Christmas in the Dominican Republic: By Aaron Roth, a member of the Esperanza Staff
Palm trees wrapped with colorful Christmas lights may not be how you have decorated your front lawn this season, but here in the tropical island of the Dominican Republic, you’ll find rows of them elegantly decorated for all those passing by on the busy city streets in the Capital, Santo Domingo. In the evenings, you’ll hear the sound of fireworks first and then look toward the presidential palace where greens and reds will burst in aerial displays in the night sky. Stores in the capital are packed with shoppers making their Christmas rounds, buying gift baskets of Dominican delicacies, or the latest clothes, technology gizmos, or kitchen appliances from the exotic American styles, all with a background of familiar Christmas tunes, mixed to the local musical styles of Merengue or Salsa.
But for most of the Dominican school children that Edify serves, indeed almost half of the country considered at the poverty line, these traditions and holiday bustle will be viewed from afar; their families lack the economic means to participate in decorating trees of any kind or shopping for the latest and greatest of holiday specials, as most of them may still lack electricity and running water. To us in North America, we may think that without these modern amenities, societal signals buzzing of Christmas-time, the season might be a loss, in fact, without a chimney, how could Santa Claus come and visit these children? If you visit an Edify school in the Dominican Republic though, you’ll see an entirely different reality than your presumptions would lead you to believe.
Quite simply, there is joy. Smiles on the faces and laughter in the halls. These youth will show you that Christmas time is just as sweet and merry as it is in the USA, because for one, they know they are getting almost two weeks off much like their American student counterparts. In some ways, though, these children of drastically different economic means are not as distracted by the hustle and bustle, the allure of supposed material happiness, the promise of what shiny wrapped gifts under the tree may bring on Christmas morning.
Dominican children, like American children will share the celebration with their family and this will be the focus. They will seat themselves around a room, maybe next to a common table or not, as some of them may not even have tables, but nevertheless they will spend it eating a delicious meal of plantains, rice and beans, and chicken, with the people that they love, and the people that love them. There won’t be a multitude of gifts stacked neatly in piles in front of each child, there may not even be anything more than a toy, some candy, or a new piece of clothing. Some families just cannot afford to buy gifts. More importantly to note, this will not destroy their hope for Christmastime; they will believe and celebrate the true promise of the season.
The Lord promised us that a savior would be born to us and would walk among us, teach us, guide us and even die for us to bring us eternal hope and salvation. Guided by the values of their parents, these are the promises that the children believe in. Families will dress in their Sunday best to go to church on Christmas day to celebrate the great gift that our Father in Heaven gave us. They will sing songs of praise and adoration to the one who has given hope to a world that may seem hopeless.
So when they return back to school in the first week of January, they will continue in the promises of the season, the promise of what good education brings: that by studying hard and excelling in a school where the teachers encourage them, love them, and pour into them they will become molded into the man or woman that the Lord has designed them to be. By making an investment in these young children, these administrators and teachers will help them graduate from high school and attend the university, to study a career that will bring them gainful employment and make them into leaders that will provide a hope for their families and their communities. Hope in a future for all seasons firmly founded in the reality that indeed a savior has come and continues to walk among us.