My Christmas Eve in Haiti
A friend of mine started an organization called Voix et Actions (Voice and Actions). It’s a group of young professionals between the ages of 25 and 35 who put their heads together to improve their community. The members work for cell phone companies, banks, NGO’s, the UN, and a couple like myself work for the Episcopal Church.
Most members attended College St. Pierre, the Episcopal Church’s prestigious middle school in down town Port au Prince. College St. Pierre was very badly damaged in the earthquake and around sixty children died. Voix et Actions is a result of some former students recognizing the importance of maintaining contact with one another.
Our first big activity was going to be a Christmas gala held on the athletic field at College St. Pierre to benefit the school. Unfortunately with the political unrest after the announcement of the election results, we decided that it could be too dangerous to hold the gala.
Instead, the group turned its focus on what small things could be done during the holiday season to make it festive for people who might not have the means to celebrate.
On Christmas Eve, the founder of the group organized an activity for the children of St. Jacques’ church in Petion Ville. We sang a few songs, did a hand washing demonstration, and then provided each with a hot meal of rice and beans and chicken.
Afterward, most of the children stayed at the church for a lock-in. All afternoon and into the night they sang and beat drums. They took a break from the drums for about an hour to listen to a group of English speakers who came together to sing Christmas Carols. By candlelight, a group of about 6 people assembled around the church’s gorgeous Steinway grand piano and remembered Christmas in our homes with every carol from ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ to ‘I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause’.
After the service, I brought out my hula hoops and joined the children in their singing, drumming, and dancing. Around midnight, several friends and I headed out to a favorite hang-out spot downtown to listen to the DJ for a couple of hours.
Outside the church, the streets were teeming with people old and young roaming the streets freely visiting friends, buying street BBQ and moonshine from gas-light lit stalls. Everyone was immaculately dressed.
During the season leading up to Christmas, I heard very few friends talking about what gifts they would purchase. Most of the dialogue surrounding Christmas was about which family members were coming in from abroad, what food would be prepared, and what plans they were making with family and friends to celebrate.There was a bittersweet sense of remembering Christmas 2009 and also a sense of gratitude for the calm in the city which allowed people to maintain the tradition of staying out all night long on Christmas Eve.