Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas in Mexico – Tequila, Tears, and Lots of Love

Musical Chairs (I'm in the purple sweater)
For this one I'll have to admit, it purely my personal experience, and I don't know if this is how Mexican Christmases usually are.

While living near Mexico City, I joined my wife's aunts, uncles and cousins for Christmas celebrations twice.

The celebrations started late Christmas Eve, and, if I remember correctly, we had attended mass before hand with my mother-in-law. The community where the aunts and uncles lived was about a 10 minute walk away. The community had been built up from cheap lots, in one of those places where residents built up, one storey at a time, little by little. It had been around long enough so the narrow roads were now lined with 2 and three storey homes, many flush to the side walk, and others with wrought-iron gates, almost all reasonably painted. While the community still has the distinct flavour of its working-class residents, and is by no means "nice" or "upscale," at Christmas time, with many homes decorated with lights, nativity scenes in the garages, to be seen between the bars of the gate, and Christmas trees to be seen through the windows, it holds a certain charm.

Upon arriving to the house where the great aunt and uncle lived, who are parents of the family  - an aging couple who partially raised my father-in-law - we were warmly greeted by all the family; my father-in-law's second cousins (who my wife calls aunts and uncles), their wives and children, some of whom were already married with infant children.

Some of the aunts, uncles and cousins chatting before dinner
After greeting everyone, and being made the center of attention for some reason or another (both difficult for me as an introvert - click here to read more) I was offered a variety of liquors.  By the second Christmas I spent with these uncles, I realized that I needed to make and express my choice quickly, otherwise various uncles would simply serve me the liquor of their choice (tequila, rum an whiskey are the ones I remember), meaning that I would have at least 3 shots waiting for me to drink them.  By the second Christmas, I also had baby, and it didn't seem like a good idea to be carrying a baby home for a 5 km walk (in case no taxi could be found) tipsy or drunk.  So, I learned I had to choose one, and sip it slowly, since the minute it was finished, another would be served, almost automatically.  At some point, one of the uncles would inevitably realize that I was going slow on the drinks, