Sunday, December 25, 2005

Noche Buena, or Why I think Xmas is TOO Commercial

Happy bitterly raining anniversary of the birth of Jesus! Happy pagan holidays! Or Merry Christmas! Whichever you prefer.

As others have been using their last few posts to relate stories and convey trivial knowledge, I thought I'd do the same. Before I forget though, I'd like everyone who's interested to go and read my friend Richard's Blog. He relates an xmas story that's really cute.

Okay, so, trivial knowledge, cuz my stories are all kinda fuzzy and will only depress me right now. I hope this will also clear up the reason I'm bothered by the xmas "frenzy."

I confess, I love getting gifts. My parents did their best every year to make sure my haul was a nice looking bunch of presents under the tree. I felt spoiled and giddy and all the things little kids celebrating xmas in the states should feel. Then I went off and spent several xmasses in the town my dad grew up in, down Mexico way. Wow. What a difference. There was no Santa Claus. Xmas was Jesus' birthday, period. And it wasn't just ONE DAY of celebrating! We started out about 9 days before the 25th for the Novena (means, nine days, can you believe). You got up at WAAAAAAYYYYY too early to attend mass in the morning. In the evening there were "posadas" where you went caroling, sort of. You'd go and stand outside peoples' houses and sing your heart out hoping they'd open their door to you, feed you, and if you're a kid, get an "aginaldo"--a lovely parting gift of sorts: a bag filled with nuts and sweets and maybe chocolate if you were lucky.

Everyone's main decoration in the house WAS NOT the tree. Sometimes there was no tree in sight! (Where you gonna get a pine tree in those parts of Mexico where there are no trees???) The main event happened around the Nativity scene. Everyone was there, Joseph, Mary, the animals, shepherds, a manger...but NO Jesus. Duh! He doesn't show up until the 24th around midnight or so!

Did you know the lil' baby Jesus didn't get any presents on the day he was born? That's right little Jose, that's why we go to midnight mass and lay the baby in the nativity scene and have the candles and sparklers and the fireworks galore in the plaza, but no presents, no, little Maria, that's saved for Noche Buena, 12 days after xmas. (Or so that's what it used to be like on Christmasses of old that I spent in San Simón, Michoacan, Mexico.)

It was the "los tres reyes" (the three kings of the "We three kings of Orient are..." fame that followed the star and got to the barn and the manger 12 days after the birth of the child. Or so the holiday calendars have us believe. On that night (5th of January, at midnight of course) they showed up and gave the sleeping child money, perfume, and essential oils to be used when he died. Fun stuff, huh? So on the night of the 5th we add the three fellows to the Nativity scene, cuz, well, hi, they just arrived! And of course, you leave out your shoe (how this came about I don't know) so that the kings will be able to leave YOU a gift in or under it (if it's too big) as well. They're kings, they're loaded, they share the love.

The morning of the 6th you wake up to your gift (usually just one, but it's usually what you really really wanted cuz you wrote your letter to "los tres reyes" or to your favorite one: Melchor, Gaspar, or Baltasar--Baltasar was always my favorite, he wears a turban!).

That evening you eat tamales, hot chocolate, and slice up the rosca de reyes (ring of kings--yummy sweat bread), hoping you don't get the little baby Jesus figurine. If you do, you get to host the party on the 2nd of February, Candelaria (Candle Mass), and provide the baby Jesus a new outfit (the nativity Jesus' are BIG in Mexico, not like the ornament-sized ones we have in the U. S., these guys are like the size of newborns, well preemies, and they get a new little robe every year!).

So, the holidays don't end until February 2nd! And the last person to get their final gift really is the baby Jesus. No man in a red suit, no elves, no rushing to get the hundreds of gifts wrapped and under a tree. You have until January 5th to get the ONE thing you think your child/partner/whomever you're celebrating with would really really want. Cuz really, it's all about commemorating the little guy in the manger, right?

And yes, I know, I'm in the US and not in Mexico, and the last time I was in Mexico there were fat men in red suits walking the streets and giving out candy. Some kids even knew who the crazy Americans (cuz, yeah, they were retired Americans doing it) were supposed to be. There were trees and ornaments a la Americann style. There was commercialism creeping in.

And so, now you know. If I can't find one pre-made, I'm pretty much determined to make a rosca de reyes, I'll consider it my first resolution for the year...along with finishing those xmas cards that yeah, are still waiting to be filled with my words o'greeting...but heck, if I finish before Candle Mass, I think I'm still in the clear :).

Festive wishes to you all.

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