Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Memories - Old & New . . .

Seasons Greetings!

I hope you all have had a wonderful Christmas Holiday! I am in a very Christmassy place at this time of year - back at home in Canada for the holidays, visting family and friends and "enjoying" a brief reminder of what winter weather is really like - before I head back soon to my other home Loreto.

While I'm away I have asked several friends and neighbors to write Guest Blogs and this week we are lucky to have an offering from my friend Shelia, who lives in Nopolo, the community surrounding Loreto Bay, bringing us some of her own Christmas memories, old and new. Enjoy with best wishes for the season!


It was cold and windy; the day had never really brightened. At mid-afternoon what light there had been was already fading. At twelve years of age, I was not to be included in the preparation of Christmas goodies, but was relegated to the position of “babysitter” and sent out side with a passel of bundled up younger children. We all looked like decorations on a Christmas tree; dressed in red, blue and green snow pants and jackets and multicolored mitts and scarves. The little ones were so bundled up against the cold that their arms stuck out, like the stick arms on a snowman and they waddled instead of walking. Everyone’s eyelashes were thick with frost and the area on the scarf that covered our noses and mouths sparkled in the dim light with ice crystals.

Our yard was huge, or so I though then. That afternoon it lay under a thick carpet of fresh snow. Not many weeks before we had all helped with the harvest of mom’s garden. Now the root vegetables; potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and beets were in the cellar buried in bins of sand to protect them from freezing. I loved that cellar! In one corner sat the crocks, where the cabbage from the garden was being converted into sauerkraut. It was often my job to go down to the cellar, remove the stone and old dinner plate pressing down on the fermenting mass of cabbage and stir up the brew. I loved the pungent smell! Sacks of yellow onions hung from the ceiling. Rows upon rows of jars stood like bright candles. Ruby red cherries, yellow peaches and pears, green peas and swiss chard and our family favorite; mom’s dill pickles! There were jars of canned moose meat, the coppery gelatin gleaming when it caught the light of the one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. The shelves sparkled with the gold of corn, the deep burgundy of saskatoon’s and blueberries and the rainbow colors of the jams and jellies. It was the apples though, that really drew me to the cellar. Boxes of red mackintosh! There has never been an apple that tasted as good as one straight from the cellar. So cold and crisp that when you took a bite the piece snapped out with a sound like ice crackling on a newly frozen pond. The sweet juice sprayed out in droplets and the whiteness under the smooth red skin was a perfect texture. I would eat that apple with such relish, right down to the core, which I never tossed away. The best part of the whole experience was to enjoy each nutty, slightly bitter seed, one by one!

I led the way, each of the smaller children following to make a huge circle. Once the circle was complete and packed enough for us to move quickly in, I started to divide the circle into wedges, like cutting a pie into six pieces. I would entertain them by playing “The Fox and The Hound”. It was a tag game that the younger children loved, running around the circle. Rules were discussed, teams picked, wedge home assigned, the safe wedge area marked. My interest and attention was not wholly on the game. I kept looking up at the kitchen window. Inside I could see the lucky ones; my mom, an aunt and cousin and my older sister. I longed to be in there with them, baking the cookies and making the fudge, pulling the taffy and stirring the mincemeat. I think that I decided right then that if they didn’t want me in the kitchen I’d run off to Africa or Mexico and then they all be sorry that they hadn’t included me! I recognize now, that even then I always had a yearning to go to the far flung corners of the world, meet new people, make new friends, and have new and exciting experiences.

I did go to Africa, but that’s another story. This year I’m celebrating Christmas at our home in Nopolo, Baja Mexico. As Africa blest me with her wonders, so now does Mexico. Baja is a colorful mosaic of land and sea and foreign custom and language; stunning sunrises, sunsets and hot, beautiful deserts; oceans teeming with abundance and new experiences just waiting to be tried! Christmas here, in some ways takes me back to my childhood and the memories of real Christmas joy. Such was the experience of the “Christmas Posada” at the Internado Boarding School in Zaragosa last week. The children, sixty some odd, from ages five to sixteen, were dressed in their Sunday best! Recognizable Christmas tunes blared from a boom box in Spanish and the balloons and piñata’s bounced gaily in the breeze. Guest and children took their seats and clapped to the music as the entertainment started. Four girls dressed in white with bright ribbons of color and huge, pink flowers in their hair marched into the center courtyard each on the arm of a Vaquero. The boys marched proudly in their stiff new jeans (which will fit them for the next three or four years) cowboy hats and bright red bandanas. They dipped and dived and danced to the delight of the audience and bowed proudly as they marched off the stage. Three slightly older girls in cowgirl dresses (brown crepe paper skirts, fringed to look like buckskin, with paper fringes at their shoulders) and hats did their number to the clapping of the children, some parents, and those of us foreigners who had been invited to take part in the event. Soon the entertainment was over and it was time for each class to break a piñata filled with candy! A rope was strung from the roof of the porch to a palm tree in the courtyard and the piñata lowered and raised to make the hitting and breaking harder to do! It was priceless to watch as children literally dove onto the concrete, their bodies covering as much of the candy as possible and both arms scooping candy towards them. There was plenty for everyone and not one child complained of not getting their share!

The day before, many of us (Foreigners) had wrapped presents for each of the children and we were invited to play Santa’s helper and pass them out. I had the delightful opportunity to watch a little boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old open a present. He didn’t tear at the paper, or rip off the ribbon; he carefully pulled the ribbon and tape off the paper and gently opened the package which revealed a rev-up car! All sixty of these Children were seated in the dining room, at chairs with their name on the back. There was no whining, no fighting and only the pleasant sound of children excited with their gifts could be heard!! These children will go home to the Rancho for Christmas, sleep in makeshift beds, walk on dirt floors, eat beans and tamales, share their candy and pray at the nativity scene lit with candles in every home. They will play with the balls and dolls and other toys they received at the Posada at school and when they are adults they will think back and remember one of the most wonderful Christmas’s of their lives!!