Through the comedor window, the multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree twinkle. There's something about seeing Christmas lights through windows that has always made me feel nostalgic for home. From the outside, you can imagine the warmth within. Garland hangs around the outside of the building and on the slope of the hill is a display of nativity scenes set in a large box draped with lights. Farther up the hill, there is a sign of lights bearing the Amigos crest, a cross in the center of a heart circumscribed in a circle. At the crest of the hill, much farther up, the huge white cross gazes down serenely as always.
Chrsitmas is a beautiful time at Amigos. For the 15 or so new kids that have come to Amigos since I've been here it must be overwhelming. Kids come to Amigos for all different reasons; some were living on the streets because their parents could not afford to support them; some were abused at home; some have parents who have died or been killed. Some come directly from their family's homes, others have been living in other children's homes from an early age. It's hard to know what their Christmases have been like in the past. For the new kids here, the only certainty is that they've never experienced one quite like this.
If I let myself think too much about the holiday I'm afraid of the terrible homesickness that could overcome me, so I've kept it at bay somewhat, not letting myself imagine home. But we'll see how long I hold out. Since coming here I've never felt the absence of home so much, the warmth and comfort of it, the rightness and belonging of it. It's made me think about what home means, what family means, in a totally new way. More than anything else it's made my heart break for the kids. Each one left some sort of home once at some point to come to this new place. Some came with siblings, others with friends from other homes, others were left to face a new home all alone. For the 15 kids I've watched arrive, this is all new. And those are just those children who have arrived since I've been here. I learned a few days ago that since Amigos has been growing so quickly, this year just under 40 children will be experiencing Christmas here for the first time.
These past two nights we've had our first of many posadas. Posada is a tradition celebrated in many parts of Latin America. The way it's done here is a group of family members or friends comes to the door of a house. There is another group inside and alternating back and forth the two groups sing a traditional song. The people outside represent Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay for the night so that Mary can give birth to Jesus. The people inside are the innkeepers of Bethlehem. At first those inside tell those on the outside to go away; there's no room. But by the end of the song, realizing that the savior is at their doorstep, those on the inside sing for the "holy pilgrims" to enter, and then everyone eats and celebrates together.
We'll have a posada at Amigos every night now leading up to Christmas, one at each of the major houses and dormitories of the campus. Last night's was at the school and we did it outside, on either side of the gate leading up to the school grounds. All of the school children and the teachers were on the "inside" and the teenaged boys walked across the long soccer field towards us as the pilgrims. In the darkness, their candles shed a beautiful glow, and on our side colored lanterns illuminated our song lyrics. The teenagers sang at the top of their voices. I was holding one of our little chiquitos who stared wide-eyed at the flame for all eight verses. Tonight's was held at the chiquitos' dormitory. We volunteers and several of the older boys were on the inside to boost the singing while the whole rest of the hogar came to the door. On both nights after the ritual, there was food and laughing. On both nights I watched the older boys scoop up the little ones in their arms for the singing and tumble around with them afterwards as everyone hung out eating snacks. And it felt so much like a family, it felt so much like a home, albeit one with more than 100 siblings.
All of these kids came to the door of Amigos once for the first time, a time that had to have been a type of lonely and scary and foreign that I can't even begin to comprehend; that took a type of courage I don't know if I have. What each one of them has found, God willing, is a warm inner room of home and family, joy and love. It's not the same thing as the mom and dad that every one of these kids deserve, but my prayer for these kids at Christmas is that on nights like tonight it feels like family, it feels truly like home.
----------------------------Check out Amigos' countdown to Christmas on the Christmas fund facebook page! The pictures are adorable. Many of you reading this have already supported my year of service and Amigos. If you are interested, this is a great time of the year to continue supporting Amigos' mission. At Christmas time all the children get new clothes, their only new clothes for the year, and a toy. Donations to the Christmas fund make their Christmas special. Thank you all so much for all of your support!! Feliz Navidad y hasta pronto.