Christmas Traditions & Memories

Grandma & Papa taught me the true spirit of Christmas

From my window far from home I can see snow on the rooftops.  The day is sunny and bright, but I can see the snow clouds closing in.  There will be more snow before I get home to family and friends for Christmas.  I’m nostalgic this morning, remembering old Christmas traditions, things I never did with my children and things we did do.  Through the veil of memory, the traditions I left behind now make me ache with a longing for another time, another place, those amazing people that are now gone who were the spirits of the season for me and everyone around them.  I am swept away remembering…

A creaky old frame house on Goodwin Avenue in Los Angeles, painted white with green trim and gardens everywhere.  My Papa’s (grandfather) garaje was set in the back and there he had a dark and dusty workshop, magical to a kid like me where he had jars of nails, screws and seeds for the garden.  The stable he made for Christmas also lived there and he’d touch it up each year, if not rebuild it.

At Christmas time, my grandmother Lupe would send me and my Aunt Jessie down to the basement to rummage amongst the boxes of lights, decorations, ornaments and most importantly, the nativity scene.  I loved picking up the tiny sheep, the large camels, the donkey and other animals.  I was too small to lift the huge Italian-made Mary, Joseph and the three wise men.  One majestically rode upon his camel and I loved to touch it.  The folds in his robes were so real looking, I kept expecting fabric not plaster. Most beautiful of all was the life-sized baby Jesus, in his little blue satin dress with the gold trim my Aunt Jessie had made him.  He was so real looking.  His beautiful little glass eyes and his open mouth with tiny teeth made him look just like a real baby.  We loved him and always reverently touched his outreached hands or stroked his plaster curls and made sure his little socks covered his feet so he wouldn’t be cold.  We would bring him up from the basement, but he wouldn’t go into the stable.  Not yet.

My Papa would bring in the hand made stable he had built.  We’d lay pine boughs over the roof so it smelled good and kept Mary and Joseph dry and warm.  My grandparents were determined that if they must be in a stable, it would be a well covered one.  We’d spend hours laying down hay, determining where the animals all went, making sure the star above it was always lit and carefully placing the cradle basket for Baby Jesus to lie in.  My Auntie Jessie would make sure the blankets and pillows in it were perfect, if not she went and made more till it was perfect.  And there the cradle sat, waiting for days in anticipation of the Christ child.

At midnight on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) we would all bundle up and walk to the parish church for midnight mass.  I loved going and being able to stay up late.  When we got back, my grandmother would gently lay the Baby Jesus into his cradle.  We’d line up and each of us would give him a kiss and welcome him to the world anew.  I always whispered, “Happy birthday.”  It was always a joyous night.  We’d be given hot champurrado and a little pan dulce, then scooted off to bed to dream of Santa Claus and presents. The whole family was together then, aunts, uncles, cousins all spending the night scattered all over the house, waiting for Christmas day.  Christmas day was a bustle of presents, food, lots of people and noise but to my mind then and now it didn’t compare with the magic of Noche Buena and the welcoming of the little Lord Jesus.

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