Enjoying Christmas the Nicaraguan way
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Christmas Day starts early in Teotecacinte, Nicaragua, at least in my sister Marta’s casa de palomas, on the southern skirts of this peasant village where I spend my warmer winters. No sleeping-in is allowed, in Marta Betanco’s house, not even on Navidad. Except for me, of course, off in my cloistered wing: Since I’m considered a North American angel of God down here, she grants me special license, at least on high holy days. She said, with a chuckle, last night, “Angels need their sleep, Dugla, particularly at Christmas, when they’re so very busy.”
My life is very sweet in Nicaragua.
Marta’s up at 3 a.m., probably, for an hour of prayer on her knees, after lighting the kitchen fire. The rest of the family gets rustled up by the mamacita at 4 a.m., to help her clean house (including washing the adobe walls of the sala and the kitchen stove with fresh, clean mud). Every inch of the dirt floors is swept by Estania, Marta’s daughter, with her handmade broom. In the kitchen, Marta’s steaming nacatamales in their banana leaf wrappers, poised in an iron kettle above a simmer for 5 hours. The water mustn’t boil off, or all-day-yesterday’s prep work will scorch, ruining the coming feast.
Cesar, the papa of the house, is scrounging firewood to keep the boil going. Even Arnoldo, the teenage son, has a duty: He’s gone fishing for tilapia in the Rio Limon, hoping to catch a big one to give his grandmother on Christmas Day. I know all this is happening, of course, even from my sequestered spot, because Marta’s voice carries quite well in still-humid December. It’s now 9 a.m. on Christmas Day in Teote. The only sound louder than her commands is the rooster “Hallelujah Chorus” at daybreak, 4:47, today, when I awoke. Even sleeping angels need to wake up sometime, I guess; it might as well be to crowing, for joy at the coming of light.
While all that’s going on in prep for the family feast at noon, I’m playing “Christmas Carols, ‘Round the World” on my laptop, stretching in the growing light, and being grateful for another day, especially this one, in my 64th year. Time is very precious to me, and I make the most of it. The sound of Perry Como singing “Ave Maria” brings Marta to my door with cafe and “Feliz Navidad!” She’s picked a favorite coral rose as a special gift, this morning of mornings. We hug, then she scurries back, sure the nacatamales are burning. I look at the rose and know, once again, that my life is full of angels, right in front of me: It took Nicaragua to let me see that. It’s a gift I’ll carry with me, I hope, and live up to, as well.
With the swish of Estania’s broom and the tinkle of holiday laughter in the air for company, I head for my laptop and three hours of daily writing. Even on Christmas. Heck, because of Christmas! In a few hours, the whole extended family of Betancos will descend on la casa de palomas, 89 strong this year, counting all the new babies, and I’ll need to kiss my Christmas solitude goodbye. We’ll be decorating the chimbomba, the Christmas tree, this year a potted Norfolk pine, my treat, brought all the way from Esteli by taxi, which we’ll plant in my garden at Tierra Mia after the 12 Days of Christmas are over. In the late afternoon, we’ll all troop to church for Christmas mass. We’ll vow to make each day a new beginning.
In Nicaragua, Christmas dances on for almost half a jolly month past the Christmas service, culminating in gift-giving, a multiplicity of hugs, another feast on the 12th day, when the wisemen arrived at the stable with their offerings. As Nicaraguans rarely have cash for gifts to emulate the Magi, love and handmade tokens take their place. It’s a time to honor babies, birth and parenthood, and every human life on the planet, a time for cherishing familia, not for shopping.
This year, I helped a friend fold 89 origami storks to pass out, then hang from fishing line above my family’s beds and hammocks. I’ve been folding the first folds on and off since August, but I know they’ll be a triumph. I mean, they’re crimped by an angel from the States, after all. I even added sparkles with glitter, so they’ll twinkle in the Nicaraguan night.
Feliz Navidad, mi amigos en Glenwood Springs.
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