Christmas — Xela-Style!
It’s that time of year again and we here at XelaWho HQ are busy dusting off the ol’ Bing Crosby vinyls, getting rid of last year’s tree and wondering which back-issues of XelaWho to give friends for Christmas. If you’ve been in Xela for a while you’re probably a well-seasoned chapin (Guatemalan) who knows their way around the cuadra (block). For newcomers and the uninitiated, your faithful editors here at XelaWho have got you covered with a run-down of all the best (and worst) of the Christmas season in Xela.
Anyone passing by the Plaza Ciany up near the bus terminal has probably noticed the 100 foot tall Christmas tree (see cover). Rolled out each year, this monument to all that is Christmas is crowned by the patron saint of Xela’s Christmas celebrations (and pretty much every other public event/celebration/commiseration in Guatemala) – the Gallo Rooster. Gallo (rooster) is the largest beer company in Guatemala, and since local public purse strings are tight, sponsors just about everything going on in town. If a new bar opens, Gallo will be behind it. If a band is playing on a stage, the rooster won’t be too far away. Even the week of celebrations for Guatemala’s independence in September seems more like a week of homage to the top cock in Guatemala.
Apart from the rivers of Gallo, there are other delicious Guatemalan Christmas treats. Our favourite here at XelaWho is Christmas paches. Similar to the ubiquitous tamalitos (a corn dough steamed in corn leaves), paches are steamed tamales made from either rice or potato and stuffed with all kinds of veggies and meats. All year-round you’ll find scrumptious potato and rice paches around Xela – especially on Thursdays. Around Christmas local Xelan eateries crank out tons of Christmas paches which are stuffed with meat, olive, plums and raisins depending where you go. So look out for paches and taste a part of Guatemalan Christmas tradition (and no, your pilgrimages to Pollo Campero and Cono Pizza don’t count!).
Guatemalans mainly celebrate on Christmas Eve with a big dinner with family and friends. After dinner, however, it’s out on to the streets with as many fireworks as your 5 year old nephew can carry! Rather than the overly-scripted firework displays common in places like Australia, everyone gets in on the action and lets off fireworks, bungers, and roman candles from their rooftop or on the street.
A couple of years ago, yours truly decided that a Santa-shaped piñata was the perfect addition to Christmas in Xela. After 20+ friends at various stages of inebriation and coordination tried to stab Santa open with a big spoon (tip: piñatas last longer if you use a spoon not a baseball bat) and not a single piece of candy had come out, one bright-spark realized that your faithful editor had forgotten to fill Santa with candy (in Guatemala, piñatas don’t come with candy, you need to put it in yourself). Even 4 years later the painful memories remain of a flaming Santa being shot with roman candles in the street by an angry mob of big-kids who missed out on their xmas candy.
Merry Christmas from all of us here at XelaWho! See you in the new year!