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An Open Letter To Ann Arbor From The Celaya Family

An Open Letter To Ann Arbor From The Celaya Family image
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For the majority of my people - those with religious traditions and those without - the following are the most important customs and celebrations of the Christmas season. EspeciaNy those who hold Cathotkr religious beliefs celébrate what is called "Pastorelas," in which young and oíd alike particípate. Ten to twelve days before the 24th of December people dress up as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and other figures mentioned in the Bible during the time of the birth of Christ. They have met together beforehand to plan which houses they will visit in the processions of the coming days. During each nighfs journey to a house, the people at the head of the procession carry on their shoulders an image made of wood or piaster of a child lying down, a position which signifies that the child has not yet been born. Well, the procession finally arrivés at the prearranged home and knocks on the door. When someone inside opens the door, the procession begins to sing special songs in which they ask the family of the house to permit the child Jesus to remain with them for a night. Those who have opened the door respond, singing another song which says that the child may stay. In this way, the procession goes from house to house each night until the 24th of December when the child is carried to the church at midnight and a mass is celebrated. During the mass, the priest puts the child in a sitting position to signify that it has been born. After the mass, each family returns home to eat a meal together. Those who have the money to buy food, uncork their bottles of wine; the sound of radios or record players can be heard and the dances which can last until morning begin. It is worth mentioning that the merchants really benefit from the Christmas season because as part of the festivities the people - even at great sacrifice - have the custom of buying new clothes and shoes. No one wants this night to pass without being able to wear something new for the first time. So, the shopkeepers take advantage of this custom and mark up the prices in an exaggerated way. Most people know that they do this and buy their Christmas gifts up to a month ahead of time to avoid being victims of this policy. On the 31 st of December, the New Year's festivities begin. Everyone wants to go visiting, and given that the students have yacations during this time - the school year is from February to October - it is the custom to spend the whole day visiting our friends and family members. Most people dont work on this day because they have already worked extra hours beforehand to make up for it. So, on the 31 st we all go visiting by bus, and if we find the friend or family at home - what luck! We talk, eat a little something together, have a drink like wine or beer, and after a while we say goodbye and go on to another home. Someone, of course, remains at home to prepare the big midnight meal for the family - usually the grandparents. They prefer not to go out on this day because the buses are full and they are afraid that someone might jostle them. When the buses are very full, we walk to our friends' homes and the grandparents don't want to walk so much. So, they usually stay at home to prepare a baked turkey or tamales. Those families who cant afford a turkey buy some tamales for their supper. This is also a beautiful custom because each family prepares more than what they are going to eat, and just before midnight they fix plates of food to take to their neighbors. It is usually the children who have the job of taking the food to the neighbors. This is a funny ritual itself; the children are making mischief and joking around so much that they often drop the food and return to their mothers to teil them that they feil accidentally and dropped the plate. So the mothers get mad and scold the children, but fix another plate of food for them to take again, or they send an older child so that the task gets done. In this way we try to share the little we have wrth others. It is a custom to buy fireworks to set off on the night of the 31 st. When night falls around 7 pm the children are very excited. They bathe and put on their new clothes and go outside to run around and shoot off fireworks. Just before midnight everyone looks at their watches; parents and children try to be as close together as possible because when the clock strikes twelve, there are kisses and hugs everywhere together with wishes for a Happy New Year. Sometimes the old people cry at this time, remembering the bad experiences that they've had in the past year or someone close to them who has passed away. Right after midnight, we run to the homes of our neighbors to exchange hugs with them, and because everyone is running out of their homes to do the same, the whole neighborhood is in the street. The best fireworks, saved for this moment, are set off and the whole scène is like a street fair. After this, we have our big midnight dinner, and those who put on dances, dance until dawn. In this way, my people celébrate Christmas and New Years. I would like to explain another aspect of these traditional festivities. In order to have a big dinner and be able to buy new clothes for the children, many of us have a little money that our bosses have given us, not out of generosity on their part, but because we have earned it working for a miserable wage for an entire year. It is also certain that there are thousands of families that have no work and surely in these homes there will be no New Year's dinner, no new clothes or any toys for the children who have waited all year for Christmas. Our children know very well that there is no money to buy them a toy, but they hope that at the end of the year God will make a miracle happen so that their parents will be able to do this. To end, I would like to say that the situation of war which my people are suffering now is a struggle carried out with the hope that there will come a new day in which our children can truly have a happy Christmas. A time in which they can know that a child was born - a child made man and humanitarian by Divine Will who arrived in this world to bring a message of Peace, a message of Love for all; a message of justice and humility in which we all have the necessary things to live as the dignified children of God that we are. With all my heart I wish for those who read this small article that the God of our ancestors who is the same God of our days filis your hearts with much love. I hope that we can reflect seriously on giving our Christmases the true spirit of its meaning. May He inspire in each one of you the desire to help those who are needy and in this way you will be contributing your small grain of sand so that our peoples can live in Peace. May God also bless each and every one of you who have so generously opened your hearts to help us. To those who work so arduously in this beautiful project of Sanctuary in Ann Arbor and also to those who dont work in Sanctuary but support us in some way, we simply say Thank You! Many thanks, may God repay you and may you all have a Feliz Navidad and a prosperous New Year. With gratitude and love, Pilar Celaya and family Christmas and New Years Festivities in El Salvador