December 26, 2009

No BLAHs Here

Don't you hate the BLAH that comes when Christmas is over? That's one of the things we're avoiding this year. I told you about how we spent the night of the 23rd, at the live nativity scene, so I'll start from there with the rest of our Holiday.

Christmas Eve was a pretty normal day until the sun began to set, and then I noticed that all the houses had put lights around their pesebres (manger scenes) sometime during that day. They'd also hung branches over the top, to make the roof more authentic, and put grass and a dirt path under the animals and the holy family. Most had Christmas bulbs/balls hanging from strings from the ceiling of the pesebre, and some even had chipa (traditional doughnut shaped bread) hanging alongside the bulbs.

As it got dark, a few gals from the neighborhood came and got me, saying it was time to do the pesebre walk. We went house to house, and each had chairs set up in front of their pesebres. As we came to each yard, the lady of the home welcomed us, had us sit down, and then said that Baby Jesus wanted to give us a gift. Before the walk was up, Baby Jesus (with a little help from the ladies of each home) had given me several glasses of Coke, fruit salad, and a little candy. I saw some very interesting pesebres and decided mine was a little embarrassing in comparison. Thankfully, they all know we're neither locals or Catholics, so we're learning!

At one home, my friend leaned over with a wink and whispered, "This is what we call a modern pesebre." It had the typical animals (about 100 of them, literally), the shepherds, and then a row of matchbox cars, some small dolls to the side, and whatever small toys they could find, grouped together in little bunches to the side of the typical contents.

The families were so excited to have visitors come to see their pesebres, and it was a great opportunity to meet all our neighbors or visit ones we'd already met.

When darkness fell, the noise level rose. Every child in Paraguay converged in front of our house (we live on the biggest corner of the neighborhood), to pop firecrackers and bottle rockets. Fireworks here are a bit dangerous, as you can imagine, and I can't tell you how many I saw pop in tiny hands. Even the smallest children had bags full of these firecrackers, and quickly they all divided into teams and began throwing them at each other. It was a bit more work than I was up for, as all this was taking place basically on our front porch, and more than one child was burned. The attempts to have their parents come be a part of it, or to send the children closer to their homes where their parents could supervise, were completely pointless. Unfortunately, Christmas Eve was a night of much drinking for the teens and adults, and the firecrackers were one way of keeping the kids at a distance. But we survived, and with a little burn ointment, so did the 5,000 children in front of our home. Okay, I exaggerated that a little, but there were about 30, ranging from 3 or 4 years old to a few older, mischievous late-teens.

Around 11:45 PM, all the families began to eat the traditional meal. We were invited to eat with our next-door neighbors, but I could only watch them eat. I'm not quite used to a LARGE meal at midnight yet. At precisely midnight (everyone's listening to the radio), more fireworks, and then hugs and well-wishing for those you are eating with. Within a few minutes, the street was filled with the neighbors, all walking house to house for the same hugs and "Congratulations!"

Five or six women of various ages have died in this small neighborhood this past year, so for many that were out and about, it was a very sad time. We talked with many who were spending their first Christmas without their mother or grandmother, and it left a little cloud over the whole night. We were told that usually the celebration is larger (I can't imagine), but that with so many people still grieving, this year was "low key."

We loved being able to spend time with our neighbors, and ushering in Jesus' birthday with a bang. The fact that we were the only family up early the next day put a sort of quiet, reverent feel on Christmas morning, which we really relished. Later we visited with friends near the capital and the Mortons in Itaugua. The girls pointed out several times that we were really blessed this year, not only because we had a few gifts under a tree, but because we learned a new way to appreciate the birth of our Savior, and we spent it together.

How was your day?

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