It's the Best and the Busiest of Times
How the religion department and choir get ready for the Christmas season.
December 1, 2016 - Honduras
As December has inched its way closer and closer, talk on NPH Honduras' El Rancho Santa Fe has started to move past Independence Day celebrations and end-of-year testing to the upcoming Christmas season. While the individual homes (hogar), classes, youth groups - everyone across the ranch - is looking forward to and preparing for Christmas celebrations, no group seems to be quite as busy as the choir and the rest of the Religion department.
Like most girls her age, Dominica,* a 13-year-old girl who came to the ranch five years ago, gives a very simple, straightforward reason for joining the choir. "Well, because I like to sing!" she exclaims. While she isn't helping her hogar decorate their living space or make their nacimiento, or nativity scene (each hogar prepares one to display to the rest of the ranch in the days before Christmas), Dominica will be learning a host of new songs to sing at the annual NPH Honduras Christmas Eve Mass.
Mass traditions have varied in the history of the ranch. There are some in the past that took place at the farm, and were complete with the animals to "recreate" Jesus' birth in the manger. This year's looks to be pretty calm. "We will most likely be in the Church this year," says Frederico the head of the Religion Department and director of the Mass choir. "We have songs that get used just during Christmas, and so learning those will take a little bit more time than normal choir practices." Once Mass ends, everyone on the ranch takes part in a night-long celebration.
For most kids, finding the best part of the post-Mass celebration is difficult. "My favorite part is the bonfire! ... and the dancing ... and the party ... but also the music!" says a laughing Viviana* a 12-year-old who is also in the choir. "Oh, no, I love the chocolate we get at the meal as well!" For Dominica, she prefers a ranch tradition that is common through all of the country. "My favorite part is definitely the nacatameles," which are a corn meal dough meal stuffed usually with rice, a piece of meat, potato and all wrapped and boiled in a plantain leaf.
Most of the Christmas celebrations on the ranch, though, come in the days before and after Christmas Eve. "Sometimes we take kids to a food kitchen in Tegucigalpa to help serve food to those who don't have any," says Frederico. "There are spiritual retreats for all of the hogars in the months leading to christmas ... and Baptisms in late November as well, it's a very busy time for us."
One of the more beautiful and biblical traditions are the nights of "posadas." "They happen each night for the nine nights leading up to Christmas. It is a time to remember when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place for Mary to give birth," the religion director explains. Once all of the hogares' manger scenes are created, the children on the ranch will visit one a night for the nine nights leading to Christmas. Then in the end they are "turned away" on the final night in the church, and they then celebrate Christmas Eve.
The days after are then filled with service. Kids on the ranch will go to a nearby town on Christmas Day to pass out gifts. It is a reminder that even when they do not have an abundance of things themselves, they should always be helping those less fortunate. People in the parishes surrounding the ranch will also come to NPH and, as Frederico put it, "We do what we can to help them."
With all of the hustle-and-bustle on the ranch during the season, it could be easy for kids to get overwhelmed, but for Dominica, that's not the case. "For me, Christmas is special because I get to celebrate Jesus with everyone I am close with here at NPH."