Let every heart prepare Him room … Issac Newton
I bet you can’t read these words without singing.
Advent is all about preparing; preparing for birth, planning for the celebration of new life, making arrangements for family celebrations, baking cookies and cleaning out the chimney for St. Nicholas.
Christmas is a time to reflect on traditions that are important to us. Families everywhere are blending old traditions and creating new ones. Living in another country, Don and I get to experience and compare the traditions and cultures of my adopted land with the land of my birth. In Zimbabwe, in 2009, I searched high and low for Christmas lights, finally paying about $25 for a small, used string. Yes, I was comforted by my own tradition that first Christmas so far from home.
Here in Honduras many traditions are familiar to me. I see Christmas lights and holiday decorations on houses and in stores. OK, so commercialism isn’t solely a North American custom. I especially enjoy hearing familiar Christmas songs, some in English others in Spanish. Just like in the US, people get tired of the same Muzak songs played over and over. Remember, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer?” Here the overplayed song is a sappy love song called Navidad sin ti, Christmas without you. Think Elvis’ Blue Christmas.
They also like to sing Noche de Paz, Silent Night, and Cascabel, Jingle Bells.
Almost everyone has a Christmas tree in their house. Some are elaborately decorated, and others are simple. They may be artificial, live pine or just a simple wood branch with homemade ornaments.
The wealthier families have taken the tradition of giving wrapped gifts, but this is not common. It is more common to give a child new clothing which they wear to church on Christmas Eve. Children are given special treats such as grapes or apples for Christmas.
Ham hock is the traditional Christmas meal although chicken is also commonly served. Tamales are a favorite at Christmas. They are labor intensive and made to be eaten and also to be shared with friends and family. They are such a delicacy that when people come to visit, the host may hide her stash of tamales if she doesn’t want to share them. They also enjoy a Honduran version of egg nog they call ponche (PONE-chey.) The traditional Christmas desert is pastel de pasqua, Christmas cake. Pastel de pasqua is meant to be made and shared.
On December 24th they gather at the church to sing, pray and eat tamales in anticipation of the birth of the Christ child. It is tradition to eat tamales at midnight, but often they can’t wait that long and enjoy their tamales early. On December 25th, it is customary to visit friends and family.
The month of December is when you can begin to see Christmas decorations adorning houses, churches and central park. The central park in Yoro has lights wrapped around the tree trunks, which look very festive.
Some families and churches set up a nacimiento which we might call a manger scene, but some nacimientos are more like a Hallmark Christmas village. These villages are handmade and very elaborate. They are reflective of the village in which you live. In Yoro, one woman’s nacimiento included the mushroom shaped fountain in the city park, as well as the Catholic Church and some community buildings. It also, naturally, included the Inn in Bethlehem, Maria, San José and el niño in a manger surrounded by sheep, shepherds and wise men. Her nacimiento is on her front patio, behind the gate, for everyone to see and enjoy. If you stop to take a closer look, you will be invited in for coffee and treats.
Last year in the city park, there was a lovely scene of Joseph and Mary and a manger, complete with straw. But, to my horror, the baby, was missing. How sad, I thought, that some Grinch stole the very meaning of Christmas. It wasn’t until later I learned that the baby is traditionally stolen on December 21. No one knows who steals the baby, but on January 6 he is returned and the city puts on a large party and the community dances to celebrate his return. The thief is never revealed.
What are your family holiday traditions? Do your traditions originate from your family of origin, your country of origin, your spouse’s family or did you make up your own? Do you combine your tradition with other faith tradition? In this season of anticipation, I ask that you make room in your heart for the Christ child and have a blessed holiday season wherever you may be.
Don and Maryjane Westra serve in Honduras assigned to the Christian Commission for Development (CCD). Their appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.