Thursday, December 23, 2010

Author Holiday Extravaganza: Heidi Ayarbe's Holiday Memory & Giveaway

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Those of you who celebrate Christmas are probably so excited about the big day nearing! I know I am. Although honestly I've learned more this year about the importance of holidays and family than ever before. I have these amazing authors, who share their lives with us, to thank.

Today I'm pleased to welcome Heidi Ayarbe, author of Freeze Frame, to my blog! She is here to share her holiday tradition, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

*****

The Spirit of Christmas


Christmas cookies, tree hunting, light looking, pictures with Santa, turkey dinner and all the trimmings are just a few holiday traditions my family passed down. To date, no Christmas morning is complete without opening a Santa stocking with an orange in the toe. (We all know now that it was just filler, Mom.)

I realized, though, in my world, Christmas had become a holiday of privilege – wish lists and shopping, new ornaments and blinking lights. And a few years ago, because of a beautiful Colombian holiday, I got a little Christmas perspective. (Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan – all holidays, religions, races, and beliefs apply!)

I moved to Colombia almost fourteen years ago. It’s a phenomenal, colorful country with some of the most gracious people I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, though, it’s been at war for nearly sixty years now. According to the CODHES (Consultorio para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento – Human Rights and Displacement Office) over the past 15 years, hundreds of thousands of Colombians have been forced to leave their homes and migrate to bigger cities, principally Bogota, Medellin, Pereira, and Cali because of the violence in the countryside. The majority of displaced people leave a simple agrarian life for an urban one – one in which finding work is virtually impossible.

Groups of displaced communities gather and create invasion neighborhoods on the outskirts of big cities. They build homes with cardboard, bamboo, and plastic bags. They tap into electric and water lines, and these communities grow, invading, so to speak, public places. Over time, some communities develop and integrate into the city. Oftentimes, though, they’re hubs of violence and poverty.

A Catholic country, Colombians celebrate the Day of the Virgin (the Day of Lights) on December 7th and 8th. Entire cities in Colombia dim their lights and illuminate the streets with colorful lanterns on the Day of the Virgin.

Beginning on the Day of Lights, RCN, one of Colombia’s principal radio and television networks along with Aguardiente Antioqueño (the typical alcohol of the region) host a neighborhood Christmas decoration contest. RCN’s judges and DJs visit every neighborhood that signs up throughout the month of December. The winning neighborhoods get a roasted, stuffed pig, live orchestra, and many other prizes.

A few years ago, on December 7th, my husband, friends and I joined RCN’s caravan to visit some neighborhoods. We arrived to parts of the city (where I’ve lived off-and-on for fourteen years), I never knew existed. Small homes crowded together on narrow, dirt streets. Wire hung between houses, decorated with all kinds of Christmas ornaments – blinking lights, paper lanterns, angels, Santa Clauses and anything else that looked like Christmas.

People gathered to greet the local DJ, banging on pots and pans, singing Christmas carols, sharing natilla and buñuelos (Christmas pudding and donuts). The farther we traveled through the labyrinth of streets on the outskirts of Pereira, the more humble the neighborhoods became. Coffee sacks and homemade ornaments replaced the plastic store-bought ones; homemade candles replaced blinking lights; songs of peace replaced Christmas carols.

Our last visit was to an invasion neighborhood. Old paint cans supported tree branches wrapped in cotton, decorated with bottle caps; plastic coke bottles, empty cereal boxes, and tin cans hung from string, draped above the community. But instead of seeing poverty and despair, I was humbled by the infectious spirit and joy of this displaced community who sang, danced, and shared their food with us – food they didn’t have to spare.

I got home that night and couldn’t sleep for a long time. I thought about how people who seemingly have nothing left had the most important thing we’re given in this world – hope. And I thought about my own Christmas Wish List.

And I already have it: a home, health, family, friends, work, community, and peace. 



Now, every Christmas, we light candles for the Alumbrado with my daughter. We light candles for peace and hope she sees a time when both of her countries (both Colombia and the United States) will have it.
Perspective is a beautiful thing.

Happy, Happy Holidays. Peace to you and yours.

*****

Thank you so much Heidi, truly.

I tell you my friends, to look at the way that others see the holiday season can teach you a lot. I think it is so very important to share that with others around you.

Sweet Heidi has brought a surprise for you as well!

Yes my friends, you have an opportunity to win a signed copy of Freeze Frame, straight from Heidi herself. Isn't she the best? I think so!

To enter:
Simply leave a comment below for Heidi, that includes your email address. Easy, simple, fun. Enjoy!

Giveaway ends January 5th at 11:00pm PST.





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