September is the month of amor y amistad (love and friendship) In Colombia, punctuated on September 20th with el día de amor y amistad. That day is kind of like our Valentine’s Day in the States (which is not celebrated here), except that, as far as I understand, there’s an equal (or perhaps near-equal) focus on amistad as well as amor. Or maybe I just think that because I didn’t have an amor here to celebrate with. ;)
One thing that those of us without amores get to participate in is Amigos Secretos (Secret Friends), a game kind of like Secret Santa in the States: all the women who are playing pick out of a hat the name of a man who is playing, and that man is then the woman’s amigo secreto. The men do the same in order to pick their amiga secreta. Throughout the month (or more, in our case), one is supposed to gift one’s amigo secreto with little packages of dulces (sweets). The game culminates in the descubrimiento (discovery) in which everyone gathers and tries to guess who their amigo secreto is, and then the no-longer-secret amigo gives the final, big gift, which is often clothing, like a nice shirt or a pair of jeans. Each person gets a couple of chances to guess, but for those who don’t guess correctly, there is a penetencia (penance) to pay – literally. Penetencias range from singing a silly song, dancing with a cup of water balanced in each hand, tying a pencil with string to your back belt loop and trying to place it into a bottle, and other silly and embarrassing craziness in front of everyone. Often (or at least here in the Community), there’s a party/dance afterwards, which of course lasts until all hours of the night.
You don’t want your amigo secreto to guess who you are, of course, because you want to see them pay penetencia. There are all kinds of strategies for hiding your identity: waiting until the last day to send even one dulce; sending your dulces through a whole chain of people in order to reduce the chance that the gift will get traced back to you; telling anyone and everyone that he’s your amigo secreto, including your real amigo, in order to put up a smoke screen; etc. As gringos, and new to the game in general, Julia, Chris and I received special advice on how to hide our identities. Unlike most Community members, we go into town a lot, but were warned not to buy the kinds of dulces that one only finds in town (like chocolates and cookies, as opposed to the simpler sugar candies that are readily available in the tiny village shops). In addition, most dulces are given on or right after Sunday, because that’s the one day that many folks go down to the closest village, or even the “big” town and can buy their dulces. We were also counseled to buy our dulces discreetly, in case someone would see what we bought and the story would get around to our amigo. ¡Muy complicado!
Complicated, but also quite fun because, in order to hide one’s identity, it also becomes the month of mentiras (lies). “No, I’m not playing,” you might say, when you really are. Or “yeah, you’re my amigo secreto, and so is he, and that guy over there,” when none of them are. Or “yeah, I sent dulces to my amigo already,” when you haven’t sent a thing.
I write about this now, in October, because here in La Unión we had to postpone our descubrimiento until this past Saturday due to the Pilgrimage, the Universidad de Resistencia, and other big events. I am happy to report that, due mostly to my amigo secreto’s lack of discretion, I had a pretty good idea of who he was and didn’t have to pay any penetencia. On the other hand, my final gift was a pair of bright orange sweatpants and a matching tank top, so perhaps that is my penetencia!