On Rediscovering Christmas
For me, Christmas has everything to do with Mexican food, and nothing to do with Walkmans.
For the first time in their lives, Emma and Kyra (three and two, respectively) played major roles in the tree-decorating tradition. In a moment of sheer delirium (or genius as it were) I decided to provide them with construction paper, some scissors, and Elmer’s glue. I then tried to teach them the fine art of paper chain garland making. I might as well have been teaching them the fundamentals of organic chemistry, they were THAT interested in what I was doing.
So instead of a chain, they made microscopic triangles. Sometimes they got lucky and accidentally made a square. More often than not, though, the shapes slightly resembled things like Pee Wee Herman’s profile. Since they were generally too small to wire and hang on the tree, we decided they’d best serve as garland decoration (or confetti?), and so we glued and glued and glued some more. Meanwhile, Daddy found some decent Christmas music and put up the fake tree. It was a beautiful night. Nobody was sick or hungry or throwing a tantrum. Everybody was having fun, and I hadn’t felt that “Christmassy feeling” in a very long time.
Over the years, holiday cheer had become as foreign a concept to me as mall shopping. My disconnect from Christmas had actually started sometime when I was still a kid. It wasn’t easy for my parents to provide something special for five children. It got to the point where I didn’t want any of it if it meant watching my mother cry or wring her hands or pray rosaries for the money it would take to provide me with something as insignificant as a Walkman or a nice outfit to wear to church. Looking back, my best Christmas memories involve driving around town with my family to check out the luminarias and Christmas lights after midnight mass, then coming home to a big pot of my mom’s homemade menudo. Or eating biscochitos at my Tia Nana’s. Or getting the phone call from my grandma saying to come over and decorate her tree.
I won’t lie, I liked presents as much as the next kid. One year I received this trivia game called Omni that became The Life of the Party for years upon years, a tradition ALMOST as adhered to as Las Posadas. Cousins would call to say, “Screw the tamales, just PLEASE don’t forget to bring the Omni!” Eventually, we had all the answers memorized from the 8-tracks. “True or False, Goober is one of President Carter’s nicknames.” Or “This 1929 song titled ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ was redone in the 1960s by a) Little Richard, b) Vincent Price or c) Tiny Tim.”
I don’t know what happened to that game. Or my Walkman. Or the Christmas clothes my mother always managed to buy on a shoestring budget. I honestly hadn’t thought about them in twenty odd years. Maybe more. But I think about the luminarias, the menudo, and the biscochitos every single year. I even think about the reverence in the air during midnight mass. The Christmas music. The food. The laughs. I can only hope that Christmas will come to mean something more than just presents for my children, that someday my youngest daughters will remember with nostalgia things like the day they spent making Pee Wee Herman’s profile for our Christmas tree.