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A few weekends ago I was informed that we would be going to a Yunsa festival as a family in Maryland.  I’m used to Peruvian culture and the way there seems to be a festival for everything, so when my husband explained that the Yunsa festival is when everyone dances around a tree with an axe, taking turns chopping at it, until the tree falls down and everyone grabs the presents hanging on it, I took it in stride.  A few years ago I would have wondered if he was making that up, but now it seems perfectly reasonable to me.  I was also informed that last year, my father-in-law was the last person to chop down the tree, and as a result of losing what amounts to a colossal, high-stakes game of jenga that’s played with an axe, our family is responsible for providing the tree at the festival this year.

We were meeting at 1 PM at a friend’s house, where the menfolk would cut down the tree and the women would prepare lunch.  Then we were all going to caravan together to the festival.  As you can imagine, what actually ensued was several hours of waiting around for the different families to converge at one house, a hurried meal, and then a caravan that finally left for Maryland at 5:30 PM, only three and a half hours behind schedule.  [Luckily, when we got to the festival, we discovered that there were 7 trees this year, so the whole festival didn’t have to wait for us.]  We started receiving frantic phone calls from my wedding godmother’s cousin, who had left the house at 2 PM (when we were supposed to leave) to go the festival, and didn’t understand where we were.  I asked my godmother incredulously if her cousin was Peruvian, and she answered that of course she was Peruvian, which left me baffled as to (1) how her cousin was actually capable of really leaving the house at 2 PM and (2) what on earth made her think that the rest of the family would actually be on time.  I concluded that she must have been raised in America, in isolation from her Peruvian brethren.

While caravaning to the festival, I was struck by an irrational craving for ice cream, but because we were being followed by several cars and an enormous truck containing a 15 foot tree, we could not go through a drive through to get me any ice cream.  My godmother admonished us (and the 2 teenagers we were transporting) to pray that we all arrived safely with the tree intact, and I admonished everyone to pray that there was ice cream at the festival lest I perish.  Then a dorky pop song came on the radio that my godmother insists she loves, so we rolled the windows down and blasted it and she bopped along and sang while the teenagers slouched down in their seats and insisted this is why they never want to go anywhere with us.

Later these two girls explained to me that they would be marrying American men and NOT Peruvian men, thank-you-very-much, so they could escape from the endless cycle of weird festivals and get-togethers they have to attend on the weekends.  I very reasonably pointed out that if they marry an American man, they should be prepared to pay their own way on dates and to never have anyone to dance with since American men can’t dance, and they assured me that these are sacrifices that they are willing to make.

When we arrived at the festival, there was no ice cream in sight, and I was the only white American there.  I think people were concerned that I was lost.  The festival was taking place in the parking lot of a very bad urban neighborhood, which seemed an odd place to spend a tree festival celebrating the spring time, but I set off to find ice cream.

Yunsa tree

Instead, I found chicken being cooked in pots and trout being grilled, but no ice cream.  I used my GPS to locate a nearby bakery that was only 0.4 miles away, and was about to have a very serious argument with my husband about why it was inappropriate for me to walk to the bakery alone in that neighborhood, when we heard the sound of the ice cream truck.  I shoved a lady out of the way, ran out into the street, and flagged it down.  After buying 2 ice creams for me (1 for me and 1 for the baby, of course), and 1 each for the kids and teenagers, we convinced the ice cream truck to actually come into the festival, where the driver told me later he made a tremendous amount of money.  As I handed the ice cream out to the kids, I told them that God had answered our prayers and sent us our very own ice cream truck, and one child confessed to me that she hadn’t really prayed for ice cream.  In my benevolence, I let her have the ice cream anyway.

Meanwhile, the women had covered the tree in strange presents (laundry baskets, bottles of coca cola, fruit snacks, towels, etc.) and the menfolk had dug a large hole and “planted” the tree in it.   This is a picture of what our tree looked like while it was being unloaded from the truck:

The family Yunsa tree

What ensued is pretty similar to what I’m sure you are imagining.  There was a band playing live music, people wore traditional outfits, they danced around the tree using the traditional steps and taking turns swinging the axe, and everyone drank a lot of beer.  When the trees fell, the children were supposed to run forward to get the presents, but I saw a lot of brawls break out between adults over plastic balls and baseball caps and other weird prizes, so it was more  of a free for all.

Yunsa tree with dancers

After watching another family’s tree and our tree, I felt like I had pretty much seen everything there was to see, and retired to sit down for a while in the car.  My peaceful reading  was disturbed around 9:30 at night when my hysterical brother-in-law came back to the car, trailed by a pack of inebriated adults who were concerned for him.  It was hard to get close to him with all of their fussing, but once I had assured them that he was fine and I would watch him, they finally left and I was able to ask him what happened.  Apparently he was minding his own business, dancing around the tree and keeping his eye on a pack of chocolate he really wanted once the tree was chopped down, when the tree fell on him.  He was shocked, and appalled, and miraculously unhurt.  The adults were shocked and appalled as well.  Who would imagine that a tree would fall on him out of nowhere?  In a festival where people chop at the tree with axes?  I was actually just shocked that more drunk adults had not been injured by trees, and I admonished my brother-in-law to be quicker on his feet.  Really, it’s kind of embarrassing for an able-bodied 8 year old to be hit by a tree.

Around 10, when all of the teenagers were bored beyond their enduring, my brother-in-law was nursing his tree-inflicted wounds, and I was getting hungry (again), we told the rest of the family we would take the kids home with us and departed the festival.  We left the rest of the grown ups still dancing and drinking into the wee hours of the morning.

In case you are curious, my brother-in-law’s godfather ended up chopping our tree down (even though we all warned him not to take a turn because it looked like it was ready to fall), so our family is on the hook again next year for the tree as well.

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