Compiled by Kiyomi Beach | KF17 | Mexico
Whether shaking off the chill of winter, welcoming the rainy season, or experiencing any other climate change, the spring can definitely be a time to celebrate. Some countries celebrate big which can mean local business owners have a surge in income from selling items related to the festivities. Sales for new clothes, fabrics for costumes, candies, and specialty foods increase, which give some Kiva borrowers an extra reason to celebrate.
While we may all be familiar with some holidays or festivals, each culture celebrates what may seam like a familiar holiday differently. Some countries have celebrations that are uniquely their own, with the common threads being are family and fun. Lets see how a few of the fellows celebrated.
With the temperature sitting at -30C (-22F) it’s hard to imagine that Tsagaan Sar hails the end of Winter for Mongolians. This holiday is celebrated on the first new moon two months after Winter Solstice. Although the celebrations look similar to the Western Christmas holiday, there are many interesting differences. Family gatherings are traditionally held at the oldest member of the family’s home and all members go there on Tsagaan Sar day to bring gifts and eat food. As with all Mongolian food, Tsagaan Sar food consists of meat and dough. Buuz (mutton dumplings) and fatty meat from a large rack of sheep lying out on a table for hours/days, are eaten in copious quantities. And they don’t let you get thirsty as vodka, fermented mare’s milk and more recently wine and beer are served immediately upon arrival (we were thankfully given glasses of each at 9:30 in the morning.)
Visitors and family members grasp the elbows of all the older family members, in a line, to show their support for them, then they smell each othersfaces on either side and say a greeting of sorts, “are you well-rested?” (This experience was easy to do in a home setting, but when my partner MFI, XacBank, had a Tsagaan Sar party I grasped and smelled over 50 people in a seemingly never-ending line!) Other activities around this holiday include Mongolians cleaning house extensively and settling debts. What great reasons to have a holiday! Happy Tsagaan Sar!
Easters in Ukraine
I write to you from the land of many Easters. Here in Transcarpathia, at the far western tip of Ukraine, most towns have at least two: a testament to the fascinating complexity of the region’s ethnic and religious landscape. The first Easter came on April 8th this year, as the region’s Hungarian and Polish Catholics marked the day of Christ’s resurrection. A week later came the Easter of the Ukrainian Orthodox community, a celebration shared, naturally, by the Greek Catholics: neither Greek nor precisely Catholic, but a hybrid religion of this borderland between empires, one that adopted Orthodox rites while pledging allegiance to the Pope in Rome. The celebrations, both of them, lasted for two days in the cities and for four or five in the remote villages of the Carpathian Mountains, where the locals’ devotion is all that brings about the blossoms of spring.
For Catholic Easter, I spent a quiet weekend in my home base of Uzhhorod, a stone’s throw from the Slovakian and Hungarian borders. The streets were hushed and private, but I slipped into the Baroque-spired Hungarian Catholic church on my street to stand quietly behind the pews, the priest’s sermon echoing among the upward-surging columns. The Orthodox and Greek Catholic Easter found me in Lviv, the cultural and religious center of western Ukraine and a brooding, fantastical dream of a city. I spent an entire day in Lviv floating from church to church, enraptured by the devotion of others: Armenians, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, all blurred together into a single chorus of voices praising God.
There is a legend that Prince Vladimir the Great, baptizer of Russia, chose Orthodoxy as his nation’s religion on the strength of its ancient beauty. I believe the legend is true.
Khmer New Year
Khmer New Year (Choal Chnam Thmey) typically falls around mid-April of every year and is one of the biggest celebrations in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Officially celebrated for 3 days, local Cambodians often take the days before and after the 3-day holiday to travel back to their homelands to visit family and participate in traditional Khmer New Year activities—making the holiday last a total of 5 days! Can you imagine?—5 full days of hardcore dancing, singing, games, (amazing) food and drinks all in great company. It really can’t get much better.
Preparation for Khmer New Year begins about two weeks before the actual holiday. Cambodians take this time very seriously and clean their homes to rid it of any “unclean spirits.” Maxima, one of the MFIs I am working with, even asked the Buddhist monks in the nearby pagodas to come to the company to pray, bless, and cleanse everyone for the new year to come.
It’s hard to pick out my favorite part of this eventful holiday. Going to the pagodas, spending genuine time with the locals, and potentially getting splashed with buckets of water as you walk on the streets (the younger generation’s method of “cleaning”) are definitely significant components of the new year; but what makes this holiday stand out from other Khmer holidays are the traditional games that people play. Streets are literally blocked off with people—friends, relatives, their mothers, random strangers—playing these games! A particularly memorable one was “Chol Chhoung” where two groups of boys and girls stand in opposite rows and throw a ball of cloth at each other. I know that doesn’t sound quite as appealing in words, but believe me, in the heat of the moment (and possibly with a few beers) it truly is an amazing time.
