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On Rediscovering Christmas

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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.


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  • comment avatar Amber December 6, 2007

    Beautifully written, Catherine! We had HUUUGE Christmases with loads of presents and still do whenver we return home. But my memories do not consist of the gifts but rather our many wonderful traditions as a family.

    That did not involve even one Pee Wee Herman profile. 🙂

  • comment avatar Joanne December 6, 2007

    I am sure you are creating wonderful memories for your children. Tamales! That became a Christmas tradition at our house. Mom and the 4 of us kids would line up to assemble the 12 dozen or so tamales. (With 5 kids of my own to help, why didn’t I ever attmept that on my own?)

    Christmas Eve is still filled with Mexican food. It is my husband’s birthday and we always have enchiladas (much easier to make than tamales.) It just wouldn’t feel like Christmas Eve/Hubby’s birthday if we did anything else.

    Thanks for the memories!

  • comment avatar Eva December 6, 2007

    Wonderful sentiments and you conjure up a beautiful image!

  • comment avatar Aimee December 6, 2007

    You rock, chica.

  • comment avatar Lizzy December 6, 2007

    My SIL brought tamales over to our house one Christmas. I wish she lived close enough to bring them to me again. You are so right, it really is the things done with family and the feelings of happiness that are best remembered.

  • comment avatar Catherine Dix December 6, 2007

    Thanks, everyone, for such great comments. It’s nice knowing that ours isn’t the only family that considers tamales a staple during the holidays.

  • comment avatar Linda December 13, 2007

    You managed to have some nice Christmas memories despite it all. And who could forget Tip Toe Through The Tulips-wasn’t that awful?

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