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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A “Mestiza” Holiday Celebration

by Silvia Uribe

Being from Spanish descent, but born and raised in Mexico, I got the best of both worlds. On Christmas and New Year Eves we usually had a parade of Spanish and Mexican dishes. I could describe it as a "mestiza" season, if you know what I mean. My parents used to invite my aunts and uncles or "t’os" (my parents' close friends were considered my t’os as well) and their children, my "primos", between ten to twenty altogether. Everybody would sit in the living and dining areas, (in Latin America, when someone comes to one's home, he or she is immediately offered a seat; stand up gatherings are not common) forming quite animated chatting groups.

[The word "loud" does not properly describe our gatherings to their full extent. Everyone talking at the same time (the American rule of not interrupting, seems either unknown or irrelevant to my family), we use our hands to emphasize our words, and every now and then we role play whatever we're describing. The two cultures put together are quite a boisterous combination. However, the most outstanding characteristic, which I love, is that my family never refrains from laughing out loud, and at once. Whenever we gather at a public place, such as a restaurant, people would find us by following the outbursts of laughter, just as you would follow the hints to the end of a scavenger's hunt.]

On my Spanish traditional Christmas Eve, as we talked and laughed, finger food (asparagus dipped in a "secret" dip recipe, "jam—n serrano" (prosciutto), and cashews among other things) and chilled apple cider made their rounds. We had to watch ourselves in order to avoid reaching out as many times as we wanted, since the enticing smells of a full dinner were promising. Growing up, dinner meant 5 different homemade dishes, each served on its own plate (boy, am I glad I've simplified things!): a salad, a cream of "something", bacalao (cod fish), turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes, and "flan" with golden brown caramel dripping from all its sides. After dinner, adults stayed at the table drinking coffee, and cognac, and talking politics, while children were taken to the bedrooms to sleep. Before leaving, every family would take their child with them, and some food to go.

One of my fondest memories is getting up the next morning to go find what "El Ni–o Dios" (baby Jesus) had left for us under the tree. Since it was pitch dark and I didn't know the time, I was always afraid that I would scare him away, interrupting the year long awaited delivery of presents. (Thank God he was always prompt, and my early bird bare little foot steps never crossed with his!)

As for my Mexican traditional Christmas day, one of my aunts on my mom's side of the family would have us for the "recalentado" (leftovers.) It was always a happy day. I got to eat "romeritos" with "mole" and tamales, yum! I got to see my other "primos" and we all got to play, and brag a little about the presents we got. Interestingly enough, neither one of my families exchanged presents, and my friends' families didn't either. I guess the gift buying frenzy was not the focus of Christmas in my childhood days (I kept the "present-less" tradition in my own family until my children started feeling depraved of the exchange fun, a few years after we came to live in Santa Barabara.)

The New Year was almost an "instant repetition" of Christmas Eve, except for the midnight bells and the grapes. We had dinner at home at 10 p.m. just in time to finish before 12 midnight. With each bell stroke, we ate one grape at a time. It was (and still is) a challenge to stuff more grapes in our mouths after the fifth one, but we had to keep going, no matter the giggling, the inflated cheeks, or the dripping through the corners of our mouths, otherwise our wishes for the New Year would not come true, they said. Once we managed to choke the grapes down, we raised our glasses and wished the best to everyone. The hugs and the games followed (throwing rice over our head for abundance, coming in and out of the house with suitcases to ensure copious traveling during the year, and using a broom to sweep the bad luck out the door) the music, the laughter and some tears here and there. We were determined to follow through on our resolutions, but the determination only lasted a couple of weeks. I guess things have not changed much in this regard! This was almost the end of the parties, except for Epiphany or "La Rosca de Reyes" on Jan 5th (which I will explain in due time.)

Many of us have similar memories in our hearts about celebrations and other life experiences. Here's a toast for the things we have in common, and may we use them to promote peace, and understanding in 2008.

Happy Holidays, and a great New Year to you!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

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