in white Christmas lights.
There were two places set up for people to await 2013’s arrival. The place most people naturally gravitated to was Arco Santa Catalina.
While the Arco looked great, I felt it was too crowded a place and not the best spot for catching the fireworks show that was sure to follow. The best spot was by Palacio Municipal, right in front of the main park. We headed over to Parque Central, where we were fortunate to find a bench to people-watch from as we awaited midnight.
I noticed some people had brought small folding tables and chairs and had set them up in front of the park. As the clock struck midnight, many of the people at the tables popped open champagne bottles to celebrate. A couple of years back the park was declared an alcohol-free zone, but I later learned champagne popping is an old New Year’s tradition of many of Antigua’s old families. This is probably why the Police looked the other way, at least for that night.
The fireworks show was great, all the more enhanced by the beautiful colonial surroundings. I managed to record the video below, even though I came dangerously close to getting fragged by fireworks:
I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas in Guatemala, both the traditions and the great food. Well worth the time to spend Christmas here at least once.