I doubt there are many places more festive than Iquique come the month of December. No sooner does the calendar page turn to this final month of the year, than colorful floats and caravans of cars begin to appear on the city streets. As I mentioned in a post written our first year in Iquique, these "carros alegoricos" are a long-standing and well-loved tradition.
According to Wikipedia, the tradition began in the 1960's when a pair of Post Office employees took the company van around to the homes of Post Office workers and delivered Christmas gifts to their children. One of the men dressed up as Santa Claus and in the simple, unadorned van deliveries were made on Christmas Eve.
Eventually the fisheries joined the tradition. For a period of around twenty years the fishing industry was "king" in the city of Iquique. It was even called "The Era of the Smell of Dollars," and in an attempt to out-do one another the fishing companies decorated their carros bigger and better every year. Live bands would play Christmas music and it was an exciting time.
And so the tradition has continued until the present day. Only now instead of two men in a truck, dozens of volunteers pile into cars and traverse the cities of Iquique and Alto Hospicio bearing gifts. Today the biggest participants are the mining companies which funnel incredible amounts of money into this coastal town. The excitement among the children of Iquique is palpable as their ears seem attuned to the sounds of approaching "Pascueros" as the caravans are often called. ("Pascuero" is the name often used for Santa Claus, who is a fixture on each one.)
For their part, our kids have enjoyed this tradition secondhand as they run to the gate to catch candy and giggle along with their neighborhood friends when the carros pass by. But this year the opportunity was offered to have a caravan come to our house with volunteers from the Diviertete program of the Teleton. We decided it would be fun to allow our kids this unexpected surprise, so we purchased gifts and delivered them to the volunteers prior to their visit. Only Eva was in on the secret, and the others were definitely startled to see the cars stop at our house and familiar faces appearing at our door!
We're not ones to let Santa Claus take the credit, so we let our kids know that the gifts were really from Mommy and Daddy (through God's generous provision!) But we made sure they also understood and appreciated the kindness of their friends from the Teleton who organized this special surprise just for them. It was a treat that I'm sure they will remember even when we next celebrate Christmas in the land of the winter wonderland. :)