Never have I experienced such a powerful Christmas celebration, nor have I ever worked so hard, been so unconcerned for myself, and had such fun. It has truly been a Merry Christmas. We began making merry on December 23 when we saw the gifts from a U.S. group called Mission International.
For a couple of months, the refugees had been weaving wide, shallow baskets, one for each family, in which Salvadorans hold their warm tortillas. But no one knew why we wanted to have the baskets distributed by December.
Oh, the sense of excitement in the air as each mother came to the truck with her basket! The gifts they received were simple and unadorned: five pounds of flour, one pound of margarine, three pounds of sugar, spices, tomatoes, potatoes, eggs, yeast, banana leaves. Their excitement reminded me that some families have had nothing but rice, beans, and tortillas during these long months.
The rural custom is to eat pork tamales and sweetbread at Christmas. Within an hour after the food distribution two days ago, women were firing up the adobe oven. On into the night women took turns baking their sweet cinnamon bread.
At 3:30 a.m. the men began the hard work of butchering hogs for the tamales. I had so looked forward to witnessing the butchering, but I had stayed up late the night before, so on hearing the first squeal I awoke for less than a few seconds before falling back asleep until dawn. They were more than half done by the time I awakened.
The refugees did all the butchering themselves and decided how to distribute the meat. I enjoyed listening to their decision-making process in the cool dawn hours. The honesty and integrity of these folks never fail to impress me. With the squeal of hogs resounding through the river valley, our Christmas Eve began.