Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The holiday season starts here with the festivals for the Virgin of Guadalupe, which culminated on December 11, and ends with the Three Kings Day on January 5. I was in Chiapas for the day of Guadalupe. I wrote about that in my last entry. I’ve been in Puebla and the surrounding area since I got back from Chiapas.

The next series of celebrations after the day of Guadalupe is that of the Posada. Every night for, I think, two weeks before Christmas people reenact the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. My house was a bit crazy during this season because we were redoing the bathroom so I went to several posadas with Gerardo in his town, Chipilo. The celebration starts with a “pilgrimage” around the town if the posada is going to be held in someone’s house, or into the church if it will be in the church. Once at the place, there is a series of call and response songs. The people outside the house or church carry statues of Joseph and Mary and sing asking for a place to stay.

Statues of Joseph and Mary, carried by the people asking for a place to stay.

The people inside at first refuse to let the couple in. Then as the song progresses Joseph says Mary is his wife and she is going to have the Son of God. After hearing that, the people inside decide to let them in. Everyone outside goes inside and they all sing another song together. After the reenactment everyone receives a little back of sweets and hot punch. Then the children break piñatas, sometimes quite a few. At one I went to I think they had about 10 piñatas. Sometimes, as I understand it, there is a big party afterwards, but none of the ones I went to were inside a house, so there was no official party afterwards.

Nativity scene in the church in Chipilo

In Chipilo the young people have their own traditions afterwards. Everyone goes to the park next to the church and the games begin. People who aren’t playing sit on the stairs or benches to watch. The games reminded me of play-party games in Kentucky except that most of them included kissing, which our childhood games did not. Almost all were played with partners. One was like tag only it was with a partner. If you did something wrong, like break hands with your partner or hide, you got punished by the group. The punishments were a series of kisses (guy to girl) and slaps (girl to guy). The couple had to stand back to back and the group decided how many the couple was going to have to give in total. Then as the group said days of the week, the couple had to turn their heads to look at each other. If they turned to the same side they earned a kiss; if they turned to opposite sides it was to be a slap. After turning the number of times prescribed by the group, the kissing and slapping began. Everyone cheers, hoops, hollers and yells suggestions.

Another game was like duck-duck-goose standing up and with a partner. Instead of tapping someone’s head, the couple who was it, tapped the hands of two others. The two tapped had to run in the opposite direction as the ones who were “it” around the circle. Whoever arrived first at the empty spot stayed and the others had to walk around the circle and choose someone to run against. The whole series of games were fun to watch. It was also quite the moment to gossip. All the town’s teens were there and apparently one of the goals of the game is to let the person you like know you do. The whole thing felt like something from a movie or times past. It was fun.

Passing so much time with Gerardo has also been a blast. Most of my friends from school are out of town so he and I have been spending tons of it together. On the 19th we officially started dating. Things are going well between us and we’re managing to work through or get over the little cultural differences that come up in a closer relationship.

On the 22nd I went to Xalapa in the state of Veracruz with my host family. A year ago my host mom’s mother died. She was from Xalapa and we went to be with the family and visit her grave. The night we arrived everyone was in her old house, sitting around an altar they’d made for her, like the ones for Day of the Dead.

The altar in the grandmother's old house.

After a while they all recited the rosary. They say the prayer of calls and responses ten times through then say one of the miracles of Christ. They repeat this series five times, one for each of the miracles, making the total number of prayers 50. It takes a long time. I stayed for the first one, but when they were going to do it again, I went with my host brother and sister and niece and nephew to walk around downtown Xalapa. It’s a good thing we went because the next day there was no time to wander.

Center of Xalapa decorated for Christmas.

The next day we all got up and went to the cemetery to visit the grave and recite the rosary again. I think I have it memorized now, and I’m not even Catholic!

The grandmother's grave decorated with the flowers from the altar the night before.

The cemetery was really beautiful. It was up on a hill over the city and all the graves were decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, and, my favorite part, colorful little windmills. It was the cheeriest cemetery I’ve ever been in.

Colorful cemetery of Xalapa.

We met a lot of traffic on the way home. I wanted to go to a Christmas play in Chipilo because I’d been told I had to see one before leaving Mexico. Here the plays present the same story, more or less, as the plays in the US, but with a comic twist, or many comic twists. We missed the first half of the play, but I still got the idea. I convinced my family to stay for the posada and some of the games afterwards. It was the last night of public posadas in Chipilo, so it wasn’t as well attended as the others had been. Still my host family got their bags of sweets and my host niece go to take a swing at the piñata and play some games. They had a good time.

