Merry Christmas everyone! ¡Feliz Navidad!
I have had a rollercoastery past few days (credits to Zach Erickson for the invented adjective), which I suppose should not surprise me considering the fact that the past few days entailed celebrating Christmas without my family for the first time in my life. I experienced many moments of joy, gratitude and affection toward the people around me, but I also missed my family and Minnesota more than ever.
On top of all this, I have felt (and still feel) painful empathy for a friend here in Buenos Aires who is suffering, and has suffered perhaps all his life from an almost deadly combination of sickness, poverty, neglect and abuse. As if all of these unlucky cards weren’t enough, my friend also has a cognitive disability, which makes him extremely vulnerable when he walks around by himself in his rough neighborhood. I don’t feel like I can ethically tell you more details about my friend, except for the fact that when I saw him on Sunday for the Christmas pageant, his health was the worst I had ever seen it. It is so hard to accept that I am limited in what I can do for him; he has been on my mind a lot this week. So I ask that you please all pray for him.
In other news, the weather seems to have joined me in my rollercoaster ride this week! We had a hot and humid weekend, and then on Christmas Eve the heat and humidity reached almost unprecedented proportions. This time it wasn’t just the Minnesotan girl complaining- everyone was wilting! The temperature was about 100 F, but the “sensacion térmica” (heat sensation?) was 120 F! In other words, the humidity was so intense that it actually felt like 120! Then, early Christmas morning (1:30), we had a brief thunderstorm. After that, the temperature started to drop, and last night and today have been pleasantly cool (70s). What a relief!
I want to share with you the following events of the last week: The “amigos invisibles” party at my house, the Christmas workshop and Christmas pageant at Santo Sacramento, Christmas Eve with Pastor Angel and Chabela, and saying goodbye to Padre Dani.
La Fiesta de Amigos Invisibles (The Secret Santa Party)
Last Friday, some of the residents in my house got together for a little Christmas Party. We had each drawn someone else’s name from a hat and came to the party with our gifts ready. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, to which I contributed the smoked salmon that my Aunt Sue sent me from Vancouver Island (thanks Sue!!) and some Christmas cookies that I made at the last minute. Afterward, we received our gifts and guessed who our “invisible friend” had been and played a silly game. This silly game was akin to musical chairs, except that we were passing around a bag full of clothing, and whenever the music stopped (which happened to be Abba- classic!), the person holding the bag had to take something out of the bag and put it on. By the end of the game we were all substantially clothed in horribly mismatched clothing articles. See for yourself!
Valentina, Lisa Fernandez, Myriam, Emilia, me and Cristina!
El Taller De Navidad y El Pesebre Viviente- The Christmas Workshop and the Nativity Play
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon, some of the Santo Sacramento kids and youth participated in the annual Christmas workshop, which involves rehearsing the Christmas pageant and other Christmasy activities. With my small group of little girls, we primarily colored sheets illustrating the nativity, played with a play-mobile nativity set, and goofed around on the patio while waiting our turn to dance around as angels. Although there were only three girls in my group for the workshop, about ten more came on Sunday for the pageant itself! Here we are, dancing around joyfully:
The whole group at the finale
Two angel sisters, Aymara and Camila
And their angel mommy, Cecilia!
I was technically supposed to be leading this group of angels, but I felt pretty lost the whole time! Luckily Cristina was there to push me forward when our cue came to unleash the dancing. Afterward I helped Cristina distribute Christmas gifts and candy to each of the kids and youth present, and then we shared a brindis (toasting) with cider and pan dulce (think julekake only in the shape of a chef’s hat and of Italian instead of Norwegian). Pan dulce is a very typical Christmas food in Argentina. Here it is, in all its glory:
La Nochebuena- Christmas Eve
At 6 pm, Pastor Angel delivered the Christmas Eve service at Santo Sacramento. We sang two Christmas melodies that are very familiar to me, but of course this time I sang them in a different language: “Silent Night” (Noche de Paz) and “O Come all Ye Faithful” (Venid Fieles Todos). I could barely get through these songs without crying because of how strongly I associate them with the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, the annual youth Christmas concert at Mayflower Church, and singing Christmas carols with my family on the ride home from Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. The wilting effect of the heat didn’t help.
