Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas and Religion

You might think that Christmas in a country as religious as the Dominican Republic would be a huge thing, and you would be right. However, you would be right for the wrong reasons.
Now that I've spent my first Christmas in this country, I can tell you for a fact that there is almost nothing religious about it.

Christmas is a reason to party. The already loud music is even louder. The drinking, which is already excessive, is even more excessive.
It's more like Super Bowl Sunday than a religious holiday. Plus, it goes on for at least a solid week.

This was a surprise to me because all my experiences up to this point led me to believe that Dominicans would be spending their days and nights in religious services.
Let me give you a couple examples from just my trip to Santo Domingo two weeks before Christmas.

On the trip down the mountain from my pueblo there is a small Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary. It was built alongside the main road and there is nothing within at least 5 kilometers of it. Not even a campo.
By Dominican standards it is pretty nice. I'm sure it costs more than most of the houses here. Why it exists there? I have no idea.

On the morning GuaGua down the mountain, the driver stopped at the shrine. He got out, along with two other passengers, and spent 10 minutes praying at the shrine while the other twenty of so passengers waited for him to finish.
There was nothing special about the day. The driver gave no reason to the passengers why he had to stop there. No one complained. It is just part of living in the Dominican Republic.

A few days later I was leaving Santo Domingo. It is a 7 hour bus trip back to my pueblo, which is exhausting. So I got on the bus early, grabbed two seats for myself and tried to nod off.
As the bus started to leave the station I heard some woman in the front of the bus saying something about "somos nada" (i.e. we are nothing). This caught my attention so I looked up.
The woman was giving a fire-and-brimstone speech about how we were all damned if we didn't embrace Jesus. It went on for about 20 minutes. No one complained. It is just part of living here.

This isn't unusual in the slightest. Dominicans get VERY excited about their religion, especially the evangelicals. What's more, they like to amplify themselves. So going to an evangelical church means your ears will be ringing for hours later.
A Pentacostal service I went to in El Seibo involved some woman screaming at the crowd for over an hour (she was amplified, of course). Since the woman never stopped screaming long enough to take a breath, I kept waiting for her to pass out from lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, only the church members were doing the passing out.
This was followed by a concert that was, amazingly, even louder.

So you don't want to go to an evangelical service? No problem. They take their messages into the street too. This involves the renting a truck stacked 5 and 8 foot tall with speakers, and a preacher screaming at the entire city for two or three hours.

So what do they scream? Bible verses? Nope. Some moving message of hope and redemption? Nope. Perhaps some social commentary? Please.
I've heard a preacher scream "nombre de Jesus" over and over again for 10 solid minutes. MLK he was not. It seemed to get the crowd excited, but it didn't convince me of joining his church. His "sermon" is fairly typical here.

While the content quality is lacking, Dominicans certainly make up for it in volume and enthusiasm.
As with everything in this culture, their religion experience involves music and dancing. So its hard to criticize it.