Christmas Traditions, Family, Latino culture, Parenting

A 1932 Christmas

Once Upon A Time-Jose Chavarry,
Once Upon A Time-Jose Chavarry,

As we get older, we tend to appreciate things we took for granted, like stories from grandparents about their life and the childhood of our parents.

Family stories may be boring when we’re kids or when they’re repeated often, as can be the case when our parents enter their 80’s, but grandparents and parents who pass on their stories help children remember their heritage, their family strengths, and joyful times.

Mom shared her Christmas memories with us and through them, I relate back to the real reason for the season. This is one of her stories:

Christmas Treats
Christmas Treats


During the depression, if we received oranges and candy that was a great treat.

One Christmas Eve morning the firemen came to my barrio of Little Silao, in Pomona (CA). This Christmas was special, it was 1932 and the middle of the Great Depression. FDR was the president. 

Times were hard, but my family was lucky. My mother had a vegetable garden, and walnut trees in the backyard, rabbits and chickens too. We had enough to eat, barely enough for clothing, and no money for toys. I was four and wanted a doll more than anything.

We didn’t have a Christmas tree that year, but we did have a little table in the living room which mama decorated for the arrival of baby Jesus. She bent tree branches to form a small tent and added little green fans of pine over the branches to form a shelter. Tiny pinecones and red berries decorated the sides, pine needles were scattered at the entrance. An empty wooden manger sat in front of this small cave among the boughs. This looked very pretty and it smelled good too, fresh and woodsy.

I scanned the street in front of my house while perched on the wooden chair against the living room window. A shiny red fire truck turned into Newman Street, my street. Firemen, in their uniforms, rode on the running boards of the truck. They stopped five houses away from our place.

One of them climbed up to the top of the truck and handed blue, gold, and red boxes to another fireman and he handed them to another one who stood on the sidewalk.

“Here they come, here they come! Papá, mamá, Catarino, Jose, Concha, they’re coming.” I almost fell off the rickety chair.

I had to tell the others about the firemen and the Christmas gifts. I ran from room to room shouting their arrival. My brothers and sister ran out of the bedroom, my mother with baby Adela walked out of the kitchen.

“Maria, no grites. Sientense por favor.”

She didn’t like me yelling and told me to sit down.

Catarino was the oldest at 10 years, Jose was eight, Concha six, and the baby was one-year-old. Everyone sat down, except me. I ran back to my chair at the window.

“Here they come!” I shrieked and ran out the front door onto the sidewalk and everyone followed.

My cousins, across the street, were already outside jumping up and down shouting, “They’re here, they’re here.”

Maybe I would get a ball and jacks, real ones. Concha and I were tired of playing jacks with washed apricot pits and an old rubber ball. Maybe I’d get a real doll, one of my very own. That would be better than the paper dolls I cut out from the Sears Catalogue.

The big truck rolled to a stop right in front of my house. The fireman began calling out names, “Concha, Maria, Jose, and Catarina.”

Catarina? That’s a girls name. My brother was “Catarino.” He unwrapped the box and his smile disappeared. It was a doll! He held up the box to give it back to the fireman, but I ran towards him shouting “I want it, I want it.” I got to it before Concha did and ran back into my house.

The doll had on a beautiful red dress with black shoes and fluffy hair. I was so happy, I carried my doll the way mamá carried baby Adela.

For the life of me, I can’t remember if Catarino took the present meant for me or if the firemen gave him another gift. All I remember was that beautiful doll.

Now remember to share your family holiday stories with your kids and encourage your parents or grandparents to talk about Christmases past so you keep your family narrative strong and alive.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you and yours.

Christmas Traditions, Family, Mexican Holiday food

The Missing Mystery Gift

My Christmas Tree by brillanthues,
My Christmas Tree by brillanthues,


We have a tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning at eleven o’clock at my mother’s home. We bring our gifts to my Mom’s very warm house which is filled with the fragrance of cinnamon and coffee and steamed roasted pork tamales.

Christmas morning is a big event for my mom who loves to decorate for every holiday. Nativity scenes, from mini to large, decorate the living room side tables, curio cabinets and fireplace mantle.

We’ve had every kind of tree from a Charlie Brown droopy pine to a snow flocked Noble Fir, but now the tree is a nice replica of a real one with its own multi-colored lights.

Mom and my siblings used to be the ones to decorate the tree, with those old-fashioned big bulb lights and silver tinsel. But that duty has been taken over by her grandchildren or great-grandchildren, who like to help their Nana.

Mom still does all her own shopping, scouring Costco (her favorite place) and several other stores from October to December to buy gifts for her oldest daughter to her youngest great-grandchild.

This holiday undertaking is quite a feat when you realize my mother is in her 80’s and legally blind.

And, it is understandable, that every year there is a missing mystery gift on Christmas morning.

After we have coffee and tamales, twenty or more of us crowd into the living room and wait while my mom decides who’s going to hand out the gifts. Then she sits and watches as everyone oohs and ahhs over her wrapping. She opens her own gifts last.

After the jumble of paper and bows make their way to the carpet, we always have one person who didn’t receive a gift from Nana or one of the boys who got a girls scarf and mitten set or pajamas.

Mom always seems surprised when this happens and goes to her bedroom to find her spiral notepad that contains her gift list. She checks it over and after pronouncing she had a gift for so and so and doesn’t know why it isn’t under the tree, she goes on a hunt through her closet, cedar chest, under her bed and the pantries.

We tell her not to trouble herself, the kids get way too many gifts anyway, and we return to the kitchen for more tamales or clean up the area while Mom goes on her gift hunting quest.

Pan Dulce-Mexican Sweet Bread,
Pan Dulce-Mexican Sweet Bread,

This happens every year and the missing gift is resolved by Mom making a note in her pad to buy so and so two gifts next Christmas, which settles the hunt and returns Mom to the kitchen to enjoy champurrado and pan dulce.

But the “two gifts next year” rarely happens because we always forget who had the missing gift in the first place and her Christmas list is on a new spiral notepad.

And as the years go by, we all hope that she will be around for the next holiday whether she buys gifts or not.