December 25, 2013
In a Bolivian creche, baby Jesus is alone—no Mary, no Joseph, no shepherds, no kings, just some farm animals. He lies in a bed, not on a pile of straw, and wears either campesino clothes or royal garments of satin and gold. The floor of the creche is green moss and the ceiling is draped with Spanish moss. On Christmas eve, Chuquisaceñas perform a dance for him called chuntunqui. The music is the usual uneven triple-meter, and now I know why—it’s easy to skip to. You skip to Jesus, kneel and cross yourself, then skip backwards; the next few steps often involve cartwheels or somersaults while everyone yells “Volteo! Volteo!” There are other dances in which if you’re not clapping you can be tapped on the head and then have to dance alone in the middle. (We spend Christmas Eve at Ryan’s; his neighbors, who have about eight kids including nephews, teach us all the chuntunqui.) Then, on Christmas morning, you take your baby Jesus, still in his nice bed, to mass to have him blessed—there are hundreds of them around the altar. Meanwhile, for days before Christmas and continuing through it, thousands of campesinos have come to Sucre with their kids to get gifts. The government, the archdiocese, the police—everyone gives toys and candies to these kids who can’t afford any. They have been ringing our doorbell for a week now, and it took us a while to catch on to the fact that some of them came back often and, luckily for them, were met by different members of our family. It’s been a very good Christmas for us. I hope it's been a good one for you too.