Fête de Pâques
Here in Yaoundé, the Fête de Pâques (Easter) weekend is filled with celebrating. Most businesses close for Good Friday, while friends and family gather to attend church and host get-togethers complete with local, homemade cuisine (delicious deserts included!), to commemorate the special day.
Not unlike how I might spend an Easter weekend in the States, I found myself hanging out with a group of little ones, all very excited to participate in an afternoon of egg dyeing. We pumped up the Cameroonian jams on the stereo and watched as the kids dipped hard boiled eggs from one coloring bowl to the next, sometimes collaborating on a multi-colored egg experiment.
Saturday morning we headed out of the city to a nearby village where the day was spent with adults drinking beer and reminiscing, while the children played a hide and seek game with the newly-dyed eggs. Ah, to be young again!
Semana Santa 1: Tenancingo
Several Mexican cities are famous for their traditional Semana Santa (or Holy Week) celebrations. The small village of Tenancingo – two bus-hours away from Mexico City – is definitely not one of them. Yet, as I stood in front of the first church of the village and took a glimpse at the very long listing of events, ceremonies, and processions that were taking place there during Semana Santa, I quickly understood that Tenancingo provides riches of fascinating experiences to both tourists and locals during Holy Week.
The most unusual ceremony that I witnessed during my stay was Good Friday evening’s beautiful and absolutely timeless Procesión del silencio (or Procession of Silence). Only hours after witnessing the Via Crucis – the reenactment of Jesus Christ´s life, crucifixion and death with real actors on an outdoor stage – the entire village congregated in the late afternoon for a long and solemn church service which ended shortly before 9PM. After coming out of the church, the crowds kept a deep silence as they began lining the main street that leads from the church to the village’s main square or Zócalo.
After a few minutes, the Procesión del silencio began: accompanied only by the sound of monotonous drum beats, hundreds of volunteers and members of the church marched in solemn silence and in impeccable order through the streets towards the Zócalo. The marchers were adorned with crosses and religious symbols and were holding lanterns and candles in their hands. Barely interrupting their flow, there was also the occasional group of 4 to 6 men who jointly carried on their shoulders a heavy wooden float with a statue or a figure of a Saint which they had taken out of the church to display to the emotional and moved crowd of onlookers on their way to the Zócalo.
The male marchers were wearing long dresses and cone-shaped hoods whose colors identified them as members of different catholic congregations. Women wore a broad range of mostly traditional costumes and rebozos (locally produced shawls and one of Tenancingo´s most famous handicraft) – some of them very brightly colored and contrasting with the highly expressive faces of the marchers whose deep sadness represented their mourning in the wake of Jesus´ death. The crowd of people lining the streets was clearly influenced by the somber mood of the marchers, neither making any sound nor showing any signs of impatience, despite the cold night air. A little over an hour later, the procession had passed and people were returning to their homes, warming themselves up with hot tamales and good company.
Semana Santa 2: A Break from Reality
Mexico, as well as much of Latin America, has many religious Semana Santa celebrations described above by Emmanuel, but that’s just one side of the holiday. For professionals offices are usually closed for the Thursday and Friday before Easter and schools are closed for a full two weeks. And although over 80% of the Mexican population is catholic, not all spend Semana Santa (or Holy Week) with the church. Many take advantage of the long break to escape from the cities and head to the beach. I joined them on the beaches of Costa Esmerelda, a popular destination among Mexicans.
This is not your “Cancun” style vacation destination, but rather a place to spend with family and take a break from the stress of everyday life. Costa Esmerelda is in the state of Veracruz and only a few hours drive from the big cities of Puebla, Xalapa, and Mexico. Outside of Semana Santa, it is a calm beach escape. In the days leading up to the two-week vacation, the street (Yes, there is only one, adding to its charm) starts to fill with vendors picking out a good spot to take advantage of the increased crowds. While there are a few higher-end hotels, the majority of people there spent the week camping as I did.
During this time the beach is filled with families enjoying each other’s company. I witnessed spontaneous soccer games, families building makeshift tents out of palm leaves, and many children playing in the water. While there are specific celebrations related to Semana Santa in the Costa Esmerelda town of Casitas, the fun I witnessed was to be by the water.
Vendors would push carts down the sand selling fruits, juices, water, and other snacks to re-energize and re-hydrate those on the beach. If I could compare this to anything we have in the US, I would say it’s like a long Memorial Day weekend, with people enjoying each other’s company as well as the outdoors by consuming food cooked on fire.
As a closing note, Semana Santa is not the only celebration in the spring here. On the solstice, in my small city of Huatusco, many schools had parades marking the occasion. Additionally, there are many versions of Carnival all over the country starting in February and as late as May as far as I’m aware. This is just further evidence of the richness and diversity of this wonderful country.