It‘s nearing Christmas day in Ecuador and I’m discovering that “Christmas in The Tropics” is quite different from “Christmas in North America.” To begin with most everyone speaks Spanish and instead of hearing the words, “Merry Christmas!” you hear people wishing each other, “Feliz Navidad!”
For me, living abroad right now, I find myself feeling a little sad. Most of all I am missing the special time of hanging out with my children at this time of year when they both return home. They are now visiting their Dad in Seattle, Washington where I used to live.
This year, I’m not doing the Christmas traditions I have always done: baking Christmas cookies, making homemade peppermint bark, almond cake and killer eggnog, decorating my Christmas tree, planning my holiday feast, going to Christmas Eve service at my church.
So this year, there were no stressful trips to the mall or staying up late to finish sewing or knitting projects for children or friends. I knew before I left that it would be prohibitively expensive to send gifts back to my children from here, and so I sent a Christmas box to each of them before I left the U.S. way back in October. (Ecuador doesn’t have a mail or postal service like in the U.S. Everything is sent by private courier or placed on a bus by one person and picked up and paid for by the person receiving the item at the other end.) Last week, I ordered flowers from Amazon.com for my father, close girlfriends, my children and their dad. It took fifteen minutes. That was the extent of my holiday shopping.
I now realize, being away from all my normal traditions, that I had not really considered or realized how much pressure and stress it all had been to prepare for!
So where does that leave me now with everything so very different? Well I’m trying to make new traditions for myself and new meaning out of this holiday from here in Ecuador.
Yesterday I was invited to a Christmas Fiesta to raise money for extremely poor and rural children who are being exploited, children who are doing farm work here beginning at age 5 instead of going to school. The leaders of this Child Protection Group: Dignidad Por Los Ninos de Ecuador are trying very hard to raise awareness for their cause, to protect these children by getting them off the farms and into school and also educating their parents as to why this is so important.
As I looked around at the bright faces of these many poor children laughing, clapping and enjoying the clown at the Fiesta, they could have been any happy and joyous children anywhere. Their joy and laughter was also contagious. I clapped and smiled and sang right along with them.
This Christmas Fiesta also allowed me to learn more about how some of the Ecuadorian Holiday Traditions are celebrated.
A blind teenager got up and sang “Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer” in Spanish. When the crowd roared their applause and began chanting, “Otro! Otro! Otro!” (which means “Another!”) he raised his shoulders proudly and burst out into a rendition of the Manabi Anthem, the traditional song of this Ecuadorian Province, like our National Anthem in the U.S. Everyone around me joined in singing and though I could not translate the words fast enough in my head, their singing with such pride moved me deeply.
I also watched the group leaders of Dignidad valiantly slog through a very very rough version of the play, “A Christmas Carol.” They called their play, “The Grinch.” The character of the Grinch was played by an older woman who was referred to as “Senora Grinch.” After seeing “A Christmas Carol” so many times done in English in the U.S., seeing a “Senora Grinch” was a first for me.
The play took place outside in a school soccer field. Plastic chairs lined the field and at both ends where the parents, children and invited guests sat. Their very simple costumes were made of colored paper. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future were actors covered in a bed sheet. The leaders of Dignidad were trying their very best to teach these very poor children and their parents the important lesson that Christmas was not a matter of how much money you have or how many gifts you gave or received but rather really about the generosity in your heart.
So, while the “Traditional Victorian Christmas” in North America with scenes of snow, lots of holiday decoration lights, roaring fireplaces and all of the more customary focus on consumerism doesn’t exist here, there are other things I am learning. Here in Ecuador, Christmas is more of a Christian Holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and focused more on each person embodying the spirit of love, kindness and generosity.
And even though the extent of my Christmas decorations this year in Ecuador consist of a simple strand of white lights across the balcony which drape over a potted palm tree and a table decoration of red, green and white candle surrounded by festive Ecuadorian figures made out of marzipan, I’m discovering the true gift of Christmas in the generosity of the hearts of the people here.
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