Dunlaps in San Salvador

Online journal of the Dunlaps' adventures in San Salvador.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

AP Students to update blog

My AP students are working on personal essays on Salvadoran culture. Here's my article that ran last Christmas in the Spartanburg Herald Journal. Look for more soon!

Holiday plays loud in the tropics by Susan Dunlap

El Salvador celebrates Christmas in a big way. That's understandable, when you realize that this is the only country on Earth named for Jesus Christ. (El Salvador translates as "The Savior.")

You are just as likely to hear Christmas carols in English playing over the mall loudspeakers as anything else. But there's always a Salvadoran twist to the celebration: Here the Christmas music is played extra loud. And it's playing on top of the bands that are playing in every store.

All this noise seems to fit with the giant Christmas decorations, the life-size manger scenes, the lights in every coconut tree and the costumed elves you can rent to carry your packages. This country really knows how to celebrate.

The tropical weather does not fit with the malls playing "Let It Snow" and "Let's Go for a Sleigh Ride," but no one seems to mind the disconnect.

The weather in December is like a perfect spring day in South Carolina - a light breeze, a cloudless blue sky and temperatures in the high 70s. There's zero percent chance of rain. Christmas in El Salvador is right in the middle of the country's dry season. But the perfect weather means everyone's yard is full of blooming poinsettias.

All you have to do is plant them in January, and they come back full and colorful next December. In our yard, the poinsettias are about 3 feet high, blooming right next to the banana trees that are bending over with fruit.

When my students at Escuela Americana and I first compared notes about Christmas traditions, they were as surprised as I was about the differences. Christmas Eve here is more like our New Year's Eve; the restaurants and bars stay open all night long. My students assure me that you need a reservation to get in anywhere because every place is full.

For those who aren't celebrating in the streets, families hold open houses and invite all their friends. Dinner is served after the midnight church service.

The food varies with the family traditions. The main dish might be ham or turkey or hen, cooked in a big clay pot. But what everyone seems to agree on is that there are not a lot of people sleeping the night before Christmas.

The decorations and the holiday treats go on sale here at about the same time as in the U.S. There are also a lot a lot of street vendors to buy from at every major intersection. You can buy almost anything while waiting for the light to change, like a dozen roses, a DVD, a beach towel, a kite or a bag of local oranges. The streets are full, and the traffic gets really heavy. But the time to buy something is when you first lay eyes on it.

There never seem to be any "after-Christmas" sales. The store shelves are cleared of all the holiday merchandise well before Dec. 25. If you wait till the last minute to shop, there's almost nothing "Christmasy" left to choose from.

Probably the most unexpected part of the holiday season here is the fireworks.

Just like everything else, you buy fireworks from your car. A couple of the big traffic circles are lined with fireworks shacks during December, and they can sell you anything that you've ever dreamed of that lights up or explodes.

Christmas Eve fireworks are difficult to describe. They all begin at midnight and continue for a solid hour. It sounds like Spartanburg's "Red, White and Boom," only multiplied by 100. Everyone shoots off something. Fireworks fill the sky no matter which direction you look.

What makes a Salvadoran Christmas unique is that more than 2 million people live in the capital city of San Salvador, and they all celebrate together. No wonder it's so big.


Blogger aighmeigh said...

Just wanted to thank you for your advice re: Escuela Americana last year--I really appreciated your help. No luck yet, but we're moving down there at the end of December anyway :)

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

8:53 AM  

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