Mexico Life
Campeche Christmas decorations Keau incorporates figures ranging from traditional gingerbread men to Star Wars characters into his Christmas display.

Campeche man’s annual mission: spread joy through a holiday spectacle

José Dolores Keau Canul's Christmas yard displays have become an institution

Undeniably the most magical time of the year, Christmas is a time for opening one’s heart and thinking about the wider community. There are a number of obvious ways to give back to the people around us at Christmas time, but sometimes, it is inspiring joy in smaller ways that makes the biggest difference.

Houses festooned with lights, wreaths, and paper chains are part and parcel of the joy of the festive season, but a home overlooking the sea on the edge of the city of Campeche spreads the spirit of Christmas better than most.

At Avenida Pedro Sainz de Baranda, Manzana 4, Numero 2, Campeche, every day is a celebration — and never more so than in the festive season.

The creative mastermind behind the decorations is José Dolores Keau Canul, who has worked at the property as a maintenance man for 20 years. The property owners sometimes give him money to cover the costs, but it is Keau Canul who decorates and maintains the house.

“We started with a few simple drawings, but naturally, it evolved as we continued doing it,” he said. “One constant is the decor on the doors, which we make by hand to fit every year. And alongside that, we now have,” he stops speaking and gestures broadly, “well, you can see for yourselves.”

Campeche Christmas decorations
A life-sized white reindeer nods at passing cars this holiday season.

And so you can — or, at least, you can try: such is the splendor of these decorations that standing on the pavement outside the house, perhaps counterintuitively, does no justice to the spectacle.

On the home’s exterior, the eye can but dart between the handmade nutcracker sentinels on the doors, Santa Claus singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” a huge maguey cactus on the grass outside with red and gold baubles and a life-sized white reindeer nodding sagely at passing cars.

And it could hardly be a Christmas celebration without a crowning decoration on the roof: in this case, it’s the all-important … inflatable baby Yoda?

Possible affiliations with Jedi Knights aside, seeing the ornamentation on Avenida Pedro Sainz de Baranda is surely a Christmas tradition for all who frequent this part of town; the house has been a proud totem of the Yuletide spirit for nearly all of the two decades Keau Canul has worked at the property.

At this house, as well as in the Plaza de República, where the Campeche Christmas fair is held, and in other places all over the city, people can take a moment out of their day to marvel at the sight of Christmas in all its glory.

“It’s a double win because you feel good and it attracts people’s attention,”  Keau Canul explains. “People pass it and they talk about it, and we hope it makes them feel good. In this way, we try to encourage the spirit of Christmas a little.”

Campeche Christmas decorations
The property owners sometimes give Keau money to cover costs, but the ideas and labor are all his.

But Christmas is not the only time of year when the house is a spectacle. For six months of the year, anyone making the daily journey past the house can marvel at its various decorations, which are put up for the September Independence Day celebrations, then change in October for Day of the Dead and then shortly thereafter transition to the current Christmas theme.

It’s very lucky, Keau Canul says, that people have largely respected the property and its decorations; barring a few very minor incidents, including an aggressive rainstorm the night before, they have not suffered any theft or vandalism of the display.

And perhaps it is this which encapsulates the magic of the festive season: the goodwill that comes with broadening the enjoyment of Christmas beyond the walls of your own building foments amity in the people who are able to view it.

Campeche is a city where an age-old reverence for the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus has blended with western Christmas traditions to make the holiday a celebration that lights up the whole community. Along the highway, men sell traditional Christmas star-shaped and brightly colored piñatas.

They are cheerful in spite of the slightly chill breeze which blows at this time of year, and the passersby who stop to buy their wares stay to chatter for a few minutes before they walk away. Throughout the city, lights glimmer in window frames, and presents meant to put smiles on everyone’s faces nestle under well-adorned Christmas trees.

There is a magic to this time of year that strengthens the bonds between loved ones, and which — even if only temporarily — allows strangers to spread joy in their everyday activities. For, as we all know, there are few joys purer than being able to share the wonder of seeing a house trimmed with Christmas finery and knowing that it is a sure sign that the big day is fast approaching.

Feliz Navidad!

Shannon Collins is an environment correspondent at Ninth Wave Global, an environmental organization and think tank. She writes from Campeche.

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