December is a magical time in El Salvador. Right after the last September rains and the windy days of October and November, a cool breeze and fresh spring-like days fill the atmosphere, announcing that the dry season (usually called “summer”) is here, and suddenly everything is green, red and full of lights. It is Christmastime.
For Compassion El Salvador and for our partner churches, Christmas is more than just an evening service on the 24th. (That is right, in El Salvador, if you ask anyone about Christmas, they will answer without hesitation “December 24th.”)
For our church partners, it is an opportunity to remember the birth of Jesus, but also why He was born on Earth. It is a great opportunity to bring families together, and share the love of God with the children and their families. It is a time for blessing, spiritually and materially.
In the towns, bright, conspicuous winter sale banners contrast with the green and red decorations and the white paint that imitates snow on the showcase at the local mall. (It does not snow in El Salvador, but since the culture is so Americanized, there cannot be Christmas without snow.)
The aisles of the supermarkets and department stores are filled with pine scent and artificial trees on sale. If you ever come and visit El Salvador in December, it does not matter if you are from the United States, Canada, France or Australia, you will know … it is Christmastime.
Children in other countries and conditions might dream about the latest action hero or the most beautiful and fashionable doll. The children at our centers think a little bit differently. Not because they do not like toys, but because there are other needs to be fulfilled.
“We had a case one time when two of our children, a girl and his little brother stopped attending school, and when we did the visit, it was because they did not have any shoes to go to school, and they were embarrassed to go barefoot.”
- Sister Wendy, wife of the pastor of Tabernaculo Biblico Bautista Majucla Church.
One of the children at Tabernaculo Biblico Bautista Majucla Church is Mauricio, a cute 7-year-old who loves to talk. Mauricio specially enjoys asking people if they have heard about Jesus, and if they want to receive Him in their hearts.
Traditionally, under other conditions, Mauricio would ask for toys, but because of the financial conditions, Christmas gifts and gifts in general mean he can get the shoes, the pair of pants or the school bag that his mother cannot afford.
Along with the snow, reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, Christmas brings hope and happiness to the spirits of the Salvadoran people, and in many cases nostalgia, just like any other country that celebrates the birth of Jesus.
On the radio, on television, in the newspaper and along the street, the air is filled with colors, songs and smiles that shout, “It is Christmastime.”
Compassion El Salvador has strong relationships with retailers, such as clothing and shoe factories, and school gear wholesalers as well as supermarkets, and obtains good products at good prices. This is how our 155 child development centers receive the information about what are the choices for the children, and who to contact in order to make the best investment of the Christmas money that the sponsors send for their children.
Because of these relationships, reps from shoe stores visit all of our development centers to take the shoe size of all the children. With the few exceptions when children prefer clothes or school supplies, the center staff then takes the measurement list to the store to choose the shoes.
In the case of Mauricio, he is wandering around the church very early in the morning, playing with his friends until brother Enrique calls him and takes the measurements. “It is a five,” they say.
As the development center’s Christmas party arrives, Mauricio is early, greeting everyone and smiling. The church looks happier than other days, and the decorations have a personal touch, with each of the sponsor’s names hung on the decorations.
All the staff members are dressed in red with Santa hats, ready to celebrate with the children. Before they start, they elevate a prayer,
“Thank you Lord for our sponsors. Please bless them and take care of them wherever they are.”
The children have a nice meal, and one by one they are called to receive their presents. Mauricio is eager to destroy the red paper and open the box, but he waits until he is home to show his present to his mom: a nice, black pair of shoes.
Families come together for the holidays. They go to church, and have dinner; cousins, aunts and uncles, grandpas and grandmas, brothers and sisters — the whole family comes together to celebrate and share.
The traditional dishes are turkey or the less-expensive chicken, pork, all kinds of salads, something called chirimol, which is chopped tomatoes, onions and spices with lemon juice and is as traditional in El Salvador as gravy or sweet potatoes.
The only big difference with how Salvadorans celebrate Christmas is that for Salvadorans it is not a silent night. Christmas for a Salvadoran means lots of noise with firecrackers and music.
The streets are full of children burning firecrackers. The neighborhoods are filled with music and laughter coming out of the houses.
For Salvadorans, lots of explosions, the smell of gunpowder from the firecrackers in the air, and music means that it truly is Christmastime.
Christmas in El Salvador might not be a silent night, but it definitely is a celebration for the birth of our Lord.