Which Sense?

Poinsettias are native to Mesoamerica   (Rudy Girón)

Poinsettias are native to Mesoamerica (Rudy Girón)

Holidays in Guatemala bring overwhelming input to all five senses, even more than any other time of the year. So which sense should we highlight for December? The dazzling sunlight, velvety nights, brilliant colors of holiday decorations, lush plants in every color, give evidence that the sense of sight is primary. Deep red pascuas, poinsettias to the gringos; golden bougainvillea spilling over sunny white walls, holiday garlands around colonial-style street lamps, fresh new güipil blouses worn to special church programs, colors and light are everywhere this month. Sight is the most important.

Ah, but there are many wonderful tastes, too. Think of minty sweets on the tongue, spicy or herbal flavors in foods, smooth and frothy fruit or egg drinks, lots of holiday candies, flavorful fowl and peppery meats on the dinner tables of Guatemala, and plates-full of traditional cookies and cakes. Taste must be it. Tasting is best part of December, right?

Or maybe touch is the most important? The soft touch of a baby’s hand on the cheek, the infant delighted with its first Christmas. Or the caress of a lover, or the feel of fleece when we’re tucked into bed on a cold night, or the kiss of a friend come to visit at year’s end. The touch of heat from a blazing chiminea, and the touch of frost on a bare nose. Touch is subtle, hard to picture, delightful to experience.

Perhaps I’ll go with the aromas of the month. Pungent pine needles crushed underfoot, the complex odors of melting chocolate, the penetrating smoke from a wood fire. Surely the sense of smell must be the best part of December. Breathe deep the odors from hot stewed fruit, the tang of clove and cinnamon in the punch, the perfume of roses for sale in the markets ready to decorate every home, grand or tiny. It would be tough to go through the holidays with too stuffy a nose to enjoy all the good smells. Yes, those fine aromas must be the most sensuous part of the holidays.

But no. Listen. Listen to the bells, the choirs, the simple marimba or the great organ, listen to the joyful music of the month. Listen to the birds, the fountains, the rain on the roof, the crackling fireplace.

Listen to the posada carolers and the patter of hooves on the cobblestone streets. Then come the welcoming sounds you can’t miss: glorious fireworks, mortars, firecrackers, a cacophony of welcome to Christmas, then to the New Year, dramatic near-deafening noise that puts the sense of hearing at its annual peak.

Hey, there’s no need to pick a best holiday sense. Let all your senses enjoy this merry, happy month.

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