All Wasn’t Calm, But All Was Bright

Happy 2nd day of Christmas! 

I'm supposed to be at the airport picking up fellow missionary Ashley (PR) right now - she's joining Tirzah & I on a multiday hike to the summit of the highest peak in the Caribbean starting tomorrow - but her flight's delayed (cancelled?!), so instead I'll give you a glimpse into what Christmas 2022 with my Dominican missionary family looked like. 

Like much of the world, it started on Christmas Eve. I watched (most of) the livestream of my home church's 3 pm service until it was time to leave for dinner + Lessons & Carols at the Kreys'.

After nibbling (can you call it that when you have multiple plates' worth?) on an impressive charcuterie spread, we set up for a service of nine Scripture readings and nine corresponding hymns, curated to guide our meditation on the birth of the Savior promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (c.f. Genesis 3:15). Often, we'd mix up the singing with selected verses sung by soloists, ensembles, men, or women. 

Our concluding hymn was "Silent Night." All is calm, all is bright...

Only then did we bring out the sweet stuff. I tried a new gluten free brownie recipe but was most excited about my Salted Rosemary Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Yes, THAT rosemary. It totally worked; don't knock it 'til you try it.

For the 3rd year running, the Kreys invited me to join in their family tradition of gathering around the tree to open gifts. But before we made a mess of tissue paper and ribbon, pictures. 

This year, we added a Secret Santa component in which all gifts had to be homemade or re-gifted - no spending $! Tías drew me; my gift was a beautiful hollowed out calabash (from the tree in their backyard) nativity set. 

I gave the Krey family seven different Santa hats - one for each of them - which were a hit and meant more pictures. I didn't realize it was after 11 until I got in the car to head home!

I had a full car for church in the morning, including the Conrads, visiting from Mexico until the end of January. Other visitors included the Burakowskis' daughter and son-in-law and Areisy, a member of Pueblo Nuevo staying with family nearby. The Himno de clausura was "Silent Night." In Spanish, verse 1 includes the line "Todo duerme..." (everything sleeps). All is [still] calm, all is [still] bright...

I had lunch at the Kreys' (the typical Christmas meal of spit-roasted whole suckling pig from a roadside stand), then headed home to do the Sunday NYT crossword, read, pack for the hike, bake some muffins, etc. I had just pried myself from the couch to go help Tirzah finish off the last of her Christmas baking when Becca called and asked if we wanted to go see Christmas lights. 

Um, what kind of a question is that? 

But oh friends, this was NOT your average joyride through suburbia to ooh and ahh through frost-tinged windows at eaves adorned with elegant twinkle lights or the occasional strand of icicles and those token houses with yards full of blow-ups. 

This, THIS, was Dominican in every way. All is (through New Year's) NOT calm, but all is definitely bright, in that sensory overload kind of way. 

Each year, Centro León, Santiago's art museum/cultural center, sponsors a neighborhood decorating contest. First place gets RD$150,000! The Los Ciruelitos sector, less than 10 minutes from where I live, is famous for its displays; we only visited the grand prize willing entry, but I can't imagine they had much competition. 

A larger than life Santa greeted visitors at the entrance. 

This was what lay beyond. As gaping visitors wandered through, LIFE vibrated in sync with the music all around: couples dancing, kids playing wiffleball, neighbors sitting outside in circles of plastic chairs, colmados selling cold drinks and snacks. In a nod to the judges, the walkthrough ended with a replica of Centro León's reception area. 

Familiar Christmas characters mingled with their purely Dominican counterparts. Oh, and did I mention nearly everything is made out of inexpensive or even recycled materials, like cardboard boxes, plastic bottles (and caps), beer bottles (and caps), old CDs, Styrofoam, chicken wire, etc.?

The Magi traded their camels for a hot air balloon...with the Dominican flag on the basket. 

"La marchanta" (strolling vendor). 

Remember the pork we had for lunch?

This was my 5th deployed Christmas but 1st time experiencing this particular element of local flair. Raise your hand if you think the Santiago-based DR missionary team should deck out Cerro Alto and enter next year!

Until next time, blessings in the Savior, who is Christ the Lord (c.f. Luke 2)!