A Castle made of Fireworks

Last week in Yuracoto, my local school estaba de fiesta (was in party mode). You see, the school’s  patron saint is la Virgen de Carmen, also known as the Virgin Mary, and apparently her day of celebration is the 16th of July. As I mentioned in one of my other posts, anniversaries are a BIG DEAL here in Perú, and so naturally the entire week of the 11th leading up to July 16th was filled with different religious and non-religious activities in the school.

One of said activities that I attended was the víspera, which literally means the “day before”. In this case, víspera means the night before the main day of celebration, or the evening of the 14th of July. So what happens at a víspera? Well first people from the community slowly trickled into the school, sitting and chatting while a student group performed a traditional dance from Áncash. Then, the altar containing the image of the saint was brought out, and everyone gather for a brief mass. A women, one of the madrinas (literally god-mother, but in this case sponsor) for the event, read from the Bible, led everyone in prayer, gave a brief sermon, and then led everyone in some Catholic hymns.

At the conclusion of the brief mass, speakers were rolled out and I, being the only one with a laptop, was put in charge of the music. I managed to play some Marc Anthony before students restricted me to just cumbia and huayno.

After a while, as it grew later in the evening and as the student groups continued to dance, we grew closer to one of the main attractions of the evening, the lighting of the firework castle. You see, I thought we had fireworks figured out pretty well in the U.S., but after attending a few events with fireworks here in Perú, I think they have us outclassed at least in terms of ingenuity. It is pretty standard here in Perú that for really big celebrations or anniversaries, you buy some fireworks. But Peruvian fireworks are not the tiny ones we buy for our homes around 4th of July, nor are they the giant fireworks displays we see way up in the sky. Here in Perú, they make structures out of bamboo, attach fireworks to them, and then set them off.

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A “palm tree” firework with its spinning parts.

Of the standard Peruvian firework regime, my favorite would have to be the Toro Loco (Crazy Bull), which is essentially a small bamboo frame reminiscent of a bull’s head to which many fireworks are attached. You then grab the Toro Loco, hold it over your head, and light up its fireworks as you run around at your fellow community members, shooting out sparks and smoke. Safe? Absolutely not. Fun? Absolutely.

So while this fiesta was unfortunately missing a Toro Loco, what it did have was a Castillo, or Castle, of which 1/6th was mine; the castle cost s/. 300, and I donated the missing s/. 50 to pay for it.

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The Castillo right after being lit.

Around 10:45pm (the víspera started at 7pm), we finally lit up the castillo and I managed to get everything on camera. Check out the video below and enjoy your first (probably) experience with Peruvian fireworks!

 

Until next time,

MGB

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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