Tag: Christmas

And No Religion Too

One of my fondest memories of childhood is attending Christmas Midnight Mass at my family’s Catholic Church. My cousins and I would bask in the glittering pageantry, well aware that as soon as we got home, all the presents beneath the tree would be vanquished under our attacking hands.

I’m about to become a father. Naturally, I should look forward to taking my own son to Midnight Mass.

Well, I’m not. Because he will not be raised Catholic. In fact, he will not be raised with any religion at all.

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We’re Still Here

OK, so my Mayan ancestors pulled a fast one.

But for if you’re disappointed that the world didn’t end today, keep this in mind: In just five billion years, the sun will deplete its energy, and the Earth will become a barren husk devoid of all life.

So you’ve got that to look forward to.

In the meantime, let me just say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and all that good stuff.


Long Distance

I recently completed the final profile of my family’s members. The anecdotes will keep coming, of course, but I won’t be focusing on a single member at this point.

I’ve written before of how Latino families tend to be close, and indeed, my cousins and I were raised more like siblings than distant relatives.

Still, I don’t know if it’s ironic, coincidental, or completely logical that people who grew up in a tight bunch are now so scattered around the Western Hemisphere.

Perhaps it’s the confidence that we will always remain in touch that has allowed us to branch out. Or maybe it’s just our immigrant roots that propel us onward.

I spoke to many of them last month, on various long-distance phone calls and/or email exchanges around Christmas. I’ve written before about how Hispanics tend to treat Christmas as a true fiesta and not a somber obligation.

Decades ago, shortly after my cousins from El Salvador came to America, we had our first mongo-huge event. What I remember most was Cousins #4 and #5, speaking to each other in fast overlapping English and Spanish. Half of their communication consisted of attempts to get their points across. The barrier would frustrate most adults, but to the girls, it was a hilarious game that never got old. Their pantomime and mangled words amused them so much that they often forgot what they were trying to say and just laughed in harmony. Their medium truly was their message.

At one of our last get-togethers, some of the cousins were holed up in a bedroom, talking about the pressures and stresses of the holidays. Of course, one by one, we all wandered into the room, until we had to stop bitching about the burdens of family because we were all pretty much crowded in there, which negated our insistence that we spent too much time together.

We see each less these days, of course. New bonds have formed over the years. For example, one of Cousin #2’s children shares my name. I presume that this connects us, although he is a toddler and doesn’t seem to recognize the significance.

When I was introduced to him, his mother referred to me as his uncle. Someone else in the family said that we were cousins, twice removed or something like that. I honestly don’t know what our precise connection is, and like him, I won’t give it a lot of thought.

It’s enough that we’re family.


It’s Not Too Late to Buy a Gift

Today is El Dia de los Reyes Magos. In English, it’s usually called Three Kings’ Day. Although neither of those terms means much in the United States, in Latin America this occasion is a big deal.

It’s the final celebration of the Christmas season, designed to commemorate the evening when the three kings arrived at the manger to present baby Jesus with their gifts. It’s never been explained to me why Mary and Joseph hung out for almost two weeks in a dirty manger with an infant, waiting for these guys to show up. Nor do I know what use a baby has for frankincense. But there are far more serious incongruities in religion, so we’ll let it pass.

The point is that this day is marked with feasts, gifts, and general good times throughout Latin America. It may also be the basis for that rather confusing reference to the twelfth day of Christmas (opinions vary). And like all things Latino, it is slowly gaining a foothold here in the United States, with many people celebrating this once-exotic holiday and bringing it to the attention of the majority culture. And we can all use a little more celebrating, after all.

It also happens to be my birthday… just thought I’d mention that.


By Law, Somebody, Somewhere, Is Dreaming of a White Christmas

I admit that I’ve been so caught up planning my holiday schedule/ reveling in my own brilliance/ wallowing in my angst (or some combination of those) that I neglected to write a Christmas-specific post this week. For that matter, I have nothing particular to say about the upcoming New Year.

