December 6 was the 11-month anniversary of our arrival here in Guate! Crazy. Here in site I've passed my first July 4th, my first birthday, my first Halloween, and my first Thanksgiving away from the US. I've also passed my first Semana Santa, my first Guatemalan summer, my first feria, my first Guatemalan Independence Day, and my first All Saints' Day - ever. (That's the beauty of Peace Corps - you get to celebrate twice the number of holidays!) I've painted gourds, adorned graves, made Thanksgiving dinner - with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie! - kept a "countdown chain" like a 6-year-old, sung Advent carols over a candle wreath, baked Christmas sugar cookies. Sharing all of these little traditions - new or old - mine or others' - has been special for me, given me that sense of community and place which is so crucial.
The recent holidays have given me a lot of time to reflect on the purpose and evolution of tradition, both in my own life and for people generally. I live with an Adventist host family that doesn't celebrate traditional holidays, and while I respect them for their strong convictions, I realize that the holidays I celebrated as a kid will always be important to me. I went back and forth a little awhile about whether or not to go home, but ultimately I decided I would. I love my host family, and the commercialism at Christmas turns me off too, but the idea of missing Christmas at home was blatantly unappealing. I am really glad I made that choice.
You can share your traditions with people who are knowing them for the first time, or create a new tradition for the first time, but I think it's a whole other level to share those traditions with the people you've always shared them with. That's not to say new traditions can't be created with those you care about, but to the extent I can celebrate childhood traditions with the people who accompanied me in my childhood, the greater the abundance of joy in my life. To be in the same place, with the same decorations, the same food, the same people. Not to say that new traditions or people can't be included, but I realize that Christmas at home gives me a profound sense of belonging, a profound sense of security, a profound sense that the world has continuity. It's hard to describe.
This will be the longest vacation I've taken since starting Peace Corps, and my first visit to the US - so I expect it will be tough in some ways to come back. At the same time I feel I'm much more integrated with my community and my work at this point than I was before - and I think there will plenty of people and things that I miss about here when I'm home - tamalitos, my little host siblings, friends, etc. There is plenty for me here in Guatemala; you can just never tell how it's going to balance out in your heart, is the thing. I'll keep the blog updated on the subject!