Holiday Greetings – KF9 on Christmas

By KF9, All Over The World

Merry Christmas! This holiday season Kiva Fellows are celebrating Christmas all over the world, in all sorts of different ways. Whether it be traveling, feasting, or working hard to bring you some additional Kiva magic over the holidays, it’s safe to say we’re all thankful to be serving as Kiva Fellows and glad to have found a wonderful community in Kiva.

We wanted to share what Christmas is like for KF9ers out in the field and around the world. So enjoy – and happy holidays!

In no particular order:

Nicki Goh, KF9 Senegal
This coming weekend, the Senegalese have a 4 day weekend with both Christian and Islamic holidays straddling the weekend. I will make the most of the time off work to visit the Sine-Saloum Delta on the Atlantic coast of Senegal – an area where my MFI SEM’s work is extremely important to ecovillagers. The delta is an area of immense natural beauty which is sadly at risk of desertification and where there is a high level of unemployment. This time I will be on vacation but I hope to return there at a later date to meet some of the borrowers for myself. Happy holidays to you all – whatever your religion!

Alex Duong, KF9, Vietnam
Christmas is not an official holiday in Vietnam.  However, that doesn’t stop me from spending it with Kiva Fellows Gemma North, Josh Weinstein, and Katie Davis (KF7) in Cambodia!  Couldn’t think of a better way to end one year and gear up for the next.  I am extremely thankful for the personal development thus far and will continue sharing my thoughts with everyone here and here.  A big happy holidays to my close and extended family around the world!

Josh Wilcox, KF9 Peru
Papa Noel (aka Santa Claus) is ubiquitous throughout the holiday season in Latin America, as is the Christmas spirit.  I helped some Peruvian friends erect and decorate their artificial Christmas tree and am planning on spending Christmas day with my mother traveling through Buenos Aires between my two placements in Peru and Ecuador.  Feliz navidad!

Eva Wu, KF9 Philippines
Christmas is huge in the Philippines – as to be expected in a predominantly Roman Catholic country :) I attended three Christmas parties, one of which was in November, all of which involved fun activities and good times with HSPFI staff and clients. Carolling, Christmas lantern contests, games, client awards, gift exchanges, LOTS of dancing… frankly it’s rather intimidating how most of my HSPFI work-friends can sing AND dance like pop stars. I’ve been acting as unofficial photographer/videographer at the Christmas parties, and edited some short videos for the HSPFI staff as Christmas/thank-you presents. Check out the party footage by joining the HSPFI lending team! Plug aside, I’m flying home to Belize for Christmas. Then I’ll be swinging by California (hello, Kiva main!) and Australia before heading back to the Philippines and HSPFI until end of February. So I’m excited about the upcoming travels, the holiday break, and the prospect of kicking off the new year as a Kiva Fellow. Merry Christmas to all!

Steph Meyer, KF9, Sierra Leone
Oddly enough, Christmas is a pretty major holiday here (even though Sierra Leone is about 60% Muslim). Shops and businesses put up holiday lights (none of which even pretend to be plugged into a working power source…), vendors and hawkers in the street sell tinsel, ornaments, and fake plastic Christmas trees, and everyone I see about greets me with “Compliments of the season to you”. In what is apparently very traditional Sierra Leonean fashion, I am spending my holiday at one of the many BEAUTIFUL beaches just outside Freetown with some friends. My MFI, LAPO-SL (coming soon to Kiva- keep an eye on the website!) has a number of Nigerian managers, so they left over a week ago to go home for the holidays, giving me a long and luxurious winter break. I am personally missing my Vermont snow big-time, but am enjoying soaking in the sun, working on side projects, and being a Kiva Fellow in Sierra Leone!

Zal Bilimoria, KF9, Ecuador
Feliz Navidad from Cuenca, Ecuador! This week I finished my Kiva fellowship with Fundacion ESPOIR, which is now an Active partner on after meeting a series of goals over the past few months! What this means is that they have established themselves as a reliable and strong MFI partner and now have the ability to fundraise more from Kiva lenders every month. Despite the national energy crisis in Ecuador, Christmas lights adorn homes, businesses and churches around the city, and from my apartment in Cuenca, every night around 9 pm for the past week, there have been fireworks. Everyone is in a rather festive mood. This past Friday, I was invited to our MFI’s holiday party at the regional manager’s home on the outskirts of Cuenca where we ate a lovely meal together and had many activities during the night among the 25 attendees including karaoke and dance contests way into the morning hours! This week I’m off to Costa Rica to spend the holidays and New Year’s Eve with Kiv a Fellow Alana Solimeo, so I wish everyone Happy New Year from the beaches of Tamarindo!

Taylor Akin, KF9 Togo
It’s definitely not going to be a white Christmas. Children stroll down the street proudly singing “Jingle Bells” even though many of them have never seen snow, fire crackers pop well into the night, and youth eagerly anticipate a night out on the town. This is Christmas in Lomé, Togo. While Santa Claus continues to be a familiar face around town, and a small Christmas tree occupies my room, the day is celebrated in quite a different way than back home in Toronto, Canada. The traditional turkey has been replaced by chicken, spaghetti, and fufu (pounded yams). The clouds and snow have been replaced by intense sun and blue skies. What I learned to think of as a family day is really more of a party day where Togolese youth celebrate in the streets until the wee hours of the morning. However you are celebrating your holidays this year, I hope that they fun, safe, and filled with laughter. Happy holidays!

Ilmari Soininen, KF9, Senegal
Joyeux Noel! I’ll probably be in the office until Christmas eve making sure we have at least a couple of generous helpings of new clients for the post-holiday rush. I’ll spend the night of Chirstmas Eve and Christmas Day with a colleague and her (huge) extended family in a village just outside of Thies. We’ll attend midnight Mass on the Eve and a service on Christmas Day. To balance out this holiness, we’ll be feasting on pork and beer afterwards. Should be pretty good.

Suzy Marinkovich, KF9 Chile
Felices Fiestas! Here in Santiago, Chile, Christmas (and the Latin American Santa Claus, as Josh mentioned: Papa Noel) is very widely celebrated.  About 90% of Chileans identify themselves as Roman Catholic, so it’s no surprise why.  Anyone who’s been around Santiago in the holidays knows that you can’t walk a city block without someone trying to sell you Pan de Pascua (Christmas Bread).  Pan de Pascua is a typical Chilean cake, a sweet sponge cake flavored with ginger and honey.  It typically has candied fruits, raisins, and walnuts inside.  My husband and I are having our first Christmas without our families, so we will spend it cooking, hiding from the 90 degree heat (!), and eating a more rebellious form of Pan de Pascua that I found at the supermarket: it only has chocolate chips inside.  :-)

Kelly McKinnon, KF9 Leon, Nicaragua
On the front page of La Prensa on Sunday there was a photo of a very snowy Washington DC (my home base), the weather in Leon is a contrast to say the least! Around Leon people share holiday plans, usually gathering with family or making a trip to the beach! Restaurants have special menues, the streets are lined with vendors of gifts of all kinds, and the central plaza is now decorated with strings of red and white lights, a ten foot faux Christmas tree and a life size nativity scene. The scenes have been created in the front rooms of many houses and can be spied as you meander the streets. My coworkers are planning a secret Santa gift exchange and there is an excitement in the air as the end of the year approaches. I am so grateful for this experience and for the people that have shared it with me, be they Kiva Fellows, Kiva Followers or my friends and coworkers at Fundacion Leon 2000.

Jeremy Lapedis, KF9, Guatemala
During the Christmas Season in Guatemala, everyone celebrates convivos, in which a secret santa gift exchange takes place amongst festive eating. Thus far I have been to two of them and received a set of floral bowls and a cologne spray called Open in Case of Emergency. I’ll be spending Christmas Eve eating tomales at midnight and exchanging gifts with the family of the director of my MFI, with whom I am living. The next day will be full of visits to and from other families in which we share cookies and coffee.

Gemma North, KF9, Cambodia
There will be no baking for me this Christmas (ovens are a luxury in Cambodia).  The country is primarily Buddhist, but the Cambodians’ great enthusiasm for holidays and parties is slowly beginning to carve out a place for Christmas in Phnom Penh.  Many shop windows have put up a few garlands, fake Christmas trees or–for the more ostentatious crowd–big blow-up Santas.  I have even heard kids at school singing Jingle Bells (presumably for English class).  This year, I will compensate for having no snow by collecting seashells, eating crab and exploring the ruins of French colonial mansions in the small seaside town of Kep with Kiva Fellows Alex Duong, Josh Weinstein and Katie Davis (KF7).

Thomas Gold, KF9, Dominican Republic
Christmas definitely is a great event, prepared months in advance in the Dominican Republic. Each branch office of my MFI Esperanza has organized a celebration with its own “socios” (clients of the branch office). In the beginning of December, each of the branch office organized a “tombolazo” (big raffle) and went to the capital city to buy electrical appliances (fridge, stovs, washing machines)  that were drawn among the borrowers. On the 21s, an internal celebration was organized in Santo Domingo for all staff members, with rewards prizes for the best employees,and one more tombolazo. I joined the music band (which were all employees of Esperanza) with an harmonica, for Christmas songs (The best way I found to avoid the awkward dancing, as it happenned in other MFIs!)

In the country, the tradition as it was described to me, is to have a big familiar dinner, and then streets get lively. Everyone puts music (mainly bachata, a fast and festive Dominican rythm) very loud, either from your house, in the little grocery store that become bars on nights thanks to heavy speakers, or from your car. The 25th of December is a very popluar day to go to the beach and rest from the night before.

Brian Kelly, KF9, Armenia
For Christmas, I will be returning from a three day conference with my entire MFI staff in the mountains of Armenia.  The Armenians, being Christian Orthodox, celebrate Christmas on January 6th, but the real celebration of the holidays is the New Year.  So I plan to have a mini-feast on the 25th with some western-celebrating friends (its a work day) with some of the familiar dishes from home normally shared with family.  Perhaps I will try to acquire a plasticky green fake Christmas tree, as deforestation laws make it illegal to cut trees here, so naturally they are sold illegally, but for a steep price.  Then I will look forward to the real celebration in Armenian fashion on January 1st…

Meg Gray, KF9 Nicaragua
I feel like everyone in Nicaragua has been asking me about my Christmas plans since the day I arrived. Without Thanksgiving to hold them back, Christmas decorations started showing up on houses and, of course, in stores at the end of October. The Nicas all get so excited when I tell them that “Yes, I will be spending Christmas in Nicaragua.” The first week of December celebrating really got started with “La Purisima” which is a week long holiday celebrating the Immaculate Conception. Shrines to Mary appeared all over the city and firecrackers that sound a bit like rapid gunfire filled the evenings. The shrines to Mary have all been replaced by Nativity scenes now, but the firecrackers remain. I will be celebrating Christmas Eve with the family I am living with including a traditional Catholic Mass. For Christmas, I will be cooking with several American friends and bringing toys and food to a local orphanage.

Rebecca Corey, KF9 Tanzania
Kristmas Njema na Heri ya Mwaka Mpya! Merry Christmas and a happy new year from Dar es Salaam. I’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. Every time I hear a Christmas song I wipe the sweat from my forehead and wonder why in the world anyone would play a Christmas song at this time of the year. Then I remember it’s December! There’s a small tree set up in the office of the Tujijenge office decorated with tinsel and a gold star. Even though it’s Christmas Eve, everyone is here at the office, hard at work. Tomorrow will be a day for family. I’ll be with my Tanzanian host family. We may even take a trip to the beach! Happy holidays to all of my friends and family, the Kiva Fellows, and all the Kiva lenders and borrowers. I’m so thankful for all of you!

Victoria Kabak, KF9, Nicaragua
Here in Nicaragua, it’s felt like Christmas has been going on since the beginning of November, when kids started setting off firecrackers at all hours of the day or night and haven’t stopped since (sometimes I could’ve sworn they sounded more like gunshots than firecrackers–not the best for the mental state or the sleep cycle). While the day after Christmas is always a bit sad, I can’t say I’ll be too sorry to say goodbye to the firecrackers…though I have a sneaking suspicion they might continue through New Year’s. Christmas vacation has brought my parents to me, so we’ll be spending tomorrow on the beach in Nicaragua’s San Juan Del Sur since pretty much everything else will be closed. Feliz Navidad!

Sheethal Shobowale, KF9, Peru
Feliz Navidad from Cusco!  Christmas is an important holiday in Cusco (and is fairly commercial).  Stores and homes put up Christmas lights starting at the end of November.  On Christmas Eve, people from the provinces around Cusco come to the city to sell Christmas goods, alpaca snow gear, artisanal goods and fireworks at a huge market in the Plaza de Armas (main square) and other squares around town.  Cusquenos exchange gifts and eat Panetone and drink chocolate caliente (hot chocolate).  Several of Arariwa´s bancos comunales (village banks) exchange baskets of important household necesities like sugar, rice, milk, and butter, all placed in a plastic container that can be used to wash clothes that is of course wrapped in big ´´poofy´´ plastic.  The grocery stores (Mega is the largest here) sell these baskets all ready to go.  Luckily, my husband was able to come visit, so we are spending Christmas together here in Cusco.  There´s no snow in Cusco, but there´s enough snow in my hometown of New York and in my husband´s hometown of Minneapolis to make up for it!  I will be here in Cusco for New Years as well, where the tradition is to wear yellow underwear for prosperity, red underwear for love and eat 12 grapes to celebrate each new year month.  Hope you and your family are enjoying the holidays!

Share the holiday spirit by lending through Kiva!


About the author