Each year, the gigantic Advent Wreath that hung on the altar at church marked the beginning of Christmas — a celebration that lasted all month.
Let me tell you about it. Maybe your holidays were like mine.
Mid-December, we would attend Misa to honor La Virgen de Guadalupe. (Tomorrow, Dec. 12, is her Feast Day). Families brought red roses and placed them at her feet. The Guadalupanas would dress in colors of the Mexican flag and after Mass we ate conchas, empanadas, y marranos, from the only panaderia in town, which was owned by a distant cousin.
Later in the month, Father Pedro gathered all of the Mexican families for Las Posadas. The year I remember most clearly was when I played Mary. I was old enough to be embarrassed by the attention, but too young to refuse as I walked through the downtown area of my city dressed like the Virgin. We walked from house to house while the choir members strummed their guitars and sang canciones, searching for shelter until we were finally welcomed into a home. The festivities began and, of course, we would feast on breads from la panaderia.
Christmas also meant participating in my school Mass. Each year, Mom sewed my white, polyester, angel costume while Dad fashioned wings and
a halo out of a wire hanger and silver tree garland. When Mass was over, the families would gather in the gymnasium for punch and cookies.
On December 23rd, my family made dozens upon dozens of tamales in preparation for Christmas Eve. My tias would tie their hair back in bandanas and we each took a spot in the assembly line. I usually spread the masa, would break to play with the cousins, then get called back to the table if we played too long. Despite our exhaustion after the day of tamale making, we would then head out for blue light specials and
other last minute bargains.
On Christmas Eve, we would cram into as few cars as possible to drive in the snow to Midnight Mass to a town 45 minutes away. I usually sat on the armrest. Most of the cousins fell asleep during the candlelit service, but when we got home, we rallied because that meant it was time to open presents. Grandpa would don a Santa cap and dispense gifts one at a time, while we watched patiently as each gift got unwrapped, hoping our name would be called next.
We didn’t have a lot of money so Christmas was never like what I saw on TV. The adults drew names to cut back expenses. Grandma gave each of the grandchildren underwear. The aunts gave socks. I received 16 pairs of socks one year.
Santa left oranges and nuts for all of the children. And then there was the one special gift for each child. Once the presents were unwrapped, we’d feast on tamales. The adults sipped coffee and the kids drank hot chocolate. By early morning, our cheeks were smeared with cinnamon and sugar from eating Grandma’s polvorones.
It was loud and chaotic and far from a Norman Rockwell scene, but nombre, it was fun.
Tessa Del Pino, a frequent contributor to Tiki Tiki, is a Chicana who grew up, and was educated, in the Pacific Northwest and New York City. She is a lawyer by training, executive administrator by profession, and organizer by habit. She and her family live in Nashville, TN.