April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How we celebrated the holidays - 2007

The Christmas and New Years holidays are celebrated a bit differently on our island than we were accustomed to back in the States, but we did our best to incorporate some of our own traditions.


This year, we invited Mac and Brooke, another couple from our group who live in the province of Coclé, east of us, to come out to island. Our first night, after making them help us teach English class in the chapel, we put them to work creating crackers (or poppers, depending on how you call them). It being our first holiday here, we had to use new wrapping paper, but like normal, we filled each one with some candies, a pencil, and some confetti (it said Happy Thanksgiving, but that´s okay).

Brooke, Mac, and Kevin constructing crackers

On Christmas Eve, we walked them all over the island to talk to friends, distribute crackers, see beaches, go swimming, buscar pulpo (search for mini-octopus), and dig concha (small shellfish). It was a great day and we returned well tired and enjoyed a dinner of roasted cauliflower and wine.

Cecilia and Maria Louisa, host moms #2 & #3, dishing up arroz con pollo

On Christmas Day, the only big event on the island was the Mothers Group (a class sponsored by the First Lady and taught locally by our last host mom) doing a traditional arroz con pollo and potato salad, at the chapel. They invited us to come join them, because there is always enough arroz con pollo to share.

Afterward, we returned to our house to begin preparing our own Christmas dinner and put out lights. One neighbor connected traditional white blinking lights at his house but we went with luminaria (candles stuck in sand - no lack of that - in clear plastic 2lb rice bags with paper around them to soften the flame - only a few were lost to the winds and fire) and some small battery-powered lights that came as Christmas presents from April's folks.

Our luminera around the porch, lights in the rafters, and candles on our new table

Dinner featured fresh baked bread and spinach pasta with brocolli and tomato. We even cloved an orange. Ironically, one of the mothers returning from their party was blocked by high tide from getting home and so joined us for dinner and got to try brocolli for the first time.

Our Christmas Feast on our new table

After dinner, we chatted with our folks while standing in the corner of our porch that receives cell phone signal and wished our families in the States a Merry Christmas! I think we were a bit warmer than most of them.

Kevin and a luminaria bag, talking to home; our neighbor's boat is still in the end of our porch, but it makes a good seat at times while on the phone

New Years

It seems that there is more of a celebration for New Years. There were many parties, and one of the main traditions is to quemar la muñeca (burn the doll). Our neighbors made a 7ft tall scarecrow, complete with a coconut for a head (including a carved nose and mouth), a baseball cap, and shoes, all on a post to stand him up for the burning.

Our neighbor's daughter and muñeca

At the stroke of midnight (well, whenever the watch of the guy in charge hits 12), they set it on fire, to burn away the bad from the old year and welcome in a good and prosperous new year. Probably the stuffing, which I think was gas-soaked dried leaves, makes sure it burns well.

The muñeca well into burning; he was moved from under the trees in the above picture to a post in the field for the ceremony
So while we missed our families and cold weather, we certainly enjoyed the new customs (though I´m not sure we can quemar a muñeca when we return to Columbia, MD) and had a lot of fun. And a December (and November and October, for that matter) without tons of holiday sales and music was quite a nice change.

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