” . . . In every winter of the world, Arizona school children fold and snip paper snowflakes to tape around the blackboard. In October, they cut orange paper leaves, and tulips in spring, just as colonial American and Australian schoolchildren once memorized poems about British skylarks while the blue jays or cockatoos (according to continent) squawked outside, utterly ignored. The dominant culture has a way of becoming more real than the stuff at hand.”
-Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (pg. 296)
Ms. Kingsolver said it better than I did. But my question, given my perspective in Mexico, is how the vision of a snowy Christmas got to be the “dominant culture”. There are very few places in this country that experience real snow. So why do we see flocked trees, refrigerated ice skating rinks, and snowmen in every park and plaza? Yes, I agree that the idea of a snowy Christmas is a charming one. But why are we bombarded by these images when they have nothing to do with an authentic, Mexican, Christmas experience?
Call me crazy, but I’m willing to bet that the Christmas decorations in this country 100 years ago did not celebrate snow.
I don’t either.
Now, I’m not one of those bah-humbugs who hates the wetness, coldness, and messiness of snow. Au contraire, I love it! When I lived in Indiana in the winter and my coworkers would whine and moan at seeing the snow fall, someone would routinely add, “at least Jill will be happy.” And I was.
But I believe in being present in my present surroundings. So Christmas in Saltillo isn’t snowy? What then, are the things that speak “Christmas” to me here?
Native to Mexico, the poinsettia is called nochebuena in Spanish. That literally means that it’s the Christmas Eve plant, as we all know it blooms this time of year. And if you haven’t been to Mexico before, let me warn you that they can grow to be a good 6 or 7 feet tall! There isn’t anything like a good nochebuena to help celebrate Christmas, so we’ve got them everywhere.
Yes, ours is a bit pathetic by Mexican standards.
My idea is to buy a new piece every year.
So, when we´re celebrating our 50th year as a family, we´ll have
a set that will be the envy of any abuelita.
I´m convinced that there is an unofficial, national competition on who can make the grandest, most elaborate nativity scene. Mexican nativity scenes not only incorporate the Holy Family, Wise Men, shepherds, and an angel. No, no–they often include herds of cattle, Satan, washerwomen, nopales, goat roasting on a spit, fish swimming merrily in rivers . . . a tiny town of clay figurines descend on most Mexican homes for two months out of the year, causing significant rearranging of furniture. I never get tired of checking out others’ nativity scenes.
Earlier in the month, I wanted to make a wreath for the front door. But, as we don´t have many pines here, I wanted it made out of something I could easily get. I have a large rosemary bush in my patio. A traditional, Mexican Christmas dish is romeritos, which is rosemary covered in a mole sauce. Thanks to this, I´ve noticed in the last few years that just smelling rosemary reminds me of Christmas. Furthermore, in a Mexican Christmas carol, Los Peces en el Rio, one of the verses speaks of Mary washing out clothes in a river and hanging them to dry on a rosemary bush. Furthermore, having cut a branch off a few weeks before this contemplation, the cut branch stayed green for a few weeks.
Alas, right before I harvested the rosemary for the wreath, we had a cold spell and the bag I covered the rosemary with had condensation inside. Given the freezing temperatures, it killed my rosemary bush.
*sigh* Next year, we´ll have a rosemary wreath.
I had to search long and hard to find an advent wreath that did not incorporate fake pine branches and pine cones. Granted, that wouldn´t be so bad–there are mountains full of pine forests very close to here, so the pine-theme would be somewhat authentic. However, during our first year of marriage, we lived in Metepec, just outside of Toluca. Metepec is famous for clay pottery, and arboles de la vida.
While walking around one of the pottery markets one day, I found this. Not at all Christmas-y, in the “let´s celebrate snow” sense. However, it’s very Christmas-y in a traditional, Mexican sense.
Part of me really does miss a snowy Christmas. So some of the reason for avoiding the decorations that celebrate snow is because part of me is seething with jealousy inside.
But, within Mexico, there’s a big push–especially around Day of the Dead–to “take back our traditions”. I admire that. Mexican traditions are great, and living in Mexico, I want to celebrate them. So maybe it’s time for Mexicans to get every bit as excited to take back their traditions for Christmas as they do for Day of the Dead.
Bring on the ponche, posadas, and pastorelas!
If you also live in a region of the world not blessed with snow, what decorations appeal to you?
Lit Paper Star photo by Marta Branco on pexels.com.