December 24th felt almost like any other day for me.
|"Throw me the idol I throw you the whip!"|
|Stairway to a small shrine|
Living in Peru has been an absolute blast. The cultural exchanges are numerous and gratifying every time. That being said my site coordinator Jenny warned me the holidays were going to be hard. There's no way around those feelings of sadness, apprehension, and longing when Christmas rolls around. The best thing you can do is immerse yourself in activities. In short: If you idle you are going to suffer.
Not once did I light an advent candle. I didn't go christmas-lights looking. I didn't watch TV Christmas Specials. I didn't visit a shopping mall to fight the masses and embarrass my sisters at the same time. None of these traditions I was accustomed to took place. To be honest December 24th (and the 25th) was shaping up to be just another day.
My fellow Peruvian volunteer pulled me out from my initial pit of despair with a few wise words of wisdom. When I told her I almost burst into tears she wisely responded: "You may not be home now and that sucks. Next year you'll see them. We may not have those old christmas-lights-warm-cookies customs we did back in the States but Peruvians focus on what is really important: Family."*
The birth of Jesus is the story of a miracle. The origin story of a great man imbued with great purpose. It's also the origin story of a young family, and while Mary and Joseph don't get much screen-time in the rest of Jesus' story there's a reason his birth is one of the mostly widely celebrated holidays in the Christian calendar. Despite Mary's fear and trepidation at giving birth to the Son of God, despite Joseph's doubt about the right path to follow, despite the turmoil they encountered in Bethlehem they figured it out.
|Local Nativity scene in the Plaza de Armas|
In a sense this was the first family to come together for the birth of Christ. A carpenter, his virgin wife, three nerdy astronomers, some local shepherds, sheep, donkeys, and a partridge in a pear tree. Talk about a mixed bag.
Last night, after christmas service, everyone in the family came over. We drank some wine. The young boys Gabriel and Daniel shot off fireworks. When the clock struck midnight everyone hugged and wished each other a merry christmas. Then we chowed down on a massive dinner. After the dinner the adults lounged around to talk some more. It was probably 3 in the morning when I went to bed. Nobody exchanged presents. Nobody sang carols. Nobody stood under the mistletoe. It was just us, the Villacorta family, gathered around a table together.
I think I like that quite a bit.
Now I'm not condemning American traditions. Lord knows I love presents, carols, and gingerbread houses. But here in Peru they strip it down to what really matters: Family. And it is a true honor to be considered a member of the Guillen-Villacorta family. I even got an honorary 'Tio Daniel' title with the two primos. I helped my host-brother Roberto move some furniture in his new house. I cooked Tacos for Magda, Elizabeth, Joanna, Jennett, Franco, and Deborah. I have been welcomed with open arms here and found nothing but love and THAT is what helps me during this holiday season.
|Merry Christmas! From my family to yours!|
*Roughly paraphrasing what Shaina said, but she seriously helped so much that day.