Bolivia cannot help but respond to the smiles of thousands of children who receive gifts every year from supportive people. In coming forces, they are able to make the hearts of these little souls happy. With their shining eyes and smiling lips, they give thanks to Baby Jesus for the gifts they receive.
In early December, whole cities take on a Christmas atmosphere, from the shop windows decorated with Nativity scenes and Christmas trees, to the streets dressed with colored lights, crowded with street vendors and full of Christmas music. In our homes we set up the Nativity scenes with Andean or Creole motifs, but St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus are always there with the Three Wise Men, the burro and a cow, decorated with moss, farm animals, shepherds and everything necessary to accompany and worship the Baby.
In the city of La Paz, many children walk the streets to play Christmas carols with native instruments like pinquillos (traditional flute), charangos (small, 5-stringed guitar) and tarkas (square flute) or others they have made themselves. Most of these children come from the country to the city for the Christmas season with their mothers who sell their craft work while they play Christmas carols, give the streets a happy air and receive a few coins at the same time.
During Advent, several campaigns are conducted to collect toys to be delivered to poor children at large public events. These campaigns are well received as much by groups of youth volunteers who collect clothing and toys as by people in general who make generous donations. This is how thousands of children receive such prized Christmas gifts.
On Christmas Eve night, the streets fill with children singing and dancing for Baby Jesus while Christmas carol concerts take place in the plazas and churches where families go to enjoy them. Many families of believers go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. When they return home, they exchange gifts and drink a toast at midnight; then they all sit down for the traditional Christmas dish, la picana.
Picana is a traditional Christmas Eve dish which is a kind of stew made from three types of meat (veal, lamb and pork), with fresh carrots, corn on the cob, pears, potatoes and a dry wine, along with other ingredients for unequaled flavor and aroma. On Christmas morning, many families breakfast with a cup of chocolate and a panettone, a delicious sponge cake with dried fruit and raisins.
The families get together once more during Christmas day to enjoy each others’ company while friends gather in the evening for a hug and greeting and to exchange gifts and best wishes. So Christmas is full of camaraderie, joy and worship, a time for gathering, peace and love.