La Noche Buena in Barra de Potosí

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Posted by Gary in Seattle from ( on domingo, enero 05, 2003 at 15:43:41 :

La Noche Buena in Barra de Potosí.

It’s 8:00 PM, Christmas Eve. The church bells in La Barra ring. The colonia rustles and most of the community gathers in front of Doña Olga’s. Piñatas are hung on both sides of the street. The last Posada of the season is about to begin. A young girl hands us candles. Someone else comes over with a lit candle. Our candles are lit and smiles are exchanged along with “Feliz.” We follow the residents as they slowly walk to the church. Chants of the Posada are softly sung as candles flicker in the night’s breeze.

Most of the houses we pass proudly display their brightly decorated shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe. We approach the church. The doors are closed. The crowd in front sings verses asking to come in. The group inside replies by singing verses telling them to go away. The group outside represents Mary and Joseph seeking a place to stay on La Noche Buena. The people inside first represents those who turned them away.

The church doors open. The people outside are welcomed. Their entrance into the church symbolizes Mary and Joseph’s sanctuary in the manger. The church is decorated for the season. A nacimiento – a nativity rests at the alter.

Doña Emmy is the layperson who proudly conducts the service. The service is brief. She finishes and blesses the congregation. The children stir. They whisper to each other. They smile and laugh. They sit on the edges of the pews. Emmy begins passing out small packages of treats to each child. The children wait their turns – their excitement is strong. Emmy and her daughters make sure no child has been missed. The children exit the church and open their packages in that special way only children can – some in one swift motion, others meticulous and slow.

Emmy and one daughter come over to us. Their smiles will never be forgotten. “¡Feliz Navidad!” Our replies are the same. Emmy hands Val an orange and me an apple. Priceless Christmas gifts.

As we wander back to Laura’s some families are gathering in their homes in preparation for their Noche Buena feasts. Others gather outside. Fireworks are lit here and there. At the end of our street, towards the lagoon, several families set up tables in the street. Their feast will soon begin, their celebration will follow. They will be dancing to music from their boom box late into the night. We listen to joyful chatter, laughter, fireworks and music which fills the night air. It comes from all directions. We sip traditional punch that has simmered for many hours. The apples, spices and rum provide familiar tastes and aromas of the season.

Midnight. The church bells ring again. We’re summoned to the church. Several people are standing in the aisle. They hold a blanket. A woman goes to the nativity and picks up a small figure, baby Jesus. She softly sings to the baby and carries it to the blanket. Those holding the blanket grasp two ends. The child is gently laid in the bed the blanket has become. The group sings to him as they rock him. He is gently returned to the nativity.

Children enter the church. They assemble a choir. Their chests swell as they smile broadly. They are ready to perform the songs we’ve heard them practicing for several days. Emmy’s daughter is their director. All of the songs will be in Spanish. “Ande Ande Ande.” “Jingle Bells.” “Silent Night.” “White Christmas.” As they sing “White Christmas” we can’t help but think the closest most will ever come to such a dream is enjoying a raspado. The songs are over and each child from the choir is proudly introduced. The children gather around us and thank us for coming. Some have practiced saying “Merry Christmas.” Their greetings and hugs overtake us with sentiment. Yet another everlasting Christmas gift.

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