Well, Christmas has come and gone and the New Year is only days away. To say the least, this was the most unique Christmas I’ve ever had. In Tomas we have a four day Christmas celebration that feels more like the 4th of July than Christmas, but it was fun and exciting nonetheless.
During the 4 day celebration people come from Lima, Huancayo (the closest real city to Tomas) and all over the province of Yauyos, so more than twice the population of my town was here to celebrate. The celebration started in the afternoon of Christmas Eve with speeches from the four families that sponsored the party (a HUGE financial commitment because each family hires a band for 4 days and they hire cooks and provide free food for EVERY meal of the next four days). It was raining really hard all day but that didn’t stop the bands from marching and playing while a few people danced along.
On Christmas day the festivities began around 7:00 am, which makes for a short night after midnight mass. The day begins with the dance of the “Negritos”(meaning little black ones), which, as it sounds, is people wearing blackface masks who dance to represent the darker skinned pre-Hispanic Peruvians and to adorn the baby Jesus (I’m not sure how the two are connected, but that’s what I was told). It is kind of a parade as the dancers walk around the entire town and there are people lighting fireworks (hence it’s like the 4th of July). To an American, the costumes seem pretty racist, but that is NOT the intent and in Peruvian culture it doesn’t appear racist. After the Negritos groups of women dance the Paya, which again is to adorn the Baby Jesus. Each sponsor family has a group of Negritos and Payas, so these dances last for about 6 hours, with each band playing the same song for every dance!
After the dances and a free lunch (or in my case, free LUNCHES because I would receive lunch invitations from different families…at least overeating is consistent between American and Peruvian Christmases) the general dance begins. Then, from about 3:00 until midnight people are dancing and drinking (a lot of drinking) while the 4 bands rotate playing music (although, with many of the same songs and basically the same dance with little variation for 3 solid days!)
On the 26th the 3 other volunteers in Yauyos (my province) came to Tomas and we had our own little celebration and gift exchange. We had a great time and it was really nice to celebrate with some close friends and American Christmas music (including St. Olaf Christmas Fests, a GREAT change from the repetitivness of the bands). Overall, it was a great experience and a lot of fun. It was definitely not a Minnesota Christmas with the family, but certainly was a unique way to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Peace, Love, and Happy New Year!,