This is most embarrassing.

All I can offer is this link to an interesting – and at times, disturbing – discussion over whether parents should lie to their children about the existence of Santa Claus.

My comment is that it’s often harder to pull a fast one on Latino children when it comes to the truth about the fat guy. This is because we tend to celebrate on Christmas Eve. Hispanic kids are often up all night and don’t see him arrive. In such cases, parents are reduced to saying he’ll stop by their house while everybody is at Midnight Mass (which, by the way, is another method for ensuring that Latino kids go to Mass). Even the least mathematically gifted Hispanic child grasps the odds of Santa hitting everybody’s casa in the hour or two that they’re in church.

Kids who open their presents on Christmas Day, in contrast, give Santa all night to show up. And when the presents are magically there in the morning, it’s pretty easy to buy the parents’ explanation that some jolly senior citizen broke in and dropped them off while everybody was asleep.

Regardless of your opinion of Santa, however, let me say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and good vibes all around – yes.


Bring on 2009

The natural question that arises is, “What did you get for Christmas?” Well, my favorite gift of this past holiday season was the razor-sharp Chinese ornamental dagger that I received. Nothing says Christmas like a dragon-decorated metal blade that can slice off fingers with one swipe. It’s just that cool.

In any case, I’m back from vacation, and I will try to squeeze in one more update before 2008 dies its inglorious death. Otherwise, I will have fresh posts as soon as 2009 arrives.

Meanwhile, and continuing my tradition of posting non-sequitur videos whenever I take extended breaks from the blog, here is a clip of a musical prodigy named Sara. She’s a pre-adolescent girl who likes to jam to “YYZ” by Rush. Check it out, and see you soon.


And I Don't Mean Eggnog

Like much of America, I’m taking the next week off, so there will be a temporary hold on new posts. As implied in my previous two posts, I’ll be drinking with old friends before Christmas, drinking with the cousins on Christmas Eve, and probably drinking something with someone on Christmas Day. When I am through with all my holiday cheer, I shall post more shenanigans. Until then, have a Merry Christmas.

Oh, I almost forgot: Peace on Earth, goodwill toward everyone, and harmony among all the races and nations of the world. Yes, feel free to indulge in some of that until I get back.

santa_21


Feliz Navidad (Part 2)

My family has expanded to the point where they are simply too many people to buy Christmas presents for. So we’ve decided that, from now on, gifts will be purchased only for the children. Partly we’re doing this to reject the grotesque materialism of the holiday season. But mostly, the economy is crashing around us, and nobody wants to go broke buying gifts for adults who don’t need any more knickknacks.

I’m curious if this next generation of children will be subjected to the same rules and rituals that the cousins and I grew up with. At first, the system was inflexible: first came Midnight Mass, then the presents. The youngest kids required naps, often in church, but we were all awake at 2:00 am to open gifts. It helps that my family is composed overwhelmingly of night people. Successive years of whining pushed up the gift-opening ceremony, to the point where we exchanged presents around 10:00 pm and enjoyed them before heading off to church.

In any case, before any gifts were opened, Aunt #1 always asked us to explain who Mary and Joseph were, why they were on the road, what the innkeeper said, and whose savior arrived in the manger. It was a study group for Christianity 101, and Aunt #1 filled in the blanks and embellished the more miraculous elements. She did this every year –- the same quiz with the same answers. But it was vital to her that we understand the story of Christmas. The youngest cousins gave the bulk of the answers. The older ones hung back, like wily veterans who had given their peak performances long ago.

The presents were then handed out, with the accompanying rule that everybody had to have at least one gift before anybody opened anything.  Each year, we gripped our presents in crazed anticipation until the last person received a gift. Only then, when it was verified that everybody had a present in his or her hands, did the shredding begin.

