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Monday, December 19, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past (and Now)

Last Christmas I awoke to the movie scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s dad opens the Fragile stamped box with that infamous leg lamp. “Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!” I burst into tears at the realization that I was alone on Christmas Day. Back home in San Diego, my entire family was celebrating without me: my mom would be singing terribly off-key to Christmas carols on KYXY; my younger sister would be trying to weasel my mom into letting her open “just one” present; my older sister would be well on her second cup of coffee, and my dad would be bursting through the door (an hour late), wearing a Santa hat and hauling a garbage bag filled with presents. Even my ruca was down south celebrating with her family, eating pozole and tamales. So I did what I was left alone to do: I went to work and sucked it up.
Like most normal kids who love presents, I always loved Christmases growing up. My only downfall every year was the fact that my younger sister always got more presents than me. (“MOM! Why does Laura have 22 presents and I only have 18?”) Still, it was such an exciting time. Our family would go pick out a tree, then we’d decorate it while listening to Christmas records and sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows. My mom always had the final hand at the tree’s decorations, hung streams of tinsel in the sala, and arranged the nativity scene just so; things were always made beautiful by her touch. My dad would put out his little train that ran around the tree, and I would curl up on the couch and read my Babysitters Club books beside the taka-taka-taka of the miniature locomotive beating over the tracks. Each year he would also groan tiredly and say, “I don’t know about the lights this year, sweetheart,” and each year I would stubbornly go out and hang them anyway until the ladder made him nervous and he came to help. These are the memories that spark like magic through my mind. Joy fell down all around me as if in a snowglobe. The excitement, the thrill—the presents!
I looked forward to our annual family Christmas parties as much as I looked forward to Christmas itself. Our house vibrated with the sizzle of Spanish, and heaping plates of tamales took over the entire table. Tios and primos were in every corner of our casa; the men talked about football while my glamorous tias—all made up beautifully, with their fresh coats of lipstick and clouds of perfume—fussed over how the tamales turned out. Gangs of us kids ran in packs through the house, gulping down handfuls of red and green M&M’s, us girls dolled up in our lil’ red dresses. My closest cousin Karla and I were the designated olive stuffers on the tamale assembly line, and we took great pleasure in finding out who the “winner” was that night who had gotten their tamale stuffed with 10 olives—much to our tias’ annoyance.
Now when I come home, my mom defrosts the tamales that have been frozen from weeks ago. The ornaments I grew up with—“Sarah Bear,” “Baby’s first Christmas 1980,” and a Santa head from my 2nd grade teacher—are split between both my parents on their artificial trees. I don't hold this against my parents, but it is bittersweet. The fresh burst of pine that once filled the house diminished with my childhood.
This year, my ruca and I joined our friends—our Frisco familia—in their tree decorating ritual. As we listened to the chiquita sing Christmas carols and Katy Perry, I realized that just because I’m not a kid anymore doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy Christmas. I’ll always hold the Christmases of my childhood very dear to me; now they’ve just evolved. They say the holidays are the “happiest time of the year,” although if you’re already happy of where you are in your life, then the jingle bells and jolliness only magnifies that feeling.
I was lucky to get time off of work this year. I’ll be in San Diego with my family and will spend Christmas Eve with my in-laws. This of course means double family, double tamales, and damn does the ruca's familia know how to get down with some bomb-ass pozole. I will also finally lie to rest the ever-notorious battle of presents between the middle child and the perpetual baby of the family. In the true spirit of the holidays, I promise I won’t get mad if my younger sis gets more presents than me…in fact, I might just encourage it. 
Happy Holidays! Felices Fiestas! See you in 2012...

It's not technically our tree, but we can pretend!
© All Rights Reserved, 2011

1 comment:

  1. A magical time machine story- you took me right back to the days of childhood, thanks for the holiday cheer!