While Christmas carols and colored lights may seem a little out of place to us Northerners when it's 65 degrees every day, the holiday is actually a bigger deal here than back home. Not, happily, in terms of consumption - in fact, the tradition here is not to give any presents besides a bag of cookies. (Good godmothers might get a piece of clothing for their godsons, too, hint, hint.) When it comes to celebrating the birth of Jesus, however, Peguche beats us hands down. For nine days this month, Elvia and her husband got up before dawn to attend the 5:30 mass, which began with a procession around the village. Sadly I must admit I didn't join them, and thus can't elaborate with many more details. I did, however, attend one of the evening masses, which took place outside (in the rain). Villagers brought offerings of corn and potatoes and sang indigenous songs, whose relation to Christmas I could discern by the frequent use of the word "Jesus." (Of course, being as this is also one of the most popular names in the village - there are three Jesuses that I know of in Elvia's family alone - I guess they could be singing about a number of people!)
Many of the festivities were also related to Peguche's patron saint, Santa Lucia. This past Saturday, after another mass, we witnessed a night of celebrations. A live band played Andean music to set the scene, while an M.C. narrated many of the activities in an excited tone. First there was a huge bonfire, lit around the corner from the main plaza outside the church. When I asked its significance, the answer - as would be the answer to most of my questions that night - is that they always did this, every year. Children darted around the plaza, tossing what looked like lit matches onto the ground and racing one another to stomp out the flame. Next the pastor and his assistants brought out a number of cloth balloons, each of which could hold a fire. Most they succeeded in launching into the air, where they floated high into the sky and twinkled like stars. (Several did catch on fire, but the fire-stomping children, along with their adult neighbors, quickly took care of that.)
Finally, it was time for the evening's main event: the lighting of the Castillo, a large structure constructed out of bamboo and fireworks. Every minute or so, the fuses would light up a different picture, such as bells, a star, or a giant dancing Santa. My favorite part was the rain of sparks. My words here can't do it justice - be sure to click on the video clips to get a better idea!
One of the interesting things about living in Peguche (Elvia's village) is that there always seems to be some sort of festivities going on. For several years I've come during Carnival, which consists of basketball tournaments, music concerts, and lots of people spraying water and shaving cream on one another. This year, I've been able to witness a few of the Christmas traditions.