The sound of wrapping paper being ripped to death filled the room, and exclamations cascaded around the house over shouts of thanks. It was a crazed wrenching open of boxes and flinging of ribbons. It was a blur of hands and shower of sudden confetti over tumbling objects. And every now and then, mixing with a bellow of “Cool!” or the rapid tittering of the authentically thrilled, came the sound of young girls quite literally squealing with delight.

Then it was off to Midnight Mass. We stomped off snow as we entered the church. The holy water felt odd on our reddened faces, and we didn’t unbutton our bulky coats until we found a pew to take over, because we always had to sit together.

Our church was lit up with hundreds of candles, and the band gave revved-up acoustic meringue versions of “Cascabellas” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” The mass started with a processional of parishioners dressed as the three wise men, Mary and Joseph, and assorted shepherds and angels. Usually, a neighborhood teen mom’s baby represented Jesus. For some reason, a knocked-up Latina’s infant was often the default symbol for the Christian messiah in the annual service.

After the mass, we drudged into the bitter cold, gave final hugs and holiday blessings, and went home to sleep until noon.

Today, we more or less skip the mass. Sometimes, the celebration gets going late because we have to account for work schedules and in-laws and other details that we could skip when most of us were under twelve and could fit into one car. And some of us won’t even be there. We live in different states or even different countries now.

Still, I hope that at some point, Aunt #1 will call a halt to our games or conversations or gorging or whatever we’re doing. Then she will sit in front of the tree, call the children over to her, and ask them to tell her the story of Christmas.


Feliz Navidad (Part 1)

Like many Hispanic families, we celebrate on Christmas Eve. As kids, the cousins and I loved this arrangement because we didn’t have to toss and turn in bed while wrapped presents taunted us with the delayed gratification of Christmas morning. But now, we’re grateful for the nighttime celebration because we can recover from our drinking, and sleep in the next day.

As a child, I thought everyone’s holiday consisted of a house crammed with family and friends of the family or friends of friends of the family. In those times, chaos was a friend and bedlam had to take a number. Children bounced off the furniture and yelled jokes over the booming stereo, which alternated between tejano jams and warped LPs that blared the pop music of the day. The adults mixed margaritas while new attendees entered to festive shouts among a whirl of snow. I assumed that everybody’s Christmas was a raucous house party.

We played games, of course. But our activities weren’t quaint, Dickensian formalities where everybody sat with hands folded and chuckled at the outcome. Instead, we started boisterous rounds of “Life” or “Candyland” or whatever was available, making up our own rules because no one had the patience to read the directions. And regardless of what we were playing or watching or doing, ten different conversations started among us.

As adults, most of our Christmas games begin with an inebriated demand or shouted inspiration, and contests end when another, better game starts or a cousin declares, “I win and you all suck!” At any time, a heated match of “Clue” may draw to an ignominious conclusion when a mojito splatters the board, or a hand of poker dissolves into frenzy when everyone begins openly cheating.

The feast has altered over the years. As kids, the announcement that dinner was ready provoked us to rush the kitchen like the bulls of Pamplona zeroing in on a chubby tourist. Because there was no line or system whatsoever, everyone crowded into the hot room while reaching over, around, and past each other. Drinks were mixed up, plates were tipped, and hips were checked. But we got what we wanted and danced around one another until retreating to the dinner table or the couch or a folding chair or just a wall.

Today, we all chip in to help. Cousins bring food to share in an adventurous potluck. We pile our plates high with tamales or Puerto Rican rice or ham or lasagna or Aunt #1’s special turkey with mole sauce. Who knows what will be served?

We uncork the wine bottles and pop open beers. Most important, Cousin #1 has long had the responsibility of mixing the tequila sunrises. She performs this task with a focused intensity, hunched over like she’s defusing a ticking bomb. The constant flow of beverages is far too vital to be assigned to amateurs.

It isn’t really Christmas, of course, until our abuela throws a fit. Each year, she denounces the food as inedible, even if we made a separate dish solely for her (often something that she consumes every other day of the year). The first few holidays, someone brimming with Christmas spirit would try to cheer her up. By now, however, we barely notice when she storms off. It’s tradition.

