JAVILLA, CHRISTMAS EVE 2011

I've mentioned before how it's a bit tricky for an old New Englander to get into the holiday spirit with warm breezes whispering in the palms and the rest of the family up north. We pretty much ignored Christmas the first few years we were here. Joviality involving elf hats and gigantic leaves was about as much Christmas spirit as we could muster.

The addition of little Maya to our jungle family changed everything. Maya turned one a few days before Christmas in 2011. We decided to stir up a celebration in Javilla so she could have a taste of Christmas as we always knew it (sort of).

We managed to scout out a $1,000 donation to provide a Christmas party for our neighbors. When Emily asked the kids in Javilla what they liked most about Christmas, Santa Claus was the unanimous response. We were puzzled. Money for presents is terribly scarce in Javilla so we wondered how the kids could have such tender feelings of affection for Santa. We wouldn't even have considered bringing Santa Claus into the plans for the party if the kids hadn't known about him already. After much discussion, we designated half the money for food and the other half for presents from Santa. Lizza was with us that Christmas, so she and Emily schlepped over the mountains to Carmona to buy gifts for the 30ish kids from the school and their younger siblings. We invited a few of the women from Javilla to my house to help wrap, and it was while munching on cookies and listening to carols with them that I felt the first inkling of Christmas spirit ever to enter my heart in the jungle.

Christmas Eve morning, Chan went to the village to help cook arroz con pollo, chicharrones, and tamales. The festivities began at 4:00 with the hokiest Christmas pageant ever in the church. Food was served after that, followed by the arrival of Santa Claus, played by none other than Bearded Bill. As there are no reindeer nearby, Santa came in from the hills on Mingo's horse, laden with trashbags full of presents.

The welcome Santa received when he came around the bend was overwhelming.

Santa had never before felt so appreciated.

Long after the last gift was given out, children flocked around Santa just to express their love and get one more hug. Santa had to choke back tears because any more moisture added to the pool of sweat building up inside the hot Santa suit would have flooded the party.

It was the most magical Christmas we'd ever experienced. The following year we tried to replicate it. By then Layla, another non-sleeper like her sister, had arrived. Lizza didn't come that year and Emily was far too exhausted to bounce around all over the place buying presents for 50 kids. We handed over the money and the choices to the ladies who'd come to help wrap the year before.

The first party had been so magical there was no way we could match it. Some people grumbled that the food wasn't as good as the year before and they weren't happy with the selection of gifts. Our bubble of Christmas joy deflated a bit and we wondered if we'd be able to bring the whole thing back up to par in 2013. In November of 2013, knee surgery and a resulting infection kept Bill off his feet for a while. With a default on the funding due to the continuation of the economic disaster, no one to play Santa, and two toddlers keeping us very busy, we opted to quit the tradition after only two years.

Every so often when Bill drives through Javilla, the kids shout Ho Ho Ho! as he passes, making him want to shrink down under the floor mats in the pick-up. Was it wrong for us to start something and not continue it forever for the sake of the kids, or were two great Christmas parties better than no great Christmas parties? Life here is so full of conundrums!

Tradition has never held much appeal for me. I like to look at each moment as a gateway to learn or feel something new. I went overboard on holidays and traditions when my girls were growing up and now I shrink from creating new customs. Stating this doesn't make me feel any better when we hear the Ho Ho Hos as we drive through Javilla, but then I remind myself not to cry because it's over, but to smile because it happened.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

― Heraclitus

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU!