Yesterday was the Christmas party at my children’s preschool: Maternal Montessori. The program is very good, the facility is very nice but the events they hold are nothing short of bizarre. I remember that I am in the Dominican Republic, a tropical country with Latin and African influences, where sexuality is part of the air you breathe, and incongruity is second nature.
The party starts at 3:00pm so since we live two blocks away we get there early. It was an explosion of kids, parents, chairs, booths, food, insanity. This is the third year my children have attended this event but the first year my daughter Elsa is also a student there. The first year I was surprised by the beer tent amidst the hot dog and pizza stands; the lack of staff supervision and parent concern as the children ran rampant in chaos; the raffle prizes which included cases of beer and wine, spa visits, and other adult items; and the general theme geared more for pleasing the parents versus the children — I mean isn’t this party for them?? But this year I was a veteran and none of that surprised me, in fact I am now so “aplatanada” (Dominicanized) that I bought myself a beer, sat in the shade, let the niñera (nanny) keep tabs on the children, and kept food tickets ready to satisfy the frequent cravings of my energized offspring.
The highlight of the event was the arrival of the three wise men (los tres reyes) who sat and gave candy to a throng of children. I struggled my way through the line twice (once for each kid) to get them their share. Next came Santa… now Marcos came to the party with the knitted Santa Claus doll I gave him last Christmas. the doll was a hit with the other kids as they would point out “Look! Santa!” and a few would ask to hug the doll. But when the life-size Santa Claus arrived, Marcos was beside himself with excitement. I picked him up so he could see him. When I set him down, Marcos bolted in the direction of Santa, with his doll, and introduced Santa to his miniature counterpart. I am sure it was far more significant to Marcos than to the man in the Santa costume who was surrounded by eager children. After each child wrestled their way through the line to get their candy from Santa (unlike some little kids, Elsa had no fear of the large bearded man in the red suit. At first she could care less but then when she saw the candy she was ready to go!).
By the third hour of the event I was more than ready to go however there was a logistical challenge in rounding up the two children. The nanny was with Elsa but Elsa was constantly on the move. I would go find Marcos but then when we returned to where Elsa was, she had moved on and Marcos soon would be off again. Thus it continued. Finally I managed to get both kids in the same location, near the front of the school, and was about to whisk them away when it was announced on the loudspeaker that all children should take a seat because the “Espectaculo Navideño” was about to begin. This was something new… I realize now that in previous years we had left before this part of party had begun.
So after struggling with Elsa to stay seated, since by now she was exhausted with her face covered in pizza sauce and candy, the spectacular began. First emerges two adults in costumes that were so grotesque and disturbing that I was ready to leave right then. They began to dance frantically on the stage accompanied by loud music. then a clown with a Christmas hat that lit up came out, he was the MC, and announced the two characters as Dora the Explorer and her cousin Diego. Instead of stylizing the adults to look like the characters, these were full body costumes with giant heads. their limbs looked like they were deformed because they were loose foam around the adults body. But it was Dora that was really strange. Her head was twice as big as Diego’s and instead of painted face like he had, there were holes for the eyes and mouth with no color behind it so she looked like a dead fish.
After they danced for a minute, they went back stage and the clown filled up the time (he did this a lot so as to make the event seem more “spectacular” with the meager offerings). Then he invited Dora and Diego back, this time accompanied by the music on the show and they danced to several ‘songs’ on the show. during all this, Marcos was rapt but Elsa was uncertain. she knew the songs but did not understand what she was looking at.
After Dora and Diego came Barney whose costume was a little more true to his character. Elsa watched but she still was evaluating. As with the previous performers, the MC had Barney come out to generic loud music, dance a bit, then return backstage only to emerge again to his theme song. However, the next performer, Mickey Mouse, was a little different… to a blaring ‘Living La Vida Loca’ performed by Ricky Martin, Mickey burst out onto the stage and danced around. I couldn’t believe the combination of audio and visual.
After dancing to Ricky, Mickey then demonstrated that he knows how to dance Merengue to a popular Dominican song (no Disney music was played at any time) and then finally retired backstage. As bizarre as the combination was, Mickey’s costume was the best of the bunch, in proportion and true to the character.
The last group of performers, was the clincher. Elsa, who had been paying attention to the show but not really convinced, suddenly took notice when the 4 of the 5 characters from Backyardigans emerged. First they came out with generic music and she was perplexed. She vaguely recognized the costumes but, as with the first batch, the interpretations were grotesque. However, when they re-entered with their theme song, Elsa got excited, started clapping and then grabbed my arm and kissed it repeatedly.
The whole event ended with all the characters dancing on stage to a popular hip hop song. No Christmas carols in the bunch.
Then, with a swoop, we all left for home, a warm bath and a warm bed.
Merry merry Dominican style.