“It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
‘What if Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store?’
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” – Dr. Seuss
In this season of holiday lights, rich foods and varied gift lists Dr. Seuss reminds us that the real spirit of Christmas is more than these tangible items. When you think of Christmas, what do you remember most? For me, it’s the memories of family, aromas, music, laughter and traditions. Sure there were some arguments in there, disappointments, and exhaustion, but I have to try harder to remember those things.
If you didn’t have positive memories, you have the ability to create new ones for yourself and your loved ones. Here are some that I have had the pleasure of hearing. These beautiful holiday traditions go back ninety years and others for five.
My mother told me about her childhood Christmas in the 1930’s. She remembers watching the Pomona Fire Department’s shiny red fire truck roll to a stop at 246 Newman Street, her house. She yelled for her four other siblings to come to the window. The firefighters jumped off the truck and waved at them to come outside. Every child received a gift, although her brother Catarino was mistaken for a girls name and given a doll. The other two sisters ran for the doll but my mom got there first. She clearly remembers the doll with a real dress, eyes of blue glass and silky hair. It was her first doll, she was seven.
The family received their first Christmas tree that year. Her mother fashioned a crèche with the pine needles and cones. Each Christmas Eve the relatives and friends gathered over cinnamon atole (thinned corn flour, milk, raw sugar and spices) and red chile tamales. Right before midnight, her father asked a couple to accompany him to the crèche. Her father brought out the porcelain baby Jesus that he brought over from Guanajato, Mexico in 1918, given to him by his mother. This couple then became the compadres and they had to take care of the baby Jesus and build him a crèche to continue the tradition for the next Christmas Eve.
The tradition continues, sans the porcelain Jesus, it ended up with my grandfathers sister’s family. But my family continues making tamales and champurrado (thickened chocolate atole). We have modernized this gathering with the addition of See’s candy and Cabernet.
Some families have a Posada tradition where the relatives travel from one house to the next on the twelve days preceding Christmas Day. A friend of my mother’s sets out her fifty year old Nativity Scene and gathers her grandchildren around it on Christmas Eve. The family sings songs and each child drops his/her money into a wooden box. The collected money is given to their church the next day.
Several people have cookie exchanges with friends and family. Another has an ‘ornament’ party where friends decorate the tree with handmade ornaments. Others have tamale-making parties where you join in the assembly line and later enjoy fresh tamales. Some families take their children to the Nutcracker Ballet every year or watch Christmas movies together. Others bundle up and watch the Harbor Parade of Lights every year, come sleet or fog. And some buy funny Christmas sweaters and wear them one too many times.
What these traditions pass on are the gifts of family, charity, time, love and sharing. If you have a family tradition share it, if not start one, it’s never too late. What are your holiday traditions?