San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Sweaty Santa + Flaming Debris = Christmas Cheer

Instead of merrily driving a reindeer-pulled sleigh, Nicaraguan Santa Claus was bumping along the pot-holed street in the back of a rickety pickup truck with three sweaty, shirtless men.

Rather than sleigh bells ringing gaily, the Nicaraguan Santa’s tropical toboggan was bumping to mind-rattling Reaggeaton.

He belched out a version of “Ho, Ho, Ho” that, instead of heralding Yuletide cheer, sounded more like a drunken teenager yelling at a spring break bash in San Juan del Sur.

There was no snow, only the scorching tropical heat. “Papa Noel” – as he’s known  here – must have been sweating bulletsunderneath his North Pole outfit. He brought no gifts for the good girls and boys who watched him bounce past.

Santa passed me on Granada’s sultry Calle Calzada as I sipped a Toña, thinking that it was going to be a long December. Instead, December flew by – thanks largely to the explosive form of worship that the Catholics here use to express their gratitude to the Virgin: fireworks. Everywhere. And at all hours.

It’s quite a biblical experience. It rained powder bombs about the rooftops. And it rained flaming rubble into the gardens. And it rained dust on the streets.

While the sweaty Santa made me think I would not get to enjoy a white Christmas, the dozens of powder bombs that one particularly faithful neighbor lit off as part of his annual firework show last week to compliment hymns being sung in a nearby church, filled my garden with a flurry of ashen dust. Like snowflakes from above, only holier and hotter.

Far from my family in frigid Michigan, I expected to miss out on the childhood memory of sleepless anxiety on the night before Christmas, when as a kid I tossed and turned in anticipation of the gifts that waited for me beneath the tree.

But those sleepless nights have been thoughtfully recreated for me here in Granada, and not just on Christmas Eve, but rather every night in December.

Here, instead of my dreams being interrupted by thick anticipation of opening gifts, they are ripped apart by the migraine explosions of fireworks at all hours of the night and early morning, coupled with the sound of falling debris slamming onto my tin roof.

Plus, now there is the added risk of being impaled by a flaming firework stick from the heavens if I dare leave my bed to sneak to the bathroom late at night.

Granada in December sounds a bit like a war zone, because you feel like you’re being shelled by incoming mortar rounds even as you’re pouring your morning coffee.

One night, when I opened the door to my street that was cloaked in firecracker mist, I saw an old lady scrambling in a crouched position across the sidewalk with her arms covering her head.

As the flaring explosions lit up my tropical garden with a red glow, I couldn’t help but think: This is like the Tet offensive – of religious exuberance!

The truth is you can’t escape it. You can’t go anywhere in the city to escape the ubiquitous clamors of the faithful.

So, I figured I might as well join in.

As I sprinted out into the street with my hands covering my head to avoid falling embers, I joined the swaths of children who tempted fate within arm’s distance of the sparks and fire that spit from the makeshift launch pad on the street.

It’s not the holiday season I remember as a kid, but there’s only so many times you can watch “A Christmas Story.”

Blake Schmidt is a reporter for The Nica Times.


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