Last Christmas in Perú

My first Christmas in Perú was spent with my host family. My second Christmas was spent back with my family in the U.S. My last Christmas here in Perú was spent here in Huaráz and at the beach!

From my group, Perú 25, only 3 of us remain. And so, we all decided to meet up to spend a few days at the beach, have some great seafood, and catch the latest chapter of the Star Wars Saga. However, before heading out to meet my friends on the playa, I had some Christmas obligations to take care of here in Huaráz.

My counterpart for my 3rd year as PCVL is SERNANP – Parque Nacional Huascarán (essentially the Peruvian National Park office for Huascarán National Park). As an office, we had a Chocolatada (literally a “Hot Chocolate Party”, but essentially a Christmas party) where we sang Christmas songs, drank hot chocolate with Panetón, and partook in several Christmas games which included dressing up two of the Ingenieros of the park as Sierra women. It was a good time all around.

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Within our office, my main socia is the Environmental Education specialist, and we work with an environmental youth group composed of local university students (Los Hinchas de la Conservación) who help spread Huascarán National Park’s message. We meet almost weekly with the Hinchas to hold classes, learn about different aspects of the park, and to practice our various techniques/methods to spread our messages of environmental stewardship. However, we also do fun stuff.

In talking with my socia one day, I suggested that we should hold a Christmas party with a White Elephant Gift Exchange. It took a little while to explain how a White Elephant Gift exchange works, but once she understood, she was sold. And so, on December 23rd we held our Christmas party. It was a roaring success, and the Hinchas loved the concept of a White Elephant Gift exchange. We played by my special rules where people could bring nice gifts or gag gifts, all gifts must be wrapped, and gifts could only be opened at the end of the exchange. At the beginning of the party, everyone chose a number to determine the gift selection order. It took some convincing, but I eventually convinced some Hinchas to steal gifts from their friends rather than just picking out of the gift pile. Stealing always makes a white elephant more fun. We had lots of food, danced, sang huayno, and played some Super Smash Brothers Melée.

 

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Playing Super Smash Bros. Melee

 

 

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Group photo!

 

After a day of great fun, that evening I hopped on my bus and on Christmas Eve, I met my friends at the beach. We had lots of ideas of places we could go and things we could see, but we settled on just taking lots of time to relax (and go see the new Star Wars movie, of course!). Enjoy some pics of my Christmas beach adventure in Huanchaco!

 

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Beachfront at Huanchaco

 

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Christmas dinner…we made it work (Turkey, potato chips, & guacamole)

 

 

 

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We had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant to finish up the vacation

My last Christmas in Perú was a great one. Hope you enjoyed seeing how I spent it.

 

Until next time,

MGB

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Gastronomical Exchange: Gingerbread House

As I mentioned in my recent post, when I returned to Peru after my brief vacation in the U.S., I made sure to bring back a LOT of goodies. Notably, I brought lots of candy and my cremas (Ketchup, BBQ sauce, & Ranch), but I also brought some gifts & knick-knacks for my host-family.

One of these presents was a Gingerbread House kit. Now, I’ve made a few Gingerbread houses in my day, but for my host-siblings this was their first one ever. At first, they weren’t too sure how to put it all together, but once I arranged the basic frame and cemented it in place with the icing, they took it from there.

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A few minutes later, I returned to find this beauty sitting on our kitchen table.

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I think they did a pretty good job for their first ever Gingerbread house.

Unfortunately, in the days following its creation, the house was slowly devoured, never to be put to use by a little Gingerbread family.

Until next time,

MGB

Christmas Nacimientos

So as I mentioned in my post, Christmas in Caraz, from last year, Christmas is a very popular here in Perú, notably due to the fact the majority of the population is Catholic. Now, one of the Christmas traditions I noticed this year, but failed to appreciate last year, is the abundance of nacimientos, or Nativities.

For me, a Nativity scene typically consists of a wooden frame (resembling a small barn), with an assortment of people, straw, and animals underneath. You know, the typical image of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus depicted around the holiday season in the U.S. Well, here in Perú, nativity scenes (nacimientos) are done a bit differently, and in fact don’t much resemble the nativity scenes of which I am familiar.

You see, at least here in the sierra of Áncash, nativity scenes are usually created using a mixture of colored paper (usually brown, green, or grey), rocks, native plants from high up in the mountains, little figurines, sand, and whatever else seems to be available. The paper is usually used to create some sort of landscape (mountains, deserts, etc.) over which the rocks, plants, and figurines are placed to create a pretty scene. In some location of the nacimiento will usually go the typical manger with an image of Mary, Joseph, and on Christmas day, baby Jesus. These nacimientos can be tiny enough to fit on a small table, or large enough to fill up an entire corner of a room. Regardless of the size, the important factor is that almost EVERY public institution makes nacimientos: the schools, the hospitals, the UGELs, the market, etc.

Now for about a month or so, my office  in the Provincial Municipality has been planning to do a Christmas exposition of recycled products/furniture/art in the Plaza de Armas (Town Square) to get the community of Caraz thinking more about trash and how it can be repurposed. While the exposition hasn’t begun yet, one component has already been completed: a nacimiento made of traditional and recycled materials. Over the past 1.5 weeks, my office has been hard at work creating a fairly LARGE nativity scene in one of the gardens of the town square. Naturally, being partnered with the Municipality, I was also involved in the creation of the Nativity scene.

