I will never forget the smell of my grandparents’ house as I walked in on the 24th. The floors covered with a carpet of pine needles, the sweet smell of the manzanilla strung together decorating the inside of the house, the unmistakable scent of warm chocolate and ponche de frutas, and of course tamales and paches being pulled out of the hot boiling pot. Under the tree my grandma would set up her nativity scene. Proudly displayed and surrounded by sawdust stained with bright colors and green moss.
Paches and tamales are the centerpiece of Christmas dinner. Usually my grandma and mom would spend a full day at the market buying all the ingredients. They would wake up early and begin the process of making enough of these carefully wrapped delicacies to feed an army. My grandma was very traditional, so she liked to use a stone grinder for all her peppers and seeds for the recado. Once the dough had been made, the recado prepared, the pork, beef and chicken lined up….the wrapping would begin! Layer by layer they would fill massive pots full of tamales wrapped in maxan and banana leaves .
Little by little family and friends would start coming in. My grandparents’ home would begin to fill and all that could be heard were laughs, people talking and of course my grandad’s favorite music playing in the background…...marimba!
In Guatemala the real celebration doesn’t start until midnight and it’s a sight like no other! My grandparents’ house was on a hill, so we would climb to the top and watch as the whole city would light up at once with fireworks. It was incredible! For 20 minutes like a scene out of Disney's Fantasia with colors dancing through the skies. We would all hug, say Feliz Navidad and go inside for a wonderful Christmas dinner.
While we were all outside looking up at the sky in the commotion of all the fireworks and warm hugs…..Santa would sneak in and leave all the presents under the tree. Well…..not under because that was were the nativity scene was and grandma would probably have a few choice words for Santa if he damaged it.
Presents were opened after dinner and the music, food, and fun would continue deep into the night. Christmas in Guatemala is really an incredible experience. We hope you can visit us and experience all the magic!