Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas in the Southwest

There's something special about the holidays in the Southwest. Of course, the holidays are special no matter where you are, but because I grew up in El Paso, Texas and have lived in New Mexico almost all of my adult life, I have a different perspective of the holidays than folks who have grown up in other areas of the country.

Most cultural depictions of Christmas include snowy scenes. We get snow in New Mexico, but not much and sometimes more likely in January than December. We are far more likely to have a "brown" Christmas and a "white" Easter than a White Christmas!

Christmas caroling is not as common; here, the predominant tradition is Posadas, a Mexican custom of the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging before the birth of Jesus. This usually begins on the 16th of the month and goes on nightly for the next nine nights, culminating in the Christmas celebration when Mary and Joseph are given shelter and Jesus is born. Lots of food and a pinata for the kids mark the end of the festivities.

Because of the strong Hispanic-Catholic influence, another holiday observance is that of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th of December. The holiday honors the visit of the Virgin Mary to an Indian, Juan Diego (now a canonized saint in the Catholic Church), in 1531 which resulted in one of the oldest Christian artifacts in the New World--an image of the Virgin on Juan Diego's cloak which is still on display on the Basilica in Mexico City. This feast day is celebrated with dances, religious services, processions, and lots of food.

The holidays, or at least the Christmas observance, usually ends on Christmas Day, but in the Catholic Hispanic tradition, the Christmas celebration BEGINS on December 25th and goes through January 6th (the twelve days of Christmas!) which is when the Dia de Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings' Day) is celebrated. On that day, gifts are given (after leaving hay and carrots for the camels of the three kings, who brought the first gifts to the Christ Child) and the celebrants partake of a yeast coffee cake called a rosca de los reyes, or crown of the kings. It's decorated with colorful sugar and fruit and baked into the dough is a small figure of Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the piece with figurine wins an extra gift and the privilege of hosting another party on February 2 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.)

For me, the holiday season has always been a season, with some special day occurring almost every week. Regardless of what is being celebrated, the common denominators are always food and family... two of my favorite things!

Happy Holidays... all of them!