Haiti's fanal lights are a sign of the holidays

For 10 years, Edme Herold has used the holidays and a skilled hand to fill his pockets with cash -- a few gourdes here, a few gourdes there.

His colorful handiwork: fanals, which are miniature, lantern-like homes that are part of Haiti's Christmas tradition. A candle placed inside illuminates the fragile craft and creates a stained-glass effect. The size of either a shoe box or as small as a camera, fanals are often placed in windows to light the way.

``I make them because I can earn a little more money,'' said Herold, 32, a mason the rest of year. ``It's not much, but it's something.''

The fanals -- a centuries-old Christmastime tradition some say originated in West Africa and others say was used to light worshipers' way to church -- come with a small irony this first Christmas since Haiti's devastating earthquake last January.

The little tissue-paper houses are still standing while many Haitians' homes are in rubble. Herold crafts these items to brighten up a holiday home yet lives under a tarp this year.

``They are a sign that Christmas is coming,'' Lori Manuel Steed, a Haitian artist and art promoter, said about the first sight of fanals on the streets. ``Amid the violence and anger, there is a softness.''

Many fanals emulate Haiti's yesteryear -- chiefly, the gingerbread homes, an architectural style prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which largely survived the 7.0-magnitude quake.

Some feel little joy this holiday because of the disaster that claimed up to 300,000 lives, a subsequent cholera outbreak, and a volatile presidential election.

But there are small signs the season won't go ignored. Restaurant workers don Santa hats. A nurse in a neo-natal ward pastes stickers on the beds of newborns. They read: ``Joyeux Noel.''

Making fanals -- long the domain of children -- is a distinctly Haitian tradition, like eating pumpkin soup on New Year's Eve.

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