Christmas Devours Caracas


HAVANA TIMES — Two men in underwear — each pair emblazoned with the US flag — were hitting each other indulgently in a boxing ring. In front of the big screen on which they appeared, a Christmas tree was swaying chaotically.

At this time of the year, the malls and the streets around them become filled with more people than freight cars carrying cows.

Suddenly everyone wants to spend their bonuses so they can stack gifts beneath the Christmas trees that decorate most homes.

In the lobby of the building where I live, what’s different — apart from the lights splattering the balconies with colors — are a couple of coffins that adorn the entryway.

These are the caskets of two residents who used to ride buses asking for money “for good causes.” But what they did this Christmas was to get themselves guns and decide to hijack a bus.

They commandeered the vehicle off its usual route, but they failed to consider that someone else aboard might also have a gun.

In fact, there were a few guys who preferred to kill rather than be assaulted. Though they weren’t even 20, they took put the duo out with a couple of shots to their heads.

The melee also claimed the life of another resident who didn’t have anything to do with the incident, not to mention a girl who ended up without the toy that had been bought so that baby Jesus could give it to her before the year’s end.

Spates of gunshots and explosions have become commonplace sounds since the beginning of December.

Kids spend all their time trying to make any type of artifact explode that makes noise or causes even a small spark. It’s illegal to sell many fireworks, which that have burned more than a few people, but they’re still sold on the street like hamburgers.

Hallacas are popular during December.

Beef, pork, chicken, some olives, raisins and several seasonings fill the dish that’s most often cooked at Christmas time: cornflower hallacas. These are made in every house for eating during the month and for sharing with friends and family.

Those people who live out on the streets take good advantage of the season to collect mattresses and furniture tossed away by those who have roofs, people who take the opportunity to start off the New Year with everything new.

It seems that Christmas is the most serious thing that happens here. Most people get several days off from work – compared to Cuba, where people usually don’t get more than three or four. Also, from the first of December the telephone lines are filled with messages of congratulations for the beginning of the holiday season.

Many children still believe that the baby Jesus is the one who brings them their gifts, and maybe a lot of them are confused between that heavenly newborn and the white-bearded gentleman dressed in red, which is the image that’s most widely sold and advertised these days.

It’s rare not to hear someone referring to Santa Claus, and everyone puts some representation of him in their apartment, as if he were the Chinese cat of good luck.

People breathed a sigh of relief following those assured announcements about the end of the earth. They also breathed a sigh of relief that not even that new consciousness that was announced has occurred.

It would be very strange to give up the customs and to feel like the wrapped-up gifts for which we fought so hard are not good for anything – not even a little happiness.