Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Selena's Christmas

Hola, it’s me, Selena. Johnny’s busy grading Final Exams so he asked me if I’d guest-post something about Christmas this month. Apart from processing a few fender-benders with this week’s storm, it’s a slow season in the insurance office (people buy homes and cars in Spring), so I thought ‘Why not?’

The whole season was important in my familia: Advent, with the weekly lighting of Advent candles and the reciting of the Christmas story with each candle representing an angle – the angels, shepherds, Mary (the pink candle among the three purple ones), the Wise Men. Then there was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, of course, with an evening Mass and music by Mariachis. Papá wanted very much for us to fit in while retaining our own tradiciones, so we had a Christmas tree with Mexican ornaments: hand-painted tin and blown glass (my favorite was a Sagrado Corazon with red and yellow flames on the top).

In the small-town (Anglo) neighborhood where I now live, the religious aspects are obviously played down. Front doors sport wreaths and Santa Claus cut-outs, while lawns display sleighs and reindeer or plastic snowmen. Someone on my street has a gaudy inflated penguin with a fan that makes it wave at passers-by. Everyone is celebrating “The Holidays” but no one seems to be celebrating “The Holy Days” that these truly are.

I haven’t even started decorating and I won’t until the novena begins before Nochebuena, Christmas Eve. Years ago, during the nine days of the posadas, my three brothers and I paraded through the neighborhood each night with all the other kids, in bright costumes, holding candles and singing Mexican carols accompanied by guitars. The songs are called villancicos in Spanish (pronounced vee-yan-see-kose), a mix of familiar songs in English, such as Noche de Paz (a Spanish version of Silent Night), and some are purely Mexican, like Las Campanas de Belen (The Bells of Bethlehem). In imitation of Joseph and Mary, we asked neighbors if we could stay. The first two always refused (by plan), and the third took us all inside where there was already a barn scene set up. Everyone prayed the rosary in Spanish, the Santa Marías rolling like soft waves. Afterward, we partied with piñatas, fritters and fresh fruit drinks like horchata, chía, and piña. One time my brother Lorenzo got into the men’s tequila supply somehow and spent the rest of the night kneeling in front of the toilet.

These days, I keep my décor simple. I put white candles in the windows and evergreen garland on the banisters. I add a few Nutcrackers among my santos y virgencitas figurines. Instead of a tree, I have a traditional Mexican Nativity Scene called a pesebre, with carved olive tree figures I bought from a Palestinian Christian group that visited our parish to support the very small (and poor) Catholic community there.

My familia had a large Nativity set in the living room and each person had a little crèche in his or her own room. Every year someone disappeared from the big set-up; if it wasn’t Saint Joseph, it was a shepherd or a magi. One year we couldn’t find the Baby Jesus to put in the manger on Christmas Eve. I cried because I thought there wouldn’t be a Christmas that year because of it. The Baby Jesus turned up in time, albeit with tiny bite marks from Mamí’s Chihuahua. This year, I’m still missing a magi from my own set, the one carrying the gold. Maybe I’ll find him, but I’m wondering who else will disappear?

On Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, we all gathered at my godmother’s place in Chicago. First, we attended Christmas midnight Mass, and then returned to my madrina’s place to chow down her famous bacalao a la vizcaina and romeritos in mole sauce. Christmas Day was quiet – board games, TV.

Family gifts weren’t given until Epiphany, Dia de los Santos Reyes Magos. But after dinner on Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus, El Niño Dios, was placed in the manger and a small gift was given to us kids. We never did the Santa Claus thing. Papá would only go so far with acculturation.

Well, I’ll stop here. Feliz Navidad, everyone. And I bet Johnny lifts some of this for his next story. I’ll consider it my Christmas gift to him.

(photo above: me, in my Loyola days).

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