Here is a gallery from the Christmas Eve celebrations in La Arinconada, El Sauce.

Rachel helping to pack the truck – backpacks, piñatas, extra candy, balloons, lots of vegetables, gifts for kids, baseball bag, and toys for the nursery school.

First stop: buy fireworks.  Apparently they are as important as ours are on New Years, lit off right at midnight on December 24.  Nicaraguans couldn’t celebrate anything without a little bang.  Purchased: sparklers, flares, and several “volcanoes” that spew sparks up six feet into the air.  My favorite oddities (plans for New Years are forming…): the mini Nicaraguan bull costumes the shoot sparks, and the “Laying Hens” that spew fireball eggs.

As we neared La Arinconada, we let off a few flares to announce our arrival.  A few minutes later we were met head on by a sprinting crew of chigüines, who delightedly rode on the tailgate for the last kilometer of the bumpy ride.

Melaña had everything prepared to make her famous stuffed chicken. She skins the chicken, carefully keeping the entire skin intact. It takes her about an hour for each chicken. Then she cooks the meat and mixes it with uncooked rice, vegetables, fresh herbs, and ketchup, worchestershire sauce, and mustard. The mixture gets stuffed right back into the chicken skins and they are sewn up like rag-hens.  As they roast, the rice expands and so when they came out they were all puffed up like fat little chickens.  An impressive and artistic culinary endeavor.  I loved it.

Brigido arrived and started singing with the kids.  We followed with some games – water balloon toss turned out to be a huge success.  After smashing the three piñatas and finding a light bulb and car battery to attach it to for some light, we finally we ready to start handing out gifts as the sun was setting.

Our Santa Claus, Gregorio, with a chigüine.

After the chaos of handing out presents to over 100 kids in the dark, and a looong dance party and a nap before setting fireworks off at midnight, we sat down to a very elegant Christmas dinner with Melaña and her family.  We all took turns slicing into the roast stuffed chickens, and toasted with some wine we brought from León with us.  Merry Christmas!

Lucky for me, Christmas preparations usually don’t only mean running to disasterously full Long Island malls at the last minute, but are also filled with lots of home cooking and family time.  This year the main christmas celebration will be bringing loads of gifts up to a small settlement called Arinconada in the mountains about 2 hours north of here.

I returned to Nicaragua with suitcases of toys from St. John’s Church Christmas fair and donated by a parent of the Waldorf School of Garden City to donate to the Arinconada preschool.  Melania, a friend of ours and the founder/teacher of the preschool, came to Leon and tested out some of the puzzles and toys.  They all passed the teacher test!

The next task was to pack 100 little bags of gifts for the kids at Arinconada.  We bought bags and bags of little toys by the dozen, and divided the kids up by age.  Rattles and little plastic bowls for the kids under 3, toy cars and little dolls for under six, and bigger dolls and water pistols for the older kids.  And balloons and candy for everyone.  The process of packing it all up into packages starting with Rachel, Simon and I making a giant soup to feed all the elves we had invited to help us.

The giant soup was actually ENTIRELY EATEN during the night, possibly the most impressive part of the activity.

Many friends came over to help, including my actress friend Sobeyda and her son, Fabrizio.

Simon and Sobeyda working on boys 3-6 packages.

Fabrizio and I struggled to get everything for girls 6-12 in the bags, and finally did what every other group had to do as well – tape things to the outside!

We got all the packages made and even had birthday cake for Nestor.

We are leaving today to go and throw a Christmas Eve party at la Arinconada.  I wish you all a happy, peaceful Christmas full of friends, family, and lots of good food homemade food!

The center of Leon, sparkling in the strong Christmas sun!