The next holiday event is Christmas Eve, which is more important than Christmas Day. My family spent the whole day preparing the big dinner. I tried to stay out of the way most of the time. Between my usual host family, my host sister and her kids here from Tijuana, and my host brother and his wife from Cuernavaca it seemed like there were more than enough hands in the kitchen.

We each drew names during the day for our gift exchange. I got my host sister-in-law from Cuernavaca. At about 7:30, Moises, Adolfo, and I arrived at the mall to buy gifts. The mall closed at 8:00 pm. Apparently every year the gift buying is a last-minute affair, though not usually quite as last minute as this year. I got my sister-in-law the wireless mouse she wanted. I also gave her a Theresa Cole bowl I’d brought from Berea.

Our Christmas tree.

Before dinner we acted out the last posada of the year and played with sparklers. Upon entering the house, we put the baby Jesus doll in a cloth and the youngest ones in the family, my host niece and nephew, rocked the baby to sleep while we all sang him a lullaby. Then they placed him in the manger of the nativity scene (here they don’t add Jesus to the scene until Christmas Eve because he wasn’t born before that) and we all gave the baby a kiss.

My host niece and nephew, Ari and Luis Angel, with the baby Jesus.

Dinner started around 10:30, I think. We ate and laughed until midnight when we all cheered and gave each other hugs.

The family at the dinner table, all except Fito who is taking the picture.

Fito and I.

After dinner we exchanged gifts. The whole night was full of laughter and joking. I got to bed at about 3 am; my host father and brothers were still up, though talking a bit more slowly and less coherently than usual from the drinks throughout the night.

Christmas morning I got up and after a few moments realized there were no stockings to open; the big celebration had already passed. I passed a few sad moments thinking of home throughout the morning, but I chose to be here and am glad I did so I didn’t stay sad for long. Plus, with my host family, you can’t stay sad long because they keep you laughing and laughing.

Kitty and her two kids, Ari and Luis Angel, all from Tijuana.

In the afternoon I went with Gerardo and his cousin, Julio, to their uncle’s house in Chipilo. Christmas day is another day of family but not quite as strictly as Christmas Eve. There is no big meal on Christmas. It’s the day of leftovers all around Mexico: leftovers for breakfast, leftovers for lunch, leftovers for dinner, and on and on until they run out. The good thing is that the food is delicious so I didn’t mind eating it again and again.

I ate lunch with Gerardo’s family and then he, Julio and I set out on an adventure. We drove to Cuernavaca, looking for this American girl who was in Mexico on vacation. We’d met earlier in the week and had a great time dancing at a salsa club together. Julio had fallen in love with her. We drove 3 hours to Cuernavaca and searched for her hotel. By asking a million people we finally found it only to learn that she had left at 3 in the afternoon. Disheartened we decided to at least see some of Cuernavaca before heading home. We ate dinner in the center and admired the Christmas decorations. As we were leaving town we passed the bus station. We convinced Julio he should at least give it a shot and see if she was still there. We learned her bus would have left from the other station so we drove there to check. We discovered her bus left at 8 pm and we’d arrived in Cuernavaca at 8:30. So close!! I guess the night was probably a waste of gas but it seemed worth it: Julio got to feel like he’d done all he could to pursue the girl and surprise her and I got to see more of Cuernavaca. Plus I always have fun with the two of them.

Me, Julio and Gerardo in Cuernavaca

New Year’s Eve is the next big day here. My host sister, my host mom, and I watched the sun set from our rooftop. It was incredible!

Last sunset of the year seen from our roof.

Again we had a huge family meal. This time my host sister who lives in Cholula and her husband joined us as well.

(server trouble, picture to be added later)
Minerva (host sister from Cholula), and I with the dogs. Corina is the pointer and Kiriku is the Chihuahua.

We played “Scene it,” a trivia game about movies, and laughed a lot as we waited (and waited) for dinner. We shouted “Feliz Nuevo Año,” ate our 12 grapes, one for each month of the year, and gave hugs all around before we sat down to dinner. Dinner was yet again delicious! I need to learn how to make the salsa we had for the turkey because it was AMAZING! After dinner I was super tired so I retired early, at 2 am.

(server trouble, picture to be added later)
Adolfo, my host father and I, on New Year's Eve.

New Year’s day was another day of leftovers, as was today. Today I finally made the gingerbread cookies I promised my family for Christmas. Moises and my host niece and nephew helped me decorate them. They look tasty! Tomorrow I head to Mexico City to meet the new second semester students. I’ll be there for a five days for their orientation. Then it’s back to Puebla and almost immediately back to school.