Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve-nt In Guatemala

This is the last day for Posadas as the inn will no longer be needed after today. Posadas originated in Spain in the 1500’s created by a friar, are now mostly popularly celebrated in Guatemala, Mexico, and some parts of the US. They start on December 16th and continue through December 24th, where they recreate the story of Mary and Joseph going from place to place looking for a room to stay. The leaders of the procession carry statures of Mary and Joseph, while all the followers carry lit candles and all are singing a traditional song. When they reach the prearranged last home where there is room at the inn, they all enter for a prayer and then snacks. Different Spanish speaking countries reportedly have similar customs, but with different names and traditions.

The day of our walking tour, we were passed by a Posada, which is strange since they usually occur in the evening. This one, however, was a group of senior - señors and señoras, where the youngest was most likely around seventy-five if a day. Canes did not stop them; they marched on with one young person in attendance making me think they were from a retirement home. It was fascinating to watch as they processed with candles and singing along their way, basically ignoring all others while concentrating on their mission.

This was the first of different holiday traditions that they have here. Yesterday, I wrote about the Christmas tree and some about mass and the family dinner. Tonight, we were privy to yet other traditions new to us and basically incomprehensible.

However, after going for breakfast, we ventured to this art gallery that was recommended by Elizabeth Bell and then again by a salesman at a Mercado. La Antigua Galeria de Arte is more than an art gallery; it is like an art museum. Having been to a number of galleries in my years, I have never been to one where I wanted to drink in each piece of art while admiring it and then wishing I could have it shipped home. With over 600 works of art, it took us quite some time to make our way through, but the different types of work from paintings to statues, kept us from getting tired of looking, but we did start to feel sensory overload. I mentioned to one of the people working there that they needed to have a rest stop, where they insist people sit, relax and clear their thoughts before continuing on. A kind of mental sorbet is needed. You know how they serve sorbet between courses of a large meal to cleanse the palate, my mental palate needed refreshing. Eighty percent of the work is by Guatemalan artists and the balance are international artists, mostly US American.

This was a day of wonder. We wondered what we would do to occupy the day. We had been to every shop and Mercado at least once. The dastardly luggage rules and regulations of the airlines are really curbing my enthusiasm for shopping. There are so many pieces I would have bought until I lifted them up to feel their weight and finally left them behind feeling abandoned. As it was, it was a relaxing day of reading, doing a few last walks in various parts of the town; we leave tomorrow, Christmas day for the Mayan areas of the country. We were patiently waiting for our Christmas Eve dinner reservation at 6:30 pm. 

Dinner was at a restaurant named Fusion, coincidentally owned by an ex-pat American. With that in mind, the portions looked less ample than at other restaurants. Here it was nouvelle cuisine, where less is better. Looks can be deceiving. Our choices were excellent and sufficient, not leaving us wanting. However, we did choose a different café for our coffee and dessert. After dropping things off at the hotel, we meandered around the corner to the church for the evening mass. I alternate going or not going to Christmas mass depending on the country we are in and what cultural differences may be of interest. A crowd smothered the front of the church watching some performance which was not apparent to us yet. What did stand out from the crowd was an over-sized wagon with the nativity on it. Standing in front of it was a throng of people holding lanterns with burning candles. We assumed they must have processed here from somewhere else since they were not moving from the church yard.

When we were able to make it closer to the church, there were over a dozen giant headed costumed people dancing around to music. I am talking giant heads like the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. One of the heads was the devil, but all of the others were various mens' faces. They danced around until the mass was to start, so we watched for ten minutes and then went in to find a seat.

This is what I would call a high mass. When the celebrants marched in, the incense was so heavy, you would have thought a SWAT team had tear gassed the place. There was never a time I appreciated the homily at a Catholic mass, but this one, which I didn’t understand went on forever. More incense! The room had cleared, so you could actually see, so more incense. Music was provided by a xylophone and guitars. It was really the highlight for me.

Close to midnight, the fireworks and firecrackers start to usher in Christmas. It sounded like a combination of a heavy storm and being bombed at the same time. These celebrations went on for hours and even around three o’clock, you could still hear someone setting off their noise makers.

Tomorrow, we have a shuttle coming to take us to a different part of the country where there are still a number of Mayan villages surrounding a lake. It is questionable what the Internet connections may be there, so I may have to hold my posts until I get a connection.

If you celebrate this holiday, I wish you a Merry Christmas.
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