Chile, Christmas, commercialism, December 22nd, end of the world, Latin America, religion, supernatural
First, you have to excuse me for the “featured image” or “banderole” above: it is not from Valparaiso, not even from Chile, but from the central square of La Candelaria in Bogotá, Colombia. It was taken by (and paid to) the owner of the two llamas featured in the photo, standing with me on an almost empty square with a huge, cone-shaped, artificial Christmas “tree” in the middle, behind us. I chose to insert the picture here because, for some reason, it seemed to match the spirit of this post.
It was a Chilean friend who first reminded me about 22nd of December. Already during my previous visit to Chile there had been a lot of discussion about the end of the world coming on December 21st in 2012 – a prediction based on some calculations of the Mayas. Now the story of my friend had evolved and taken more precise turn: According to a speech of a Japanese princess, because of an alignment of three planets, all the energy on planet Earth was going to be “turned off” for three days. During these three days none of the electric devices, including torches, mobile phones and battery-run laptops, would work. Whether this was going to happen or not, my friend was well prepared: he had bought enough of candles to last him for all those three days and more. And he was not the only Chilean prepared to do this, as I later found out. With my mind’s eye I saw the growing queues by the candle stalls on streets and supermarkets. “What a boost for candle sales,” I said, “Some people are gonna get rich!” Then, of course, came another vision, which I had to report to my friend: “If there is no energy for three days on this planet from 22nd, all of us Finns up north will be dead by Christmas day! Or at least those Finns who don’t have wood burning heating devices…”
Chile is not only a country of great graffiti, refined high culture and economical growth, but also of great social differences, deep religiousness, and vivid urban legends, not to mention the sexual imagery pervading newspapers, ads, walls, and minds. To verify that all the ingredients for the Latin American magical realism – exemplified by the writings of Isabel Allende from Chile, and Gabriel Carcía Márquez from Colombia – still exist here, you only need to leaf through a local daily paper.
On Friday 14th of December, i.e. the day before yesterday, the front page headline of La Estrella, Valparaiso, announced: “Science, history and religion discuss the end of the world”. In the main article, starting from the following page, a panel of experts from three different fields – a theologian, a physicist, and a historian –discuss the presumed End of the World at the University of Andrés Bello (Unab) in Viña del Mar. While clearly intending to convince people that there is no reason to believe in the prediction, the scope and the serious tone of the article indicate that tackling the doomsday issue here requires convincing scientific authorities making strong, believable points against it.
When I met some teachers of another university in Viña del Mar on the same Friday, I mentioned the ongoing discourse about 22nd of December. I guess I must have been expecting laughter and amusement in their responses, because the strong annoyance they expressed about this and other nonsense that was spreading around among Chileans took me by surprise. I didn’t dare to pursue with the theme, since their university, like so many others in Chile, was also catholic. Instead, I told them about another story I had read in the same issue of La Estrella, a full-spread article about Inti, possibly Chile’s most famous graffiti artist. Although only one of the teachers had heard about Inti or seen his work, this theme nevertheless proved more welcome and inspiring. Could it be that Chileans generally take the “big” issues of political, spiritual or supernatural nature much more seriously than us Finns, while (lesser?) things such as punctuality and sticking to a time table, an agreement, answering to a letter, an appointment or even a promise – all of great importance to many Finns – are held a bit secondary here?
Judging by the contents of La Estrella also things related to sex seem to be taken more seriously here than where I come from, and they are not only covered from “services” and “entertainment” but also “scientific” points of view. In La Estrella of 14th December two thirds of page 18 is dedicated to articles about sex. One of them – “Tell me which mobile phone you use, and I’ll tell you how you behave on a date” – claims that according to a study Apple mobile (iPhone) users are more likely to have sex with their workmates; Blackberry users tend to drink more on a date and fall in love at first sight; and Android users are commonly over thirty and tend to have sex on their first date. With my minds eye I can now picture not only the growing queues for candles but also for these popular mobile phones on streets and in the malls. But what to make of another “scientific” review on page 18, referring to a study undertaken in the University of North Carolina, claiming that oral sex helps to avoid breast cancer, and that the reason for this might be the great amount of proteins and enzymes in the semen?
I guess one kind of conclusion to make is that despite December 22nd Chile is busily preparing for Christmas. In Christmas time at this latitude and longitude, where the red Father Christmas outfit can only represent (and induce!) hotness and nothing to do with cold, and where dancing in the hot sand on a white beach to the rhythm of Navidad Negra is much more likely and at place than a sledge-ride in the dreamy silence of Navidad Blanco, also sex must be in great demand and supply. And indeed, the “service guide” on page 16 openly offers sexual services found in Valparaiso, price offers starting from 10 000 pesetas (≈17 Euro/ 20 USD).
As I read on the pages of my issue of La Estrella from two days ago, I realize that there are also Chileans who anticipate Christmas with all but enthusiasm, and who, like me, also find the Father Christmas costume a little bit out of place under the scorching midsummer sun of the southern hemisphere. On page 26 under “Midnight Chronicles” the columnist – a recently divorced, lonely father missing his little son – reveals that he finds Christmas depressing: ”I feel that the social differences grow to extremes and people become crazy and may do anything to get the latest 3D-television or the perfume of latest fashion.” In the column he tells a story of how he once saw a thin old beggar, dressed as Father Christmas and playing a jingle bell in order to collect some extra money for Christmas, collapse in the street in the midday heat of almost 35 degrees Celsius and be taken to a hospital in an ambulance. As far as the columnist was concerned – and I agree – Christmas should only be reserved for children, because they really enjoy the excitement, unwrapping their presents full of anticipation, with their eyes shining. For the rest, the columnist concludes, only remain the 3, 6 or 12 installments to pay, acting as reminders of this wave of senseless materialism.
But the senseless materialism is catching, and even here, in Valparaiso, I have already seen people having begun to rush between the supermarkets, malls and street stalls where various familiar Christmas items and latest commercial hits (I truly expect candles to be among them this year!) are busily sold, and where the same old Christmas tunes are played in the background as in Europe, to create the right kind of (shopping) mood.
Still, leaving Valparaiso, Chile, Colombia, South-America, and stepping on the plane towards Finland via Madrid and Frankfurt tomorrow does not hugely attract me. It’s not the long flight or that I’d be afraid of freezing to death during the 3-day darkness in Finland. It’s just the hunch that facing December 22nd among these people could be a magical experience – especially if the sun will carry on shining after all. 🙂