Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Past

Every year, my neighborhood holds a Christmas light contest.  It’s fun to drive around and look at the beautiful, and sometimes wacky, ways that people choose to decorate their yards.  This year, one of my neighbors has wrapped each of the 50 foot pine trees on his property in a different color.   By day, his house looks like every other suburban house, quiet and manicured.  By night, it looks like Santa dropped his bright, luminescent crayon box (to put it diplomatically) all over my neighbor’s yard.

When the Christmas lights start going up, I know it is time to start thinking about putting up a Christmas tree and a wreath, the standard Christmas decorations.  I have been doing it for years.  Each year I pick a different theme.  One year the tree was covered in silver ornaments.  The next year it was all burgundy.  Last year, I put up a tree full of ornaments that I have purchased on my travels around the United States and the world.
This year, as I thought about what decorations I should put up, I found myself remembering Christmases past.  When I was a kid, the centerpiece of the living room was a nativity scene, not a tree.  My mom was dead set against the secularization of Christmas.  The season, we were told, was not about Santa Claus or decorated trees, it was about Christ.  Santa was a symbol of the spirit of charity and that was all.  We would go out as a family and gather moss and sticks and pine cones, then we would set about constructing an elaborate nativity scene that took up about 3 square feet of living room space.  There were innumerable posadas (the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey toward Bethlehem) and lots of tamales.
There are still innumerable posadas and a few rituals that I frankly find a little creepy, but the Christmas tree has slowly and almost imperceptibly taken over as the centerpiece of the Christmas decorations.  I know that it is probably not so much a shift in what I think Christmas is about as much as it is a shift from a Mexican Catholic tradition to an American tradition.  I am a gringa as my family would say, but I guess I'm feeling a little nostalgic. 
This year, I will return to my roots.  The nativity scene probably won’t take up 3 square feet, but it will be there to remind me of the reason for the season.