Christmas means food, family, and tradition in the Guatemalan Highlands.

Since 2016, NPH’s OneFamily programme has provided support for struggling families. It has also helped reintegrate children who had previously lived at Casa San Andrés in NPH Guatemala back into their biological family homes. The virtues of this programme are never more evident than during the holiday season, when NPH OneFamily families enjoy the benefit of celebrating Christmas with their loved ones altogether, with financial, nutritional, and other support donated by NPH.

The Sánchez family preparing food for Christmas.
The Sánchez family preparing their Christmas meal

The Sanchez family is an example of one such family spending the holiday season together. They live in the remote village of Parabjey, high up in the Guatemalan Highlands of Chimaltenango. This family of 6 lives in a humble residence fashioned from sun-dried brick, branches, and sheet metal in an indigenous Mayan community, where the primary spoken language is Cakchiquel.

Support that makes all the difference

“Before, I didn’t know how I was going to pay to send my kids to school,” says Juan, the father and head of the family. “But now, we can’t pay back to God all that has been given to us from NPH OneFamily.”

Two older children from the Sánchez family, Jimmy and Melinda, lived at Casa San Andrés in 2016. With the financial support provided by NPH, however, they were able to move back home that same year. NPH OneFamily provides the family with food, as well as financial support for the children’s medical and educational expenses.

For the Sanchez family, who are evangelical Christians, Christmas is a time to reflect on the blessing of being together as a family.

“Even if it’s very little, the things we have here, we share it all,” says Juan. “If I eat an apple, my kids also eat an apple. And if it’s just one apple for six people, then it is divided into six pieces. I don’t eat better than my children.”

At the Sanchez’s Christmas celebration, traditionally prepared food lend meaning to the day’s proceedings. The festivities begin when the family rises early in the morning to collect pine needles. These needles are then spread out on the floor the dining room, which also doubles as Jimmy’s bedroom, filling the air with a festive aroma that would be familiar in many parts of the world during the holiday season.

Chicken stew and chuchitos

With the decorations in place, attention is turned to the food. For Christmas this year, the family will prepare a hearty chicken stew, which simmers for hours and can be topped with chilli sauce for an extra kick. While the stew is boiling, preparation of the chuchitos begins, a doughy dumpling filled with a red tomato, chilli sauce and a piece of pork. These dumplings are made by hand, one-by-one, before being wrapped in the leaf of a tree from the family’s back yard and placed in a large clay pot over an open flame for 30 minutes. The Sanchez family also makes traditional Guatemalan tamales. Finally, tortillas are made by rolling dough by hand and laying it on top of the hot clay oven for baking.

It is tradition for the family not to sit down to eat until midnight on the 24th of December. Leftover food is eaten the next day. The dinner is followed by a delicious drink made with pineapple, papaya, coconut and other fruit.

The Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals are special occasions. Most of the food consumed during the holidays will be made only during this time of the year.

“Without the donors and other kind people from all over the world, we simply would not be able to do this,” Juan says.

With the kids getting older and the prospect of university studies looming for Melinda in the not so distant future, the family is grateful for the opportunity provided by the holiday season to simply spend time together. Thanks to the contributions from NPH OneFamily, they are spending Christmas comfortably and without want.

“We are eternally grateful,” Juan says.

Reintegrating children into their families

NPH OneFamily is a programme designed to support children who have been in care with NPH so that they can return to living with members of their own family.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children’s right to a family.