Church celebrations: December was the month of Confirmations and 1st Communions in our parish! My housemate Katty proudly welcomed her RCIA students as full members of the church :) All the kids dressed up in gorgeous white dresses or shirt and tie for the special occasion. And afterwards- fiesta! Church moments are a reason to celebrate, and we were blessed to be invited to participate! One of the families had a big party with food and dancing into the night. I always tell Ecuadorians that when I have kids, I want to throw parties like that :)
Visiting Bucay: San Felipe had a Mass and candle-lit procession around the main streets in our neighborhood for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. An adorned statue of the Virgin Mary led the way, with students and families following behind singing. And because students were out late, Madre Lucely cancelled school the next day :) I was invited to go visit a home in the country with all three Madres, one of the teachers from school, and a few relatives of the family that lives there. The finca (farm house) sat on rolling green hills covered in trees- right on the divide between the coast and mountain regions of Ecuador. It was absolutely beautiful! While there, the family welcomed us into their lives and made us feel at home. Some highlights of the trip: Milking a cow and drinking the fresh, boiled milk with hot cocoa powder. Exploring the gardens and seeing pineapple growing on the plant. Eating fresh sugar out of the cane. Hiking to a waterfall and swimming in the FREEZING cold pool! Spending time with a beautiful, generous Ecuadorian family.
Novenas y Posadas: The nine days leading up until Christmas were incredibly special here. At school, we had a novena each morning. The students acted out little parts of the Nativity story each day, sang religious Christmas carols, and participated in prayer. At night, each of the three chapels held their own prayer services or posadas. What is a posada you may ask? "Posada" means "inn" and is the beautiful tradition in some Spanish-speaking countries of acting out Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem. We went to a different house each night, following the two people dressed as Joseph and Mary and singing. Arriving at our destination, a singing exchange would take place until the doors of the house were opened and everyone entered to pray together. Even though peoples houses are small, the hospitality and love were tremendous. Being able to share in the anticipation of the Christ's coming with women, families, and the young people of our parish was a blessing. Their faith and dedication is an inspiration and a gift. One of the nights, the power went out and stayed out, so we held the whole event in candlelight.
Christmas: Feliz Navidad! On Christmas Eve, we all went to the three, yes THREE, Masses held in the parish. That's a lot of Mass in one night! But it was a chance to share and celebrate and be with our friends. At the first, I semi-directed the Nativity play, and it was a success! The most adorable part? One of the shepherds went running down the aisle of the church yelling, "The Christ was born! The Christ was born!". We definitely hadn't practiced it that way, and it was absolutely beautiful! We spent Christmas morning with kids from the youth group, revealing our "amigo secreto" and sharing some songs with a little fiesta for neighborhood kids that was going on. I am so thankful for the presence of such loving young people in our lives and for the role models they are in the community. That night, we visited Casa Damian, a hospital for Hansen's patients. We shared carols with the men and women who are alone during the holidays. Not having our families with us either, it was very special to share those moments together.
Riobamba: Vacation! Bernie, Katie, Lindsay, Liz and I took a trip to Riobamba after Christmas. We went seeking chillier weather in honor of the Christmas season :) Our adventures took us up Chimborazo, a snow-capped volcano, and to a little village called Candelaria where we hiked the rolling green hills. It's amazing and breath-taking how diverse the geography of Ecuador is. And while waking up at 5am to take a bus into the wilderness may not be the most relaxing way to vacation, it was absolutely worth it to experience the beauty of nature.