Christmas in Guatemala is such a special time of the year filled with delicious food, traditional Christmas songs and different holidays and customs. The Christmas holidays in Guatemala usually kick off with the “Quema del Diablo” (burning of the devil) on December 7th, followed by the “Posadas Navideñas” (Christmas posadas) and culminating with the “Dia de los Reyes Magos” (Three Kings Day) in January.
On December 7th, the devil is symbolically burned, for example in the form of a piñata. This brings happiness to the families and keeps evil away from their homes. At Christmas in Guatemala, houses are decorated with pine tree needles and a Christmas tree is being put up in many families. This tradition has spread from the United States to Central America. However, the Christmas tree is set up much earlier, often on December 1st. Sometimes, a manger is placed near the Christmas tree with small figures depicting Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings, shepherds, sheep, an ox and donkeys.
The traditional Christmas posadas take place all over Guatemala as well as at NPH, starting from December 16th to the 24th. The posadas are small processions that symbolize the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Jerusalem and their search for a place to spend the night. The children carry the images of Joseph and Mary on the walk and sing the traditional posada songs, like the “Burrito Sabanero” or “Silent night”. This Christian tradition originated in Spain and is now part of many Latin American countries’ holiday celebrations. The posadas occur during the nine days before Christmas Eve in Guatemala, symbolizing the nine months of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy.
Christmas in Guatemalan is celebrated at midnight on December 24th. They clean their houses, entertain their guests, share typical meals and attend mass at their local churches. Certain foods are considered essential at Christmas in Guatemala. A main Guatemalan Christmas meal is made of several traditional dishes, but it always includes some tamales, a corn dough cooked in leaves. In some regions they are made of corn, in others of rice or potatoes. They can be sweet or not, and have several different ingredients inside like olives, prunes, peppers, chicken or pork. Right at midnight, fireworks and firecrackers are lit to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus, loud noises and smoke fills the streets throughout the towns for at least 15 minutes, if not more. Even small children stay up until midnight, excited to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ. Families exchange gifts, usually only for the little ones. The gifts are not extravagant, perhaps a doll or toy car but in most cases it’s new clothes to wear the next day, this marks the Christmas tradition in Guatemala.
This is also the case for the Martinez family, beneficiaries of the NPH OneFamily program, a family reintegration program with the aim to strengthen low-income families in Guatemala. Before the three siblings Mike (16 years), Sebastian (12 years) and Mia (10 years) got reunited with their relatives, they formed part of the NPH shelter and protection program. Before coming to NPH, the boys and girl didn’t remember much of celebrating this special holiday season, but just a couple of weeks later they witnessed the joy of peace and harmony at the Christmas celebrations at NPH Guatemala. Mia and Sebastian remember when they dressed up as angels, farm animals and farmers to reenact the birth of Jesus in the manger. It was the first time for them to replay and understand the lovely story of Christmas. “The birth of Jesus Christ in a crib who came to teach modesty and love to humanity”, says Mia to her uncle Marvin, who now has custody of her and her siblings. “Hugs and a cup of hot fruit punch are often the only things needed to have a perfect Christmas in Guatemala”, concludes Marvin.
Father William Wasson, the founder of the NPH Family once said that Christmas is about hearing, smelling, seeing, tasting, but above all, feelings; and today, we see it reflected in stories like these. In order for all the children in Guatemala to enjoy a Christmas full of colors, flavors, and traditions, NPH homes celebrate, sing, and share with the surrounding communities to comfort the souls of the abandoned and sow love.
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