The big Christmas parade is tonight! It starts when it starts. The first Christmas parade we were in was with a bunch of gringo friends from Valle Escondido. The parade was supposed to start at 8 pm, so being good gringos we showed up two hours early! However, with libations to share. I think the parade finally got started somewhere between 9 and 10 pm. which by that time we didn’t know or care. The parade winds down the main street and I have no idea where all the people came from, but it was packed. And the drill is that you throw candy out for the kids. As our traditional participation progressed, I would dress as Santa … with flip flops which no Santa had ever done since they all came dressed for snow. I figured, “It’s Panama!” And rather than sit stoically on the float doing the royal wave, I would jump off the float and plunge into the crowd like a US politician, kissing babies and posing for pictures with kids. As time progressed I would take our beautiful Dalmatian Spot along with me. She loved attention and kids, and the kids all loved her.
Spot is gone. The Santa outfit went to my daughter in California, We’re older, maybe wiser, and at any rate sound asleep by 9 pm. But “Tradition! Tradition!” the parade will go on starting whenever … with mobs of people scooping up cheap hard candy.
Come midnight the sky will explode with fireworks. Big fancy ones, and little one that some poor Indigenous person will have saved up to shoot off. It is one of the very different things we love about Christmas in Panama. The purpose of the fireworks? They celebrate the appearance of the star that in the traditional Advent timeline led the wisemen to the manger.
I guess I do miss church on Christmas Eve. When I was just out of seminary in the South Bronx, I’d do my Christmas Eve service at 8 pm, then go around the corner to the Catholic Church for Midnight Mass. Afterward I and the guys who worked with me at Mott Haven Church would join the priests and sisters of St Rita’s in their rectory for a fantastic dinner and party that lasted until dawn. Around sunrise we’d all migrate to the convent to say mass together and then have breakfast.
When I had my own churches in Milwaukee and Littleton we’d have multiple Christmas Eve services, and when I was at the Methodist Church in Thousand Oaks we’d have FIVE Christmas Eve services … so Christmas Eve was a big work night! I never had Christmas Eve at home with just my family sitting around the fire.
The first Christmas we were in Panama I couldn’t find any church with a traditional Christmas Eve service so I announced one … and about a dozen expats showed up, two of them gals that I really like who came with flasks full of drinks … apparently a miscommunication or misunderstanding of what a Christmas Eve Service was about.
So I do miss a traditional Christmas Eve service with good, traditional church and Christmas music, and a real pipe organ … sorry, no “praise band.” But life goes on and things change. What doesn’t change is the celebration of the Incarnation and that midst all of our confusion, God is here with us.
May all of your have a blessed Christmas in the hope that some day we will have “peace on earth, goodwill to men” around the world.