Friday, December 20, 2013

Muñeco's Come To Life Again......

During our first holiday season in Panama we noticed these strange, life-like creatures standing along the roadside.  Some resembled political figures, others cartoons, TV personalities or other things that were unrecognizable to us. They are known locally as "Judas Dolls" or "Muñeco's," which simply means "dolls" in Spanish. Officials in western Panama, between the towns of Chame and San Carlos, offer cash prizes for the best dolls, encouraging locals to keep the tradition alive. These dolls represent something we'd rather not see in the new year, a way of purging the past and starting out fresh.  Made from a combination of old clothes, cardboard, coconuts, pillows, straw, banana leaves or other recycled materials, the faces are painted and adorned with details to give them a realistic look.  Before twelve on New Years Eve the dolls are stuffed with fireworks to prepare them for their explosive demise in a midnight bonfire.

In the weeks prior to New Years Eve the dolls stand proudly on display in front of homes along the highway, for all to see.  Judges drive the roads toward the end of December determining which muñeco's are worthy of prizes.  For us gringo's it's a fun, quirky tradition that we enjoy seeing and since we live in Chame, we're right in the heart of the action.

Another perk for Panamanians is the payout of one extra paycheck per year. That means they work 11 months out of the year (since they get one month off for vacation), and then get paid for a 13th month.  The extra paycheck is divided into three and given out at different times of the year. One of those times is right before Christmas, allowing locals to have extra money for holiday shopping. Clyde and I were talking about how great this is, thinking back on hard times when we barely had any money for holiday spending.  How nice it would have been to receive extra money instead of using credit cards for Christmas presents. Panamanian workers are paid only a fraction of what we're used to in the US, but they do have some added perks that aren't offered in our country. 

So as we prepare for the holiday parties, bake cookies with icing that will melt, and keep holiday chocolates in the refrigerator, we realize our lives are a bit different here.  Our holiday outfits include bathing suits and flip flops, pool-side parties with sangria and margaritas, as we melt in the tropical heat, enjoying yet another holiday season.....along the gringo trail.

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