Saturday, December 19, 2009

'tis the season

For me, there are just certain things that signify that the Christmas season has arrived: snow and cold weather; Christmas trees, wreaths with giant red ribbons, and outdoor lights; Jingle Bells-infiltrated radio stations; Advent wreath-adorned tables; a live production of The Christmas Carol; gift wrapping; and, last but definitely not least, peppermint ice cream. But those things that traditionally symbolize Christmas for me in the U.S. are hard to come by here in rural (subtropical) Bolivia.

Which is why for the past couple weeks, despite the small tree in the main office, my co-worker who listens (and sings along) incessantly to the Christmasy song Belen, and the abundance of panetones (Latin America's version of the fruitcake), I have found it hard to believe that the Christmas season is upon us. When I sit in a t-shirt and shorts reading emails from Midwest-based friends and family about holiday parties, Christmas-themed theater, and Secret Santa exchanges, it doesn't compute. "It's like if you suddenly started celebrating Christmas in July," I wrote to a friend the other day.

Christmas tree at our all-staff luncheon on Campus Leahy.

But despite the heat and the lack of red and green M&Ms, I always end up getting into the spirit of Christmas...eventually. Considering that Christmas here really doesn't start to appear until a week before December 25th (as opposed to a week before Halloween in the U.S.), I just have to have more patience in knowing that the warm fuzzies of the holidays will arrive...on it's own, non-commercial timeline.

For me, the spirit struck me yesterday at our UAC-CP all-staff Christmas party. It came first at mass, during the sign of peace, as the near 60 people employed by the College in some administrative capacity, energetically moved around the chapel to share la paz--peace. It was through the lively and sincere exchanges of handshakes and hugs that I felt Christmas--the feeling of being among friends and family, mi familia Boliviana. And then it continued through the fraternal fellowship that followed as we all shared the typical Bolivian Christmas meal, picana. And just like that, in an average-esque afternoon, Christmas presented itself in sunshine-filled Carmen Pampa.

Eight-year-old Kristia Carrizales (daughter of UAC-CP graduate/employees) stands next to her family's little Christmas tree.

Honestly, I love Christmas in Carmen Pampa--it's always simple and pure. Which is why, even though I'm excited about my upcoming travels with friends, I'll miss celebrating Christmas Eve in our little village this year. I'll miss the the big church--packed with locals from the surrounding communities and their children, dressed in traditional outfits who come prepared to sing and dance. I'll miss passing out modest gifts to grateful, grinning kids. I'll miss baking bread and making hot chocolate with the UAC-CP students who stay to work over break. I'll miss sitting around and talking with the people from neighboring communities. And I'll miss the peace and quiet of Carmen Pampa the following day. That whole evening--that, for me, is Christmas.

May the spirit of Christmas, whatever it means and however it feels to you, find you wherever you are.

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo...desde Bolivia

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