T’was el noche before Christmas and through the casa
Abuelita en la cocina preparing the masa
Las ninas dressing up as fiesta queens with towels and crowns
Waiting so patiently for Santa to sleigh into town
Tamales, Posole, and Biscochitos también
Con panzas llena corazons contenta
For Christmas is more than just a Spanglish Tradition.
As a child I couldn’t wait for Christmas. The decorating of the tree, the decorating of the house, baking cookies and of course the PRESENTS!!! As a child there was something magical about Christmas.
Santa wasn’t a big deal in our family, in fact I grew up not knowing that December 25th was Christmas Day- I thought December 24th was the BIG DAY! This is because I grew up in the same household as my grandparents and our extended family would venture over on Christmas Eve to eat red chili tamales, posole, fresh home made baked rolls and ham. My Grandma and Grandpa made the best chili and bread I have ever eaten. I didn’t appreciate the prep work or love that was put into the food my grandparents made for us, until I started passing down some of these traditions to my own children. If you ever made tamales you know what I am talking about!
Christmas Eve was also when we exchanged presents. There were about 10 of us cousins (all girls) who anxiously waited to ravish through our gifts. At the time, those presents seemed like they took over the entire living area. Those grown ups would make use eat our dinner first and then MAKE US DO THE DISHES before we could even think about opening our gifts. The torture! The audacity!
Finally, when the time came, we would all sit around in the living room, and watch one by one the opening of our gifts. There were jokes to be said, laughter to be heard, games to play and toys to assemble. I don’t know what it is about opening gifts- it was exhilarating and somehow brought the family together.
When the celebration was over, I would walk over to our side of the house (our home was a duplex after my father renovated it to fit our family). I remember snow on the ground, not just a little snow but feet of snow shoveled up in one corner of the driveway, icicles on the gutters, and the stars would be twinkling bigger than ever. I can still see the light smoke from the chimney escaping into the ice chilled air and the smell of the burning piñon taking over my nostrils. I remember feeling so content I didn’t want those moments to end.
So on December 25th I was completely unaware that it was Christmas. In my little mind Christmas had already happened. This is because my parents did not do much for us on this day. There was no baking of cookies for Santa, no reading of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” or any traditions to be had. So naturally, I thought Christmas was when we met at Grandma’s house to open presents.
As I matured, okay as I grew older, not necessarily matured, I realized that Christmas Eve was not Christmas, and Santa was not real- even though he never came to our house.
Every year since, I have come to despise Christmas.
The financial sacrifices.
The hustle and bustle.
What the fuck happened to the magic? The anticipation? The meaning?
I suppose in some ways I have become the Grinch- Let’s skip it entirely and thus steal it from my family and friends so we wouldn’t have to “worry” about it. But we all know the lesson the Grinch learned- Christmas comes anyway, even if there are no presents and food. Perhaps Christmas truly is so much more?
And what about the spirit of giving? Nah, after all, haven’t I worked hard all year for my earnings? Doesn’t the poor have their priorities straight? Besides I can’t even afford our own Christmas, right? Oh wait! There was that dude- Scrooge was his name. Didn’t he learn that poverty was not about not having money in the bank, but not sharing his resources? His time? His love? Hmmm maybe a little ghost of Christmas past can help me remember the meaning?
Then there are parties, gatherings galore! Secret Santa at work and lots of shopping to do. And just like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, I feel more like a misfit than wanting to conform! Luckily for Rudolph there was a storm. He let his little light shine and became a hero BECAUSE of his deformity- Maybe I need to make room for the misfits in our world?
I don’t know. Something about it makes me utterly depressed, just like my good friend Charlie Brown. Wondering and asking the question, “Would someone please tell me the true meaning of Christmas!!!!”
Oh, Charlie Brown, good ol’ Charlie Brown! Before his little buddy Linus offers up a magnificent speech about the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown has to find a little tree for the “Christmas Play.”
And don’t we all at first despise that little tree! Like all of his friends, don’t we, when he places it on stage, laugh and scorn at the humility of it? Seriously, of all the trees that Charlie Brown picks, he chooses the one that is nothing more than a branch. There are trees that are flashy, colorful and surely expensive- perhaps Charlie saw something we didn’t. That most of the trees in the lot were nothing more than empty and hollow inside.
So Charlie Brown brings home a branch. His friends laugh, and scorn, and reject it. Why? Have we done the same? Have we rejected the most important, the most humble part of Christmas that we would rather have empty, hollow, flashy, colorful and expensive “trees?”
When I was 11 years old, all I cared about was the presents. I would feel jealous and fill myself with pity because every year I didn’t get the most trendy most expensive toys. I would have to go to school and listen to everyone else brag about the flashy, colorful and expensive gifts they received- only to be forgotten about in a few months or years- you know, toys that were empty and hollow inside.
When I was 11 years old Pita (my Grandpa’s nick name we gave him) gave me the perfect Christmas gift- I just didn’t know it at the time. One of the hobbies Pita had was making Spanish style furniture. He would sit on our front porch and carve into the wood and create a piece of art. He made chests, treasure boxes, chairs, beds and benches. Most of the furniture he made was miniature- a prototype if you will. I remember when he made a bed for my sister’s doll. I suppose it brought him a lot of joy to watch her play with her doll and the new bed he made for it- because it gave him a grand idea.
That Christmas Pita made beds for all his granddaughters and their dolls. I was the first one to open the gift (at least that is what I remember) and I smiled my smile and said my rehearsed Thank You to him- then moved on- hoping to get the flashy, colorful, expensive gift. As usual, I received the gifts of board games, token toys and maybe a pair of pajamas- I really don’t remember, how interesting huh? My sister, on the other hand, did not receive a bed for her gift, since she already had one, so she got a rocking chair for her doll. It’s safe to say that she was the favorite.
That little bed I received was played with a few times, and then it sat on top of my dresser to collect dust.
A few months later, Pita died.
Suddenly that little bed had more meaning to me than when I first received it. I had no idea that would be the last Christmas I would spend with my Pita. I had no idea that little bed would be the last Christmas gift I would get from him.
Had I known, I may have been a little more excited, a little more grateful, and said, “fuck the flashy, colorful, expensive toys!” I received something so much more valuable! I guess Charlie Brown understood better after all, when he chose that humble, fragile, weak and despised tree. My Pita knew that his gift was NOT hollow and empty inside.
You see, the ghost of Christmas past has come to see me, and it showed me that the little bed I received, represents whatever Christmas is about- something humble, fragile and weak, something despised, and overlooked.
That little humble gift was not forgotten after a few weeks, or even a few years. That little bed reminds me of the love a man had for his family. He didn’t have a lot of money, or would be considered “successful” in our society’s definition. Instead, he took the time to give his granddaughters a gift he made with his own hands. A gift that represents time, hard work, humility, and love.
Christmas can be a burden or it can be an opportunity to show our love to the people around us.- even us misfits!
It isn’t about the decorations, the presents, the food, the trees, the lights, the elves on shelves or any of those empty hollow symbols- It is what we want it to be- to me it is more than a Spanglish Tradition!
Merry Christmas my friends!