Get to Know the Holidays: February

 

This is one of the messages I received this morning:
February 14th
St. Valentine's Day
To all my friends and family
Have a very beautiful day of Friendship
I love you a lot!

¡Feliz día de Amor! ¡Feliz día de Amistad!

Happy Day of Love and Friendship!  I believe I have mentioned before just how wonderful Salvadorans are at sending memes and gifs of encouragement via social media on just any old day of the week, but during February, the messaging goes to a whole new level.  For Salvadorans, the entire month of February is a time for the color red, hearts, flowers, and surprise gifts.

Take a look in any Salvadoran kitchen, and you will likely find some coffee mugs which were filled with some treats or a little stuffed bear and wrapped in clear cellophane with pink hearts on it and tied up with a big pink bow.  This is a pretty great and practical tradition.

 

Here's a pic of some of my mugs.  That little one is from
my first February visit in El Salvador in 2004.


One of the most widespread cultural celebrations during the month of love and friendship is the tradition of the Amiga Secreta (the Secret Friend).  A few weeks before Valentine's Day, a group of co-workers, neighbors, church members, students, or whatever type of group is participating secretly draw each other's names at random.  Some groups spend the next days sending each other secret notes or leaving anonymous treats for each other.  On Valentine's Day, or near to that date, the group has a party.  The party might include music or decorations or even a dance.  Of course the party will include a refrigerio (refreshments).  The big event at the center of the party is the exchange of gifts among secret friends.  

Today we had a Secret Friends Party!  When Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday, the church has a special opportunity to celebrate.

The church was freshly painted and decorated to celebrate!

We sang the best Salvadoran hymns about love.

After worship, the chairs were arranged in a big circle.
Physical distancing is just not a practice Salvadoran people can
understand, despite the pandemic. People live in such tight spaces.
In this community, people do understand the importance of wearing
masks, limiting physical contact, and washing hands.  We 
saw some kids with little bottles of hand sanitizer.


The first part of the party included a raffle.  One of the members donated a radio. Participants bought raffle tickets for 25 cents each.  Money made by holding small raffles is used by the church committee to help pay for events, like this party.  

Then it was time for tamales, coffee, and soda.  We brought our tamales home to eat them (as did others in the group).

Next it was time for secret friends to exchange gifts.  This is a one-by-one process with photo opps.  The first giver calls up their recipient, who then calls up their recipient, until everyone has given and received.  No one opens their gifts right away.  That is done at home. Well, sometimes people peak.

There is always some cuteness when kids are involved.

A good host for a Secret Friends party always has a few extra gifts on hand, just in case someone does not show up or there is a mistake.  This is actually a little bit stressful when doing a big party, like in a church group.

The next activity was to take a group photo, and then to eat cake.  While we chose not to eat our tamales on site, we did decide to risk 60 seconds of rapid, mask-free cake eating in the spirit of "pray it down."  It was a pretty well-informed decision.  COVID cases in this municipality are really low, and we were sitting by the window.  Still, my kids are going to freak out about this whole party situation, so, sorry kids.  And, I guess since I mentioned the cake-eating, I might as well post this photo.

Let's take a group photo!  

In 2004 we held the Mission of Healing in February, and that tradition has stuck.  For the last 16 years, the delegation from the US has participated in the Secret Friend event.  Today there were lots of gifs and emojis sent between friends, with plans for 2022 already being hatched.  This may seem a little bit odd to the average person who has not experienced the month of love and friendship in El Salvador.  The secret friend experience can produce a special bond, at least for a year, but often for life.  


As I was about to post this story, my phone dinged.
The love continues.  This one says:
If friendship is a treasure, thanks for being part of my fortune.

Another February Remembrance

On February 13, 2001, a strong earthquake struck El Salvador.  It was preceded by an even stronger earthquake just one month before.  About 1300 people were killed and 1.6 million people became homeless. The impact of the 2001 earthquakes changed the trajectory of international relationships with El Salvador, impacting the work of sister churches and relief agencies, and charting the course for foreign  governmental policies and international aid.  The migration realities for Salvadorans in the United States today are a direct result of policies implemented immediately after the earthquakes in 2001 and the decades of policy decisions which followed.   

Every year on January 13th and February 13th, Salvadorans pray, remember and feel a touch of fear and anxiety in anticipation of the next large quake.

February Weather

February is dry.  Days are sunny, hot and often hazy.  Ash, dust and particulate matter from sugar cane harvesting impacts air quality on some days.  The moon and the stars are beautiful in the night sky. Sometimes, a phenomenon such as the southern movement of the polar vortex in North America, seems to cause cooler and windier conditions than what Salvadorans expect for February.  

You can read additional stories about special Secret Friends:  Mi Amiga Secreta and Another Amiga Secreta Surprise.

Check out the January Holiday story, too!

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