December 17, 2009

Christmas Decorations in Paraguay

Okay, you already know that it's H.O.T. here in December, and that last year we had a 4th of July-style hamburger picnic for our Christmas lunch. But how about all those little things that make it seem like Christmas? When we drive into the capital, which has been influenced more by American and European culture, we see the mall decorated with Santa and snowmen and a giant tree.

We have a Christmas tree this year, and Ken put icicle lights up on our balcony. Typically folks don't have trees in their homes, however. A few have told us that close to Christmas, they may throw some lights on a tree or two in the yard. What they DO have are pesebres (pay SAY brays), which is their version of a manger scene. We got one, too, and set it up right beside our tree. It makes a nice blend of our traditions with theirs.

The pesebre is usually a homemade stick house with long, dried grasses on top to make the roof. Very similar to some of the pictures I've posted of folks' houses out here in the rural areas. Underneath, you'll find Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, fruits and vegetables (at times), and an assortment of ceramic animals. They aren't always the animals you're used to, like donkeys and camels. We've seen chickens sitting on eggs and little chicks. There are milking cows, pigs, you name it. And in this case, size doesn't matter. Baby Jesus can be three times the size of his parents, and the animals range from teency to waaaay big. Sometimes it looks like something from a horror movie, like Attack of the Giant Hen, or The Holy Family vs. Piggy Bank. A little strange when you first see it. Generally, though, it's a ceramic collection of farm animals and the little family, except larger versions than what we use at home. At times, the scenes are too large for the house and are placed in the yard, which is nice to see.

There are also flowers of the coconut tree for sale on every street corner, although they don't really look like flowers. They are long pods with seeds inside, that are placed in the pesebres. The coco flowers have a strong smell, which is to Paraguayans what the smell of baking chocolate chip cookies is to Southerners. Straight up Christmas!

Next post, I'll explain what happens on Christmas Eve and the 25th, as it's a little different from what we're used to, as well. What's your Christmas like?


  1. Amazing how many differences AND similarities. Yep, I do miss the decorations.
    They have posadas here. A Catholic tradition supposedly symbolizing Mary asking for room in Bethlehem. Weird too!

  2. I came across this site purely by accident.Apparently you are in a "Mission" to convert the inhabitants, for the purpose of them to become "christians" to your image and liking?. it seems you are well meaning folks and,I do not intend to minimize some of the good things you might be accomplishing, however it is comical the way you have described the local customs in regard to Christmas, Is there a hint of condescencion I notice? keep in mind that Christ-Mass in the US is not better, the pine tree which is a pagan symbol, phony lights and decorations made in china perhaps with child labor and I can go on. the "pesebre" as you described is perhaps the closest to a manger as we know it. It my history class serves me well, Paraguay was founded in the 1500's, older than the US? therefore, it is perhaps fitting to understand the history customs and rituals before making such a naive essay. Everything is strange to you, to the Gomez's? family as well; Mary I believe did ask for shelter at the inn as the story goes, althought historical facts suggests, they spent the night in cave rather than an inn "Weird" ??? I would read history books and learn about the Catholic Church that for better or for worse has been around for a couple of millenium, agree Mrs Gomez?
    a joyfull Christ-mass to you.


  3. K, Sorry to have offended you. Feel free to comment anytime, and keep visiting. Yes, you interpreted some of my stuff well, as comical, but condescending, never. Our house is probably the most decorated this year than in years we spent in the US. We had years there when we didn't use a tree at all, for some of the same reasoning you apparently have. But every year, we put out our collection of manger scenes. However, they never had a chicken or a pig, and I find that comical here. I also find it comical that sometimes baby Jesus or one or two animals are huge. Come on, now, if you saw it, you'd giggle inside a little, too, but hopefully smile nicely at the owner.

    And since my primary audience is the group of family and friends we left behind, I try to give a realistic view of our world to them. Most of them are like us, folks who've not been exposed to Latin-American Catholicism, so my viewpoint stands. I deeply respect the Paraguayan traditions and have incorporated them into our family celebrations, but I still find some of it strange compared to what we know. The only Gomez I know who is reading my blog is Paraguayan who lives in our home, and he gets a kick out of what we think, as he knows it's all said in love and with curiousity. Sorry you missed that in the blog. We certainly don't want to give the impression to you or anyone else that we wish to convert the beautiful Paraguayan people into Americans in our likeness, but in the image of our all-encompassing Savior, yes.

    PS--Feel free to leave your name next time... We don't flame here. ;)