July 18, 2024

Bio Publications Previous Columns Mexico Canadian Articles Stories of the Old West Home

Selected Story

Two Kinds of Christmas

by Maggie Van Ostrand

Wow. "Why Christmas Is About Food" is an op-ed in the New York Times. The essay, though well-written, never referred to the reason for Christmas. To me, it was not Christmassy, it was bland. I guess that's because it represents what Christmas is today, mostly food and gifts. Besides, the writer is an adult.

Christmas isn't the same after you grow up. Maybe it's that we're not actually "grown up," we're just old. If I wrote a letter to Santa today, I'd ask him for just one more Christmas like the old days. And, if I had to choose the most memorable Christmas ever, it wouldn't be the one when there was a shortage of trees and my father created one for us out of boughs and tinsel; it wouldn't be the one where I got my first "lady" purse; and it wouldn't be the one where I gave everybody a magazine picture of what I would've bought them if I hadn't been broke that year, though they were all great. It would be the one in Mexico.

In the U.S., days of Christmas are recognized as 12 but in Mexico, it's 9. Known as Las Posadas (The Inns), they represent the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, seeking shelter for the birth of their child. They are turned away by one inn after another, until the last night.

In the Mexican fishing village where I lived in the 90s, these 9 nights are recreated by the villagers. Two children, dressed as Mary and Joseph, walk down the cobblestone streets. People of all ages collect behind them, the procession ever increasing in size. Shawled old ladies, young fathers carrying toddlers on their shoulders, women holding their children's hands, a young man strumming his guitar, everyone softly singing the Las Posadas song. (Thanks to YouTube, you can hear it here: https://bit.ly/2rBGuyc)

Invited by my friend, Josefina, I joined the celebrants as Mary and Joseph walked to the first "Inn," a modest Mexican house, decorated for the occasion with colored lights, a white sheet as backdrop to a Nativity scene. The grandfather knelt, stationary and silent, carefully posed, in the form of a tableaux or sculpture. He was being blessed by his granddaughter, an Angel in white, with silver wings and silver halo.

Here the procession halted, while a priest intoned blessings. Everyone sang the Las Posadas song, as we would many times along the way, accompanied by whispering guitars and the voices of the children raised high in spiritual adoration, as the crowd walked on to the next "Inn."

Each stop along the way gave us another creation of a spiritual scene by living people representing Innkeepers who turned Mary and Joseph away, as dictated in biblical lore. (It is a great honor to be one of the homes chosen to partake in these costumed recreations.)

The procession ended near midnight in the yard of the elementary school where all the children were given Christmas sweets made by the women of the Village, including a big piñata being gaily carried inside. Across the street stood the church, where Josefina's youngest son, Fernando, served as an altar boy, preparing for Midnight Mass. It was the first one I'd attended in over 30 years.

On the remaining nights leading up to Christmas, all will be repeated, with different houses on different streets, with different scenes. On Christmas Eve, an "Inn" will at last permit Mary and Joseph to stay the night. For the first time, a baby will appear and be placed in the manger.

In that simple village live people of unconquerable faith. I was both humbled and awed.

In writing this, Santa has answered my request. I have been gifted with a glorious memory, still living within me.

Merry Christmas to all.


©2013 Maggie Van Ostrand, all rights reserved.