Religion | Football’s place in yuletide ritual

Reports from distant cultures, in Guatemala and Burma, confirm how football insinuates itself into the most hallowed seasonal festivities.

A recent article in the Contra Costa Times concerning the displacements that linger from Guatemala’s 30-year civil war (1962–92) touches on the centrality of football even in rural Mayan communities (Matt O’Brien, “Pushed Out by a Civil War, One Family Strives to Reunite,” Dec 25). Pedro Lorenzo Calmo, 14, for an English class in Oakland, California, draws his house in Todos Santos in the Cuchumatanes mountain range as the customary white box with stick figures beside. Also beside “my house in the Guatemala,” the drawing indicates, sits the football field.


Earlier correspondence with Rev. Ellen Harris Dozier, a Presbyterian missionary in San Felipe, echoes the newspaper report of young Calmo’s sketch. Dozier writes how the pitch becomes a central element in village maps created by the mostly illiterate women whom she teaches. At Seminario Evangélico Presbiteriano on Christmas Day in 2000, the seminary is overrun by footballers:

The couple of days before Christmas at the seminary were very quiet. The personnel and staff were on vacation. Only a handful of workers were around to keep the grounds clean and attend to the few people who came to use the swimming pool or play a quick game of soccer. But on the morning of Christmas Day all that changed dramatically. I watched as pickup trucks full of people (the buses were not running on the 25th) pulled into the seminary and people piled out. Then families began to arrive, again by the truckload. I had been told that there would be a soccer game, but it looked like much more than one soccer game! As it turned out, there was a soccer tournament on Christmas Day, beginning at 8 a.m. and concluding at 5:30 p.m., with the seminary team winning the trophy. I spent most of the day watching the games, enjoying the warm sun and the visits with neighbors and friends. I am still trying to understand what it means to play a soccer tournament on Christmas Day. Perhaps you have to be Guatemalan to really understand.

Displaced members of the Karen ethnic group from Burma, attempting to re-create homeland custom in the Chapel Hill–Carrboro area in central North Carolina, recall the prominence of sporting competition, including football, within village life (Cheryl Johnston Sadgrove, “Local Burmese Re-create Homeland Holiday,” Raleigh News & Observer, Dec 25).

Pascal Khoo Thwe, From the Land of Green Ghosts Pascal Khoo Thwe, in From the Land of Green Ghosts (Harper Perennial, 2003), writes that the “Padaung have a talent for football, and they play it with all their hearts.”

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