Christmas Bolivian style

What a day.  Christmas started here on the 24th with a flurry of last-minute preparations for Christmas mass.  Then we had a “Buena Noche” dinner at 5pm of lamb, potatoes, rice and beet soup, yum!  After dinner Tom and I had our Christmas, we opened presents and listened to familiar Christmas carols.  Then at 8:30pm we took a shower to cool off and improve our smell (it was a hot one!) and got ready for Christmas Eve mass.  Mass started at 9:30 (despite the fact that we’d been told multiple times 9pm) with a Nativity Play by the older church youth group and then continued normally,  except that we gave multiple rounds of applauses to Baby Jesus (El Nino Jesus).  After mass we went with all the Sisters to the Hogar (orphanage/home for girls) and had a Buena Noche party with the girls, which consisted of a pig (choncho) dinner at 11:45pm, a LOT of fireworks at midnight (which apparently happens all over Latin America)  and lots of traditional Bolivian dancing.  The tradition is to dance in front of the Nativity Scene starting with a bow as a way to “adore” the Nino Jesus.   The dancing continued until 1:30am when Tom and I could barely stand anymore and decided to retire.

This morning started early at 6:30am with some fruitcake for breakfast (Incredibly popular here, we still don’t like it though) and I went to help prepare hot chocolate for the Centro Sagrado Corazon’s (Sister’s Sacred Heart youth center which is attached to the convent) Christmas party.  At 7:45am I grabbed a few last props and I headed to the church to unlock it and start dressing my actors for our Nativity Play; but fate was not on our side this morning.  At 7:30am it started drizzling.  At 8am it let up and I made it to the church generally dry and a few of my actors were there waiting for me.  At 8:30am the torrential downpour started.  Tom had gone to the Hogar to share Christmas breakfast with the girls since the other volunteers were making pancakes.   Once the rain started however the roads flooded quickly as we have no storm drains or drainage ditches, so he was stuck.   Luckily, just then the milk man showed up in his truck to deliver milk to the Hogar.   He was nice enough to drive Tom to the church and wouldn’t accept any money for it.  There’s some Christmas spirit!

Meanwhile at the church, any of my actors that hadn’t arrived by 8:30am were now stranded in their homes or on the way (en camino) due to the rain.  All of the kids in our group live in the neighborhoods surrounding the church and few if any of their families have cars so they generally travel by foot.  Little by little drenched people trickled in.  At 9:50 the priest finally arrived (for 9am mass) and I had all of my actors except Angel Gabriel!  As we were about to dress my co-director Roxanna as Angel Gabriel, Katherine showed up!  We hurriedly dressed her as mass started and shooed all our angels out to listen to mass.  Those who had arrived at 8am were now pretty antsy and wanted to know when they were going to get to wear their wings!   We performed the Nativity Play (teatro) during the homily and amazingly it went very well despite a last-minute Magi recruitment and the set getting drenched by a leak in the roof.  Even our Baby Jesus, who was played by the 2 month old nephew of one of our Inn keepers, behaved well despite it being “cold” (80 degrees) in the church.  Another highlight was that two high school students dressed up as a burro and Mary actually rode it to Bethlehem!  Unfortunately our audience ended up being only about 20 people who lived close enough to brave the rain, the Sisters and some Hogar girls.  I think they enjoyed it though :) .   Below is a video of the Nativity play, note especially the abundant Christmas lights, even on the altar!

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After mass the rain finally gave us a break and we headed with all the children to the Centro Sagrado Corazon for the Christmas party.  We had hot chocolate, fried dough, cookies and candy and the kids put on dances to “adore” the Nino Jesus.  We also gave presents out to all the actors in the Nativity Play and all the kids that had taken part in the Novena Navidena, which consists of prayer, singing, and activities for children during the nine days before Christmas to help prepare them to welcome the Nino Jesus into their hearts and homes.  That wrapped up around 12:30pm and we both collapsed back in our house for about 30 minutes.

At 1pm we headed over to the Hogar to celebrate Christmas with everyone there.  We had lunch with the girls which was surprisingly tasty- rice and chicken salad with lots of veggies in it.  Then we played around with them for awhile until 3pm when it was time for Santa (Papa Noel) to come!  Tom dressed up in the Santa Claus costume they had and we rounded up all the girls to receive their presents from Papa Noel (presents bought with money donated by people from the US who sponsor each girl as “God-parents”).  “Papa Noel” gave out presents until 4:30pm or so and only made two babies cry ;) .  This is a good time to mention though that the only reason the Hogar does this is because of the influence of 20 years of having US volunteers there and the donated money.  Most people here don’t receive presents for Christmas, or maybe young children will receive one toy.  Christmas is more focused on giving presents to Jesus and adoring him.  Also, a lot of families just don’t have the money for extravagances.  The most common Christmas presents we saw in stores were baskets of food containing flour, sugar, toilet paper, etc., fruitcakes and bottles of really cheap, sweet sparkling cider.   Christmas is celebrated with a nice dinner, dancing, and fireworks instead of presents.  I asked one of the girls who was playing an Inn Keeper in our play about her family’s Christmas presents and she muttered something about, well my dad worked but he hasn’t gotten paid yet, we’re just having a dinner.

Jessica, Aide, and a third girl (we haven’t learned all the names yet, the Hogar has 112 girls) with Santa Tom.

Now it’s Christmas evening, we’re relaxing back at our house and the fireworks continue!

3 thoughts on “Christmas Bolivian style

  1. great pictures and story. i am trying to absorb some heat from the story after spending the weekend in Camp Grove with 8 inches of snow on Christmas Eve.

    have a Happy New Year!

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