Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo

One of my favorite things about Christmases and New Years past was the gatherings of our families...I mean all of our families. This meant that all of the tios and tias (uncles and aunts) and primos (cousins) would gather at my abuelos (grandparent's) house, but our festivities didn't begin on Christmas Eve, they actually began a day or two after we let out for Christmas Vacation (yes, they called it Christmas Vacation).

We would first begin with the tamale making and that usually took a couple of days - and they were long days. While I loved the company, I didn't like the chore. Why? Well, I didn't like tamales and I felt that if I didn't eat them, I shouldn't have to make them. And to tell the truth, there were a couple of us kids who didn't like tamales. But if there was any murmuring and complaning while the work was taking place, I have no doubt that the majority of it was done by me. But if you understood the numbers in our family and our motto "todo para la familia" it essentially meant that EVERYONE was going to have tamales to take home so EVERYONE was going to work. There
would be enough tamales to last us well into...oh, I would say about February or March; so that meant a lot of work...a lot of masa (dough), meat and hojas (corn husk leaves)..yep, it was a ton of work. One by one, we would take our turn at the tamale assembly line, smearing, filling and folding. But because there were so many of us, we would be done in no time. After all was said and done, we would end up with two, three, sometimes four huge pots of tamales to be cooked. Once they were cooked, we would gather again to "break bread" together or in this case "break open tamales." I did not learn to like tamales until I was an adult and it was a very slow acquired taste...so consequently, I never learned to make them. Yes, I know, for shame! What kind of a Mexican am I? Well, I did learn how to make tortillas by hand and I still make them and I make them round! My sister, Marina, learned to make the tamales and is faithfullly carrying on the family tradition back in California.

All throughout the coming days before Christmas, we would bake and bake until we had enough treats to feed a small army. Of coarse, we were very limited in what we were allowed to eat because we would have a huge Christmas Eve Open House. In the early years, we would have them at my grandmother's house. We would have a wonderful time together with all of the uncles, aunts, and cousins.

We used to open our presents on Christmas Eve and opening presents didn't begin until after midnight (or so it seemed to me). We would open our Christmas presents delighted and extremely grateful for all that we were given. We would then play with our new toys in the living room, while the music played in the dining room and the adults chatted with each other. We would play until we all fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.Our uncles would carry us all to bed and then load up their own brood and their Christmas booty and head on home.

After Christmas was over, we would rest for a few days and start preparing for New Years Eve. We would gather again at my grandmother's and snack, eat, and do our very best to stay up until midnight but we rarely made it. What I do remember is the music in the dining room where all the adults were gathered. As it got closer to midnight, my uncles and aunts would all start dancing. Most of them grew up in the 50's so they danced to that music,some salsa, and cumbia. But the memory that I cherish and appreciate the most - is seeing my single mom being cherished by her brothers as they took the time to dance with her.

As the years passed and we got older (the '70's) the parties moved to our tio Danny and tia Jeannie's house. The Open House got bigger with more friends coming by and the night would last longer. We would open presents there or we would open presents at another aunt and uncle's house. When New Year's came we would gather again,dance to all the disco music - showing our uncles and aunts all the "Saturday Night Fever" stuff. Ha, ha, ha - what fun that was! At times the song that would get us all in the festive mood is Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad." Hearing that song was the "mood changer." First we would start singing, then a little dancing...and then we would break out the Saturday Night Fever album. We would dance until 11:55pm. With a few minutes to spare, we would go outside and make all kinds of racket at the stroke of midnight for all the neighbors to enjoy. Being together as a family was really what we loved.

Now each of us is grown with our own families. My sister has carried on the tradition of tamale making with our precious mom overseeing everything (making sure the masa is perfect, because that is the toughest part to master). My cousins, Anna and Franklin open their home up for Christmas Eve to family and friends. While we are way over here in Virginia missing all of the festivities, I cherish all of our time spent together in the late 60's, 70's and 80's; they were our "Wonder Years."

A side note about giving and receiving...
My mom never talked about our "finances" much, but we were well aware of our circumstances. From year to year, we were never certain of what kind of a Christmas we would have. Sometimes, we were afraid that we wouldn't have Christmas, but God always proved himself faithful and we always had Christmas. About ten years ago my mom told us about one Christmas when things were very, very bad for us financially. She knew that there would be no Christmas for us, I think she tried to gingerly tell us, but we thought she was kidding. She told us that one day she and some of her HP co-workers were at the cafeteria sharing with one another all the wonderful gifts they would be buying this year for their children. She just listened, remained quiet and wore a smile throughout the lunch hour. Later, I am not sure if it was that day or a few days later, one of her friends asked her why she was always so quiet. My mom tried play it off, but her friend wasn't "buying it." My mom, broke down in tears and told her there wouldn't be Christmas at our house that year. Well, I am not sure how it all took place, but her group quietly got together and bought us all gifts. It was the best Christmas we had ever had as far as gifts were concerned. Our gifts normally consisted of necessities (clothing) and we were ever so grateful for them, because having new clothes was a luxury for us. I still remember one year, my sister and I each received a long skirt and blouse and new shoes - and we were thrilled to death! We didn't receive oodles and oodles of toys that year of "our Christmas Angels", but we received more than "a small toy or two." We knew that something special happened that year.

When I became gainfully employed, I never passed the "Giving Tree" at Sun Microsystems without picking up a tag or two for a needy person. I could not deny the gratitude that I felt for those that blessed us as children. I had the opportunity to walk in my mother's shoes for a few years, and have come to realize that as children we only ever had Christmas because of God's faithfulness and the generosity of my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and those "angels" at HP. And because of that, we have always tried to bless others who are less fortunate than us. Yes, things are pretty tough right now for us...as it is for everyone else, but we only need to look outside of our four walls to find that there are others who are worse off than we are. If ten dollars is all we can afford then we give it to a reputable charity who can stretch it and make it go far. If ten dollars is all you can afford and everything you have, don't despair...remember the widow's mite and how pleased our Lord was with her. Luke 21:2.

2 Corinthians 9:6-10

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”[
a] 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”[b] 10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity[c] in you.

If you are going through a tough financial time, lift your cares to our Heavenly Father, he cares about everything that you're going through. Remember, he is still on the throne and in control of everything (although it may not seem like it right now) and he cares about our every need. If we can pray for you somehow, please let us know by dropping us a note in the comment area.

Our family wishes you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We are thankful for you and the way that you have blessed us with your love and friendship. May all of God's riches be yours this Christmas season.

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