Pastor Angel delivered a moving sermon reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas (when I write it it sounds cheesy, but I promise that his sermon was not cheesy!). The gist of the sermon was that even without the parties, food, and gifts, Christmas is still Christmas, and that Christ, rather than appearing to us in glamorous manifestations in ornate cathedrals, is most present in humbler settings, among the people who suffer most.
Angel showed us two treasures to illustrate his point. A wooden chalice (the cup used in communion) made somewhere in southern Africa (he didn’t specify) in a community heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, and a small stain-glass depiction of the nativity scene made out of glass shards left by the bombings in Palestine. He spoke about how Christ’s love and hope had manifested itself in these two afflicted communities, and to bring the message a bit closer to home, he also mentioned the friend I told you about at the beginning of this blog post who has been sick. Basically, Angel’s point was that there was nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal with family and shooting off fireworks to celebrate Christmas, but in the end, Christ’s true place is with the poor; he was born to walk with them.
After the service, I went to Angel and Chabela’s house for the Christmas Eve dinner, which did not commence until 10:30! Beforehand, I called my family on skype! They were all gathered at my Grandma’s house, so I was able to see and greet my parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins! It was so much fun- almost like I was there!
By the time we sat down for dinner, I was pretty hungry, and luckily, there was lots of nummy food to more than satisfy my hunger. Chicken, pork, beef, sausage (so much meat!!) something similar to potato salad, lentil salad and lettuce and tomato salad. Uffda! For dessert we had more of the famous pan dulce I told you about, and I finally got to try a Christmas sweet that I had been intrigued about for some time: MANTECOL . . .
Mantecol is made with peanut butter, sugar and undoubtedly many other ingredients, and to me it tastes similar to the filling of a butterfinger candy bar, but with more of a peanut butter taste and a little less crunchy. It’s really hard to explain, which is why I was so intrigued by it- I simply could not imagine what it would taste like. But according to the ads, “it’s not Christmas without mantecol” (Angel would beg to disagree) so I knew I would end up trying it at some point. Mantecol is an Argentine brand of turron, and turron is a category of dense Spanish and Italian sweets that may be made primarily of a nut paste or may consist of honey, sugar and egg whites cooked together with pieces of nuts and fruits mixed in. All turrones come in bar form. Everyone was really surprised when I told them I had never tried turron before! The closest thing to turron in the US is probably peanut brittle, but peanut brittle is much much harder than turron.
Here are some more examples of turrones:
To bring a little bit of Minnesota to the table, I contributed a batch of cookies using a recipe from the Star Tribune contest from a few years ago: cardamom cookies. Except that I couldn’t find cardamom, so I made them with cinnamon instead. Yum!
At midnight, Chabela, Xiomara and I watched the fireworks from the terrace. It felt more like the fourth of July than Christmas to me! I ended the night with a quick dip in Chabela’s small pool, joined by the dog and the daughter of Chabela’s god-daughter, Tatiana, who is just four years old. This may well be the first and last time that I go swimming on Christmas Eve!
Saying Goodbye to Padre Dani
On Saturday night, El Arca hosted a farewell party for Padre Dani. It began with a mass focused both on Dani’s departure and on the 9th anniversary of El Arca Argentina (Sandra, the first El Arca resident, arrived on December 22nd, 2003). After mass, a variety show of sorts ensued consisting of songs, skits, and gifts dedicated to Dani, some of which involved Dani himself. Maxi and I opened the show by serenading Dani with a song he himself wrote called “Sweet Maria.” The song is a farewell song that Dani dedicated to a friend a long time ago. Maxi and I were a smashing hit, if I do say so myself, and we were totally styling in our matching vests.
On Christmas day, I saw Padre Dani again when I came to El Arca. When I arrived, he was showing a selection of photos from his three years with El Arca Argentina to a small audience. After most of the visitors had left, Maxi, Marcos, Sandra, Osvaldo, Romina, Dani Guerrero and I joined Padre Dani for a send-off prayer. Needless to say, we all got a little teary, especially the acogidos (residents). We wished Dani goodbye, he left to spend the night somewhere else, and this morning, he departed for France. We will miss you Dani!!!
I can't figure out how to rotate the photo . . .