For Bolivians, Christmas doesn’t end on December 26th. In my host family’s house, they set up a large manger with many small toys and gifts! It is a symbolic way of inviting Jesus to the world. The toys are laid out so that he can “play” with them on his birthday. This was a wonderful surprise that is much different to the traditions that I’m used to back home. We also blew incense on the manger and baby Jesus during family events as a way of praise. The next morning always had the reminiscent smell of faith and family.
Another tradition that was different is that presents are not distributed on Christmas Day. They are distributed on January 6th, which is Three Kings’ Day. Every Catholic family goes to mass in the morning with their baby Jesus to bless him. After mass, the kids receive their gifts! I appreciated this tradition because giving out gifts felt more appropriate on this day than on Christmas day. Bolivians celebrate the Christmas season in a way that is based on values like family and celebrating the innocence of children. Never once did it feel like capitalism had invaded the Christmas celebrations.
My host family invited me to their family event that is hosted annually. All the close and distant relatives share a venue to have a family event. It was my first time attended mass in Spanish! After mass, we served hot chocolate for a cold, rainy day. The most exciting part of this event is the competitive dance in the afternoon! Every family chooses a costume and theme for a dance. This dance is practiced for about a month before the day of the event. The dances are fun, but also always oriented towards the manger, as a way of praising baby Jesus. My host family got costumes for all of us to be different characters from the very famous Mexican show, El Chavo de 8. This is a classic from the 80’s is still watched by all Latin Americans, due to the nostalgia and innocence that it evokes. I couldn’t have asked for a more fun way to continue celebrating Christmas after December 25th!