How do Guatemalans celebrate Christmas?
There is no single answer to that complex question. Being a multicultural country, the vast majority of families look forward to Christmas in different ways. The most general description of the Christmas environment focuses on preparations by the grandmothers or mothers at home.
The atmosphere and smells in the kitchen are characterized by the delicious aroma of tamales, a mixture of white corn dough seasoned with a tomato sauce, also seasoned, which they call “recado” (almost like a spaghetti sauce). The prize that everyone seeks is the piece of meat that is regularly in the center. The flavor of the tamale is quite varied. There are some with raisins, olives, red or black sauce, some with beef, chicken, or pork, some spicy, non-spicy, sweet, and salty. The whole mixture is wrapped with “mashán leaves” (similar to banana leaves) that gives them their unique flavor.Anyway, you must come to Guatemala to try one of them.
The Christmas table is decorated with a delicious fruit punch (fruit tea). It is usually a base of pineapple, apple, papaya, and coconut. After this, the sky’s the limit on creativity for the fruit punch, since there is no rigid recipe. The fruit punch is different for each region.
For the most part, families wait for the arrival of “the sound of the twelve bells,” or when the clock strikes midnight, to hug each other and continue with the celebrations. In the Christian environment, there are regular special services with representations and live pictures, Christmas songs and poems, and preachng focused on the birth of Jesus. Some churches end their services at 11 p.m., allowing families to return home in time for dinner and midnight hugs.
Christmas is a time to pause and reflect on God’s most precious and incredible gift to us, his son Jesus Christ.
On November 10th I flew to Cuba with a great deal of hesitancy. For months I had been hearing about how desperate the political, social, and economic situation was becoming. On my previous trip in March, most of the talk was still about Covid. Pastors were talking about the lack of food and other supplies, however, that is normal for Cuba.
Now, in November, I could see the difference from even seven months before. Joshua, our associate in Havana, arranged all our transportation around the island for 10 days. Private cars can be rented with a driver like a taxi. They are expensive but generally safe. If you rent a car from the government and get in an accident where someone is hurt, you can be put in jail for months until the court case is complete, so I never lease a rental car. Every gas station we passed, the driver looked to see if fuel was available, and in ten days we only saw two with fuel. Planning way ahead is the only possibility along with shopping the black market where prices are much higher. Every pastor that Joshua and I visited treated us with generosity and kindness.
Our first city was Ciego de Avila where we met with Pastors Edwardo and Judy who had experienced a family tragedy in May. CMRC was there to support them and help them through that dark time in their lives. It was a good visit and time of ministry.
In the city of Florida, we visited three churches. We were hosted at lunch by five pastors and listened to their challenges. In Cienfuegos we visited around the table with seven pastors and heard stories of the trials of their families and their churches. Despite the shortage of food, our hosts sacrificed and fed us delicious meals. At one point I thanked the pastors for the meal, and commented that I knew that this was probably the best meal for them in a month. The room went quiet, and without admitting it, I knew it was probably the best meal for many months to come. Food is available but very expensive and mostly from the black market. Even bottled water, which is all I can drink, is in short supply.
In the Santa Clara area we visited five house churches and their pastors as well as prison Chaplain William and his wife and teenage son in their one room home. We also visited with Maria Elena who is our associate in that area. Maria Elena’s husband died from Covid in 2021 while Maria Elena underwent an operation to remove a large tumor this past spring.
In the past, Cuba was one of the safest countries for tourists to visit but has now become more violent with desperation overtaking the society. Tourists (myself included) are warned not to walk the streets alone or at night in some areas for fear of robbery.
On my last day, I met with Pastor David who is one of the denominational leaders in Western Cuba. David told me that 30 of the senior pastors out of 250 had left the island for other countries. A large number of lay leaders in the churches have also left, and the exodus continues. Please pray for the churches who are affected by the loss of leadership as well as the members of their congregation.
But there is a light in spite the difficulties — the churches are mostly full! Many families are leaving Cuba, but churches are growing as new people are coming to Christ. Difficulty has pushed people to reach out and ask God for help and this is what is happening. Pray also for leaders to rise up and take over where others have left.
~ Pray Pray for our Cuban pastors as they lead their congregations through this Christmas season.
~ Pray for Karen in Iquitos Peru as she disciples and mentors the young ladies in our education program.
~ Pray for Karen’s health as her rheumatologist wants a new test next month.
~ Pray for the church in Cañete Peru where our team will be spending one week of our time in January.
~ Pray for the 4 of us from Canada who will be travelling to the peruvian Amazon and then to Cañete to help January 6th to 21st.
~ Pray for our associates in Peru, Guatemala, and Cuba as they celebrate Christmas with their church and families.