24 December 2011

The Mexican Christmases of My Childhood

I was born in Los Angeles, but my parents moved back to Aguascalientes, Mexico when I was three years old. My first real memories of Christmas are from Mexico. Although we put up a tree with lights and ornaments, and we got a few little trinkets on Christmas day, the true point of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our good presents came the morning of January 6 - the day of the Epifanía (Epiphany), more commonly known as the El Día de los Reyes Magos (Day of the Three Wise Kings).

Here's how it worked. The night before you put out a shoe from your favorite pair, and you filled it up with hay (or something similar), along with a letter to Los Reyes Magos. The letter contained your gift wish list, and the hay was for the camels to eat during their brief stop at your home. (Kind of like how you leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus.)

The next morning, you knew the Reyes had been there because the hay was gone, except for a few stray bits strewn around (camels are messy, you know), and a little pile of presents next to your shoe. I remember getting my first Barbie doll (golden disco queen - when it was current with the times) and a pair of roller skates. I remember posadas and piñatas filled with sugar canes, oranges, and peanuts. That was back in the day when it was still acceptable to make piñatas out of clay pots.

After we moved back to Los Angeles when I was six years old, we continued the tradition of the Reyes Magos, but my family slowly phased it out, and by the time I was in middle school, we were writing letters to Santa Claus (mostly for my little brother's sake, because I already knew the truth). No more shoes filled with hay. But there were other traditions we held on to.

We didn't have turkey, ham, or egg nog. We ate tamales (spicy ones and dessert ones) with champurrado (thick hot beverage made with corn meal), romeritos (dried shrimp with sprigs of wild herb called "romerito" - similar to rosemary) in mole, bacalao (salted cod) in tomato sauce with lots of onion, and ensalada de noche buena with lots of beets and jicama.

These days, as a grown up and without children of my own, I don't put up a Christmas tree or buy presents. My family and I have a mutual understanding that I only give presents if I happen to see something I know my family members really need, or if I'm inspired to hand-make something. (And I only ask for something if I truly need something.) In the past, I've personalized cigar boxes with decoupaged art and made home videos showing my life in Austin (since my family still lives in Los Angeles).

Also, because I don't always travel back home for the holidays, I've "adopted" new family - to me, spending time and creating unique memories with friends (or real family) is far more special than exchanging presents. One year, I spent the holidays with friends in Redford, Texas (somewhere in the desert between Terlingua and Presidio), gathering around a campfire, singing and playing music, and watching the magical moon rise and the glittering stars. This year, I am planning to dig up my mother's pozole recipe and invite a few friends over to our house.

Holidays in The Big Bend, Texas

What are the traditions that have been passed down in your family through the generations? What are new ones you have created?

No comments:

Post a Comment