It’s December 21st and I barely recognize that Christmas is right around the corner, this Saturday. I have plans to make tamales with my host mom for Christmas Eve, special sweet tamales that have meat and raisins and all sorts of special goodies. She likes to brag about them, and given the food she’s cooked for me thus far (fiambre on the Day of the Dead, plus assorted stews and meals when her children come to visit) I suspect that she’s probably not exaggerating.
I’m not really cognizant of the season because all my normal indicators are missing – darkness, Christmas carols, snow, storefront displays and a vague feeling of common identity with the people around me. It might as well be March, April, July or September, if you ask me – the weather is warm, people don’t behave like Americans, there are banana trees on the hillsides and the tinny drone of cheap Christmas lights playing casiotone melodies wafts up from the marketplace and doesn’t stop, repeating and repeating all day long – these things don’t make me think of Christmas.
Some factors seem even less obvious – the simple houses of my neighborhood don’t really evoke an American Christmas, for example, with their wooden boards, tin roofs and bright paint. The trinkets available in the crowded market stalls aren’t recognizable either, and neither are the culinary treats for sale. The holiday hustle and bustle seems neutral through a lens of different skin colors, languages, clothing, body language and eye contact . . . maybe it’s just another national celebration that I don’t understand yet. I also realized that I won’t be wandering around a mall this year, absently looking for gift inspiration – I had to plan all my presents three weeks ago, via internet mail order and the plodding Guatemalan postal system.
Some volunteers feel the same way I do, like we’re not really missing Christmas. We tell ourselves that with all the regular holiday stimuli absent, it’s easy to miss. At the same time, it’s likely that we’re still starstruck with the novelty of new surroundings, which I’m fine with. From trash piles in the street to jungle plants hanging above the road as it winds into the valley, a bright red sun through the afternoon clouds and a million little salutations to townsfolk who stare when I walk by, I’m still excited to be here.
To be honest, thanksgiving felt a little more urgent, actually – I really knew that I wanted to be with Americans last month, sharing food and feeling lavish, relaxing in familiar surroundings. Meanwhile, I’m perfectly content that I’ll spend this Christmas in a way that will probably be quite uneventful (although I’m sure the tamales will be incredible.)
p.s. here’s a picture of me with a baby goat: