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Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Like A Prayer

Submitted by on August 24, 2009 – 7:08 amOne Comment
Shrine

Photo courtesy of Mariana Mansur

When my husband and I first started dating in college, he and his best friend made a road trip to visit me over the holiday break.  On their first day in New Jersey, I brought them with me to pick up my friend who was at her boyfriend’s parents’ shop.  I didn’t think anything of it until we were in the store and my boyfriend and his friend were staring around the shop wide eyed like deer in headlights.  See my girlfriend’s boyfriend’s parents owned a botanica which to me was commonplace in my hometown where you can find one as easily as a Dunkin’ Donuts in New England.  But to them it was equivalent to visiting a witch doctor.

That’s only one of many instances where I’ve been a bit naive.  See I always though what was normal in my house or  neighborhood was what was taking place everywhere else.  I thought everyone poured a bucket of holy water and flower petals over themselves every once in a blue moon.  I thought everyone stayed up until midnight to light candles for La Virgen de la Caridad and Santa Barbara.  I thought everyone had giant shrines to them in their homes.  I thought it was normal to side step a cracked coconut on a street corner (I once told my husband not to step on a coconut lying in the street of his suburban New England town and he looked at me like I had two heads!).

My parents never have talked to me about the religious and spiritual practices of our family or some of the interesting ongoings of my childhood hometown; it’s just what is.  I learned one day, though, I’m not alone.  One day in high school a group of friends were chatting into the wee hours and the conversation drifted to odd family practices.  Little by little we each shared some unique bits we’d never shared with anyone before.  One kid told us of an exorcism like ritual involving eggs and potions and chanting which his parents performed to rid him of a high fever when he was just a child.  Another told us of magic words and sweet offerings made by her mother.  Another shared his mom’s promise to a saint to never dye her hair again if cured of a certain disease.  We found comfort in one another that night knowing everyone had some weird things going on at home.

I’m not very religious but consider my self very spiritual.  I believe in the sacred and the power of ritual; I’m very much still figuring it all out and what it means to me.  I haven’t held onto all the practices of my youth, though I do feel inclined to light a candle here and there.  Even though I don’t do all the things my parents did, I’m grateful for the exposure and experience because it made a believer out of me.  A  respectful believer in the mystical and unseen, in spirits and the dead.  I worry how I’ll impart the same sense of wonder and belief in my girls without a strong foothold in either a specific religion or spiritual practice.  I’m on a fast track with these girls of mine to figure things out.

Can you relate to discovering your family’s spiritual practices aren’t exactly mainstream?  Do you still hold on to any of those practices or have you ventured to your own religious and spiritual choices?

Share, por favor!

One Comment »

  • Meli says:

    I *absolutely* can relate! When I was little, I apparently could recite what my abuela would say when she passed a flower aruond my body — this was a normal, natural expression of affection and a way to protect a beloved little one. Helping her to switch out Santa Barbara’s apples now and again, or seeing her smoke a cigar around the house for San Lazaro is still almost a comforting thought and sight. I also share in your feeling that there’s something sacred in the ritual itself — I don’t think I’ll ever (nor should I try) to dismiss that.

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