Check out some pictures of the entire process below!

It all started on Tuesday, December 6th when I walked into my office to see my desk surrounded by plants from the puna (high mountain plains).

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All the plants safely transported to the Plaza de Armas
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Moving stones for Day 1 of creating the nacimiento
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Start of the future stone path & arrangement of recycled tires/cylinders
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Decorating with the plants from the Puna
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Work completed by the end of Day 1. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole time.
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Cleaning water bottles & filling them up with H2O for the Plastic Bottle Christmas Tree!
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Work completed by the end of Day 2

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The final 3 photos show the finished product, bottle-tree and all!

I had a great time helping out my office in the municipality, and I think the final product turned out great! I am quite sad though that they uprooted so many plants from the puna just to make a nacimiento that will last a little over a month; perhaps they will return the plants, but I am doubtful. We’ll have to have a talk when I return from vacation about why taking the plants isn’t really that great for protecting the environment, but poco a poco.

Well, I hope you enjoyed some brief insight into another interesting Peruvian holiday tradition.

Until next time,

MGB

 

Christmas in Caraz

Ok, so Christmas was a long time ago, but better late than never, right?

Perú is a very religious country, with the predominant religion being Catholicism. An estimated 85% of Perú’s citizens self-identify as Catholic, and Catholicism is even directly mentioned in the Peruvian Constitution as having been an important component to the country’s development. Consequently, Christmas, or Navidad as it is known here, is quite a big deal, although not in the overtly commercialized sense that it is celebrated in the US.

Christmastime here in Caraz is characterized by lots of masses and religious celebrations, family time, and the ever so popular  Chocolatada. So, what is a chocolatada? Well, my best translation would be a “Hot Chocolate Party”, but in reality those words fail to summarize the occasions.

Essentially a chocolatada in an event where people from the community come to drink “hot chocolate”, eat Panetón (essentially fruit-cake, but not the bad brick-like monstrosity we have in the States), and socialize, all while enjoying some kind of strange Holiday-themed show which tends to involve people in Santa Claus costumes dancing and engaging kids in strange contests. If you are a student, mother, municipality worker, essentially anyone really, you will probably attend anywhere from 3-4 chocolatadas between November and Christmas Day. I think I ended up attending around 6 this past year, not regretting having attended a single one.

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The chocolatada entertainment

Apart from the Chocolatadas, many people receive Christmas baskets from their employers or from government programs such as Vaso de Leche. Since I work with the municipality, I got a HUGE basket full of random things like sugar and milk, that I ended up just donating to my host-family, because what am I going to do with a few kilos of sugar?

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My Christmas canasta (basket), complete with Panetón (the bread thing)

But, chocolatadas are only one aspect of Christmas festivities here in Perú. While decorating houses with trees and lights in the fashion we do in the States is not the norm, my Municipality did adorn our wonderful plaza with some lights and Christmas figurines which definitely reminded me of home. But personally, the best part of the Christmas season for me is the celebration with my host-family. Here in Áncash and most of Perú, Christmas is celebrated differently than in the US. While for most Christmas-celebrating US citizens, the primary day of activities is Dec. 25th, in Perú most of the celebrating is actually done on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th.

So how did I celebrate Christmas Eve? Well, I worked with my family in the chacra in the morning, helped to feed our animals, and then just kind of hung around the house. Around late afternoon, the festivities began to pick up with relatives coming over to the house to chat and drink, and my host-mom and aunt starting to prepare chicharrón de chancho from the meat of our Christmas pig. Meanwhile, I was upstairs talking to some relatives about American music, how we celebrate Christmas in the USA, and politely refusing beer offered to me every 15 minutes or so. Around 11:00pm however, we all gathered in the kitchen to eat our chicharrón de chanco with choclo (basically corn-on-the-cob).

Not surprisingly,  people started to get tired after the meal. While my host-mom/dad/brother decided to go to sleep, my host-sister and I stayed up for a while because the tradition here is to stay awake until midnight and then do the gift exchange. The gift exchange had to wait until Christmas morning (because of sleeping), but I’m glad I stayed awake because as soon as 12:00am arrived, the neighborhood came to life with the sounds of fireworks bursting and cracking in the night. It was so different from how I would celebrate in the US, but it was wonderful, and I definitely think Christmas Eve fireworks should become a thing back home.

Christmas Day itself was quite tame, with the gift exchange happening late in the morning. I got some candy and a motorcycle clock from my host-family, and gave them various tiny gifts.

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Unwrapping presents. He got a laser gun.

The best part, was receiving a phone call from my family in the US, and being able to talk not only with my mom, dad, and sisters, but also my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The rest of the day was quite calm, but as night approached, my host-dad revealed a surprise; chispitas! (sparklers). My host-siblings had never used them before, so I had to show them the ropes. While my brother was afraid at first, after about 5 minutes he was sold, and began pretending he was Harry Potter casting spells. He subsequently told me dad, “tienes que comprar estos todos los días”, or “you have to buy these every day”. While Christmas in Caraz was different, it was nice, and I enjoyed experiencing a shared holiday in a new manner.

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Pretending to be Harry Potter.

Oh, and a few weeks later, Christmas presents arrived from my friends and family, so that was a great late Christmas surprise.

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The haul from my family in the U.S.

While Christmas in Perú was definitely different from Christmas in the U.S., I had a great time and am glad to have been able to experience the holiday from a different perspective.

MGB