Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Memories

Sunday Scribblings
Not too bad for a beginer... My word today for Sunday Scribblings is Holiday Memories. I should have some of those stored someplace in my brain... let's start digging them out!
Kidding aside, I do have great memories of Decembers past. My birthday is in December -the 11th- and my mom would always make my birthday party around a holiday theme: Christmas tree cake, little stockings filled with party favors, red and green tableware, and so on an so forth. When I was little, I used to hate the fact that I had to wait a WHOLE year to get my presents, but as I got older I changed my mind. My birthday was my own personal beginning of the holiday season, then on the 16th the "Novena" would begin.
Here I have to stop and explain what a Novena is for those of you who are not Colombian. The "Novena de Aguinaldos" is a catholic tradition exclusive to Colombia. The 9 days before Christmas are celebrated by reading from a book of prayers. This book is written in old fashioned spanish, and it is the same all over the country. There have been attempts to modernize the language of the book, but they have been unsuccessful (thankfully, as I do appreciate the original text). The book includes some prayers for everyday, as well as a narration of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem. Additionally there are traditional songs or "villancicos" that are a fundamental part of the novena - this is what kids really enjoy, playing the maracas, panderetas, drums, etc with gusto! You can hear a Novena from a block away. You DO NOT celebrate the Novena on your own, ever! (unless you just moved to Italy, and you do not know of any Colombians in the vicinity) So, you always invite your friends and family to your Novena, and they will host their Novena another night. Only 9 nights and so many friends... Sometimes one must "sacrifice" and go to more than one house, and eat until stuffed. As in any part of the world, all main celebrations revolve around food, and what great food!
OK, everyone still with me? So far we have birthday cake, followed by nine days of music, friends and good food! What else is there? Well, in my hometown Popayan, people make a beautiful dish called "Nochebuena" or goodnight. This dish includes some fried dough with sugar- hojaldra, a kind of plain donut -rosquilla, a fried cheese bread -buñuelo, an assortment of fruits cooked with sugar -desamargados, and dulce de leche -manjarblanco , Every family used to create a beautiful display with all these elements and send it on their best china to their neighbors! Can you imagine? When I was little only really good friends would exchange "Nochebuenas". It was a pleasure to know that there was going to be plenty of delicious sweets on the 24th.
Traditionally Colombians celebrate Christmas eve, with the last novena usually taking place at grandma's house. There would be a nice dinner, followed by the opening of presents. At midnight some people go to mass, and that night is when "baby Jesus" comes and brings the presents for the children. It was so exciting! We would dress up, sit down at a beautiful table, try a sip of wine, open some presents, and then try and stay awake to see baby Jesus... I was never able to stay up for long!
From Christmas on, one would focus on the creation of the "taitapuro", or "año viejo" which is a giant stuffed doll. It represents the old year, and it is filled with firecrackers and fireworks. In order to buy all this "special effects" one needed to collect money, and the most common way to do so was to create a toll gate of sorts on the neighborhood street. We would have a long rope, a tin can. and two children keeping guard. The rope was stretched across the road as a means to stop traffic, once we have accomplished this task, one child would approach the driver with the tin can and ask for money... easy piecy...
I realize that this was not the safest of traditions, but to see a "taitapuro" burn was something-else. Some people would get a little creative with the dummy, and they would make it look like their boss, or a disliked politician, or any other public figure that looked better when lit on fire!
As a counterbalance to all this fire, we would play with water (lots of it) on January 5th and 6th, or the Epiphany. My whole town would come out to the streets, water balloons in hand, and get everyone in sight wet! It was not really the whole town, but all the young people from the town, for sure! I am not sure where this tradition comes from, but it is sure a lot of fun.
It is midnight now, so it is officially Sunday, and I am taking a bow and retiring to my quarters. I have not edited, and I hope I won't regret it. The exercise was successful as far as getting me to write, I will have to read this post tomorrow and see if it is worth it. Good night!

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