Our Community - Christmas and New Year's Celebrations

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 50            December 20, 2001

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Last week "Our Community" took us back to a time when our religious Christmas traditions ushered in the holiday season. This week we look at another of the ways local residents celebrated this special time of the year. Known as very joyful people, the Sanpedranos definitely lived up to their reputation when it came to celebrating. As devoted as they were to their religion, this same energy went into having a good time. Were Christmas and New Year's festivities different back then? Once again Mrs. Tomasita Gomez shares with us her special memories of these celebrations.

    Christmas Eve marked the beginning of non-stop partying at "La Academia" (now Central Park) for the people of San Pedro. In the early afternoon the younger men and women would be responsible for making this place "spick and span." They would sweep the floor, dust the walls and line the seats around the dance floor. To ensure the dance floor was nice and smooth, they would cover it with a coating of shaved candle wax. At 8:00 p.m. the guests would start to arrive, donning their "Sunday best." In addition, the men would carry a handkerchief with which to clean their hands before they extended it to a young lady every time they asked for a dance. The whole scenario of asking someone to dance was described as a very "respectful ritual." As soon as the band began to play, the dance hall would be packed, and those gathered would not waste one moment of the precious music provided by La Banda de San Pedro or eventually the Orchestra Montecarlo. Dancing continued until midnight when the entire crowd would attend the midnight mass. After this was over, it was off once again to "La Academia" to enjoy more good music and fellowship. The dance would extend through to Christmas Day until about 6:00 p.m. when the party-goers would go home for a brief period to freshen up before returning to the dance. It seemed that no one would tire as they danced another night away until the wee hours of the morning of December 26th, Boxing Day.

    The party would continue on Boxing Day with a Gala Dance, with more dances throughout the next four days leading up to New Year's Eve - another big occasion for the locals. The ladies would wear simple, everyday dresses and the men wore their worn-out pants and shirts with a piece of palm leaf or "soskil" (bailing twine) tied around their waist. Once again they would enjoy great dances such as the Waltz, Polka, Danson, Zapateo, El Torito, Shotish, Cuadrillo and many others. When it was almost midnight, everyone would go home to change and put on their best clothing to welcome in the New Year. The ladies would wear "maxis" (long dresses), while the men sported their best pants and "guayaberas" (pleated jackets). After the New Year's Eve mass ended they would rejoice and the dance would go on all New Year's Day. On January 2nd, the celebration continued with a special dance called "El Baile de las Piñatas." Three piñatas adorned the dance hall: one filled with candy, another with money and other items, and the last one with a mixture of goodies. Only ladies would be allowed to break the piñatas at this most enjoyable and fun part of the celebrations. The dancers did not cease their merry making until they were given the hint to go home, when the band played "God Save the Queen."

    Dances continued for the next four days with January 6th being observed as the "Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos" (The Day of the Three Wise Men). This was supposedly the last dance of the holidays and was observed with a special dance called "El Choc," a ceremonial-type dance honoring the Maya Indians. This symbolized the end of the festivities, but many times the ever-festive Sanpedranos would ask for a "brata" (free) dance on January 7th and their request would usually be granted.

    All in all, in those years gone by, the locals celebrated for 15 days, non-stop. According to Mrs. Tomasita Gomez's wealth of information, the musicians and dancers all had a good time and did not seem to ever get tired. In fact, they always looked forward to this time of the year. Although the celebrations today are different, the same unity and community warmth can be observed during these special days in San Pedro. Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to all the residents of "Our Beloved Community."

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