Comparing Christmases – On Nacatamales, Generosity, and Love

December 2014 Guidepost to Wholehearted Living
Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison

The month of December here in Nicaragua sure has been an adventure!  In addition to our TEFL Peace Corps trainings, the National Nica TESOL Conference,  and visiting fellow PCVs in the Estelí/surrounding area, we’ve been celebrating away with the rest of our community.  It’s been a great month to get a general feel of Estelíanos.

It is difficult to not compare our Christmas celebrations back home with the various celebrations here.  In reality, Christmas means many different things to those in the states as well.  Every family has their own traditions, their own ways of doing things.  Therefore we tried two things to help our season be merry and bright: We tried to creatively create our own traditions, and we tried to just throw ourselves into as many community festivities during the month that we could!

La Purisima I explained a little of this Catholic celebration in Pass the Peace.  “¡Quién causa tanta alegria!…¡La Conception de Maria!” (Don’t know what that says?  Don’t worry.  I didn’t either as we were shouting it every so often during mass. It’s something like, “Who causes such joy??  The conception of Mary!!”)

Real Estelí Partido OK, so going to the Real (pronounced ray-al) Estelí soccer game isn’t exactly a holiday, but as soccer here is almost like a religion, I thought I’d share it anyway.  Estelí has a pretty good team and we got to watch the semi-final game! Definitely a cultural experience, and oh so much fun!

Noches de Compras Two nights during December, the stores in our city stay open late for the “nights of buying.” There were lots of people partying in the streets, walking around, and I suppose some were buying things.  We made this night even more fun with our Seven Santa Sightings.  In the center of downtown there were dancers and singers on stages, which magically appeared within the course of a few hours.  I didn’t know so many people could squeeze into the streets along with marching bands, music blaring from every stereo, people dancing in masks and on stilts, and even a wandering mariachi band!  ¡Que divertido!

Nicaraguan Generosity and Nacatamales Around the middle of the month, we visited the Ministry of Education to drop off the Christmas Cards I made.  We met a few more of the staff there, including a lady named Alina.  We chatted for quite a while, and when she found out we had yet to have a nacatamal (Nicaraguan version of a tamale) from Estelí (those in Masatepe didn’t count), she immediately invited us to her house.  Meaning right that moment. We left the office, walked to her house, and all ate nacatamales. The generosity of so many we’ve met here is astounding and really embodies the spirit of Christmas to me.

La Hípica The annual equestrian parade for Estelí is also in December.  As I mentioned with our Eight Mounted Mustaches hunt, it’s a night of more people (and this time horses) filling the streets to party, buy things, listen to incredibly loud music, and buy more things.  Andrew made a friend during Thanksgiving at our boss’ house, and we met up with him and his family for the hípica.  It was so much fun to have a new family to hang out with for the day.  After the parade, they brought us to their house, fed us delicious nacatamales, and chatted the night away.  Again, the generosity was plentiful and greatly appreciated (are you sensing a theme yet?).

Chanfaina A couple days before Christmas, we were getting ready to go buy food when Andrew received a phone call.  It was Alina.  She and her family were preparing food for Christmas and had just finished one of the traditional foods called chanfaina.  “Come to my house right now, as it’s better to eat it when it’s fresh!”  So we walked to her house, shared in food and fellowship, and even learned how to make the nacatamales they were preparing for Christmas morning.  We loved meeting more of her family and couldn’t believe how lucky our hearts and our tummies were.

Nochebuena In Nicaragua, Christmas Eve is the “bigger day” of the Christmases.  We were invited to the house of one of my counterparts, Ana Cecelia, and had the privilege of sharing a Christmas meal with she and her family.  We’ve been on a few hikes now with her brothers, and really enjoy passing the time with them.  They’ve been an incredible blessing during these last few weeks of “free” time.  You guessed it – their generosity and ease at which they took us into the fold warmed our hearts.

Later that night we went to Christmas mass, a first for us as we’re not Catholic.  I loved hearing the carols echo in the beautiful Cathedral and loved being surrounded by so many of our neighbors and Estelianos.

We settled in for the night watching A Muppets Christmas Carol, but around 11:45 pm we had to pause it.  The noise was so loud that we couldn’t hear the computer in our laps!  From about 11:30 pm to 12:30 am there were hundreds of fireworks!  Big, loud, beautiful fireworks, being set off simultaneously all over the city.  Even our closest neighbors had some that went off just above our heads.  It was a Christmas Eve I’ll never forget.

El día de Navidad Christmas day here was pretty quiet.  Families tend to stay in, recoup, eat nacatamales, and enjoy time together.  Andrew and I did just that (sadly minus the nacatamal part.  Don’t worry though, we got some on Saturday to make up for it.  One of Andrew’s counterparts gifted us some for Christmas.)  We mostly slept in after the loud, late night of fireworks, sang carols together, and then went to the house of our friend/adopted grandmother to sing to her.  She was feeling a little down on Christmas day, as her family couldn’t come visit this year.  As we knew a bit of how she was feeling, we decided to share our caroling with her.  We also Skyped / FaceTimed family back at home to connect with our loved ones just a little. Technology is incredible and we could feel all of your love all the way down here.

El fin del año New Years will be the only holiday we spend away from our site.  Throughout the month we felt torn between wanting to experience the holidays in site and also taking advantage of the break to travel a little.  We compromised with waiting until New Years.  We’ll stop in Grenada for a day trip, and then travel to Masatepe to spend time with some of our beloved, adopted families from training.  I’m sure that it will be filled with similar feelings, good food, and good times. I guess you could sum up all of our holiday experiences here with nacatamales, generosity, and love.  And as Kermit says in The Muppets Christmas Carol:

“Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

We would love to hear what you think about this guidepost:
+ What ways are you comparing yourself to others?
+ How can you cultivate authentic creativity in your own life?
Read/join the discussion here.


9 thoughts on “Comparing Christmases – On Nacatamales, Generosity, and Love”

  1. Awesome to hear about your holiday. I especially liked the part about Alina telling you to come to her house”right now” to taste the Nica food you hadn’t tried. By comparison, that kind of thing doesn’t really happen here. We would check our day planners and calendars and set up a time to get together, etc. I love the spontaneity and generosity!

  2. The experiences you are having can never be taken from you. It is so wonderful that you are so open and accepting of these gifts. Our Christmas was shared with family. This year we centered ourselves more on being together and enjoying the time. We drove to Cannon Beach for a day to walk on the beach in the rain and cheered the Blazers onto to victory. Time together is a priceless gift. I am thrilled that the two of you are sharing your new experiences together. Sending you my love, Chris

    1. I love the image of you and your family walking along the beach in the rain. It’s a perfect Christmas break activity in my book. You’re so right – the time together is priceless!

  3. What a wonderful experience you two have had together! It’s such an amazing experience being in a foreign country like Nicaragua and sharing the costumbres y creencias of the Nicas! They are such a humble amazing country! Thank you for sharing your experiences with pictures and all! I am wondering if the volcano you hiked in training was Mombacho? I will be following your adventures, thanks again, it’s been a long time! Leigh Ann Bell (Nica 26-Medio Ambiente 2001-2003)

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