Everything leads up to the opening of the gifts. But I’ll post more on that later.


Abuela

Let me give a quick thanks to Cousin #3 for her comment on my post “Cousin #1.” She clarifies an error I made and also makes some great points about the importance of societal priorities… and how they’re often fucked up.

But since we’re on the subject of family, now is a good time to introduce you to the grandmother.

Three-quarters of my grandparents died before I was born or so early in my life that I have virtually no recollection of them. So my only real experience with grandparents is my maternal abuela.

I met my grandmother when I was eleven, when she moved to this country against her will. All through my adolescence and early adulthood, she rarely passed on an opportunity to remind everyone that she had never wanted to come to the United States and that it was her troublesome daughters who had brought her to this frigid nation.

She is now pushing ninety, and she has lived in America for almost one-third of her life. Her birthday is October 31 (Halloween), and when she discovered that American kids dress up like ghosts and demons and devils on that day, she took it personally.

Despite her advanced age, she is absurdly healthy, leading my family to the conclusion that we have good genes and tend to live a long time if nobody shoots us. It’s true that she limps more noticeably because of a hip injury from decades past. But even with this mild handicap, helping her down the stairs is pointless, as she is likely to slap away the hand of someone trying to guide her. It’s a bit of a metaphor.

Her stubbornness is legendary and shows up at predictable moments. For example, it isn’t really a family Christmas until she throws a fit. Each year, she denounces the food as inedible, even if a separate dish has been made solely for her and is something that she consumes every other day of the year (usually dark-meat chicken). Then she goes to sit by herself on the couch while everyone else eats and drinks and laughs. The first few holidays that she pulled this, one of the cousins or someone brimming with Christmas spirit would try to cheer her up. By now, however, we barely notice when she limps off in peevishness. It is tradition, and it usually means that we can open the presents soon.

Food has also been the source of a few run-ins that I’ve had with her. When she came to America, she brought her old-world ways with her, which included a belief that men can’t – and more importantly, shouldn’t – ever cook. My mother tried to explain to her that things were different in America and, as a single mom, she needed me to step up and occasionally prepare my own meals. This scandalized my grandmother, who dismissed the whole argument of men in the kitchen with a curt “Sin verguenza.”

And yes, if you take her out to dinner, she will complain that the food is cooked specifically to kill her.

Her drive to be judgmental is, in culinary matters at least, somewhat justified. She makes magnificent pupusas, which are a Salvadoran delicacy so amazing that I feel physically sorry for anyone who has not had them.

Making pupusas are a link to her previous life in El Salvador. However, asking her about this former life doesn’t reveal fascinating insights about another culture or a deeper look at our family tree.

Instead, it usually just provokes her to spit out some fact about the area and follow it up with a list of townspeople whom she hated or are probably dead. Then she waves her bony hands and declares the conversation finished.

Indeed, when she visited her homeland for the first time in decades, she summarized the trip with a shrug and the condemnation that everyone in El Salvador had become morbidly obese.

She has outlived two of her children and all of the men in her life. As one family member has stated, “You’re supposed to live long enough to annoy your children. But she’s lived long enough to annoy her grandchildren.” Actually, she is now a great-grandmother, so perhaps she will let a third generation know exactly what she thinks of it.

Despite her perpetual grumpiness, my grandmother did have one moment of moral clarity and bold defiance. That moment, however, deserves a post of its own, so I will address it in the future.

Instead, let me relate the fact that about twenty years after being dragged into America kicking and screaming, my grandmother learned that the war in El Salvador was over and that she could safely go home to live out her remaining years. My mother and aunt told her the news with the expectation that my abuela would be thrilled to return.

But my grandmother looked them right in the eye and said she didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about. America was her home, and she had no intention of returning to a sweltering land with dirt roads. She denied ever denigrating the United States, and she said it was crazy to think that she would ever want to leave.

“Por que?” she said, and returned to cooking her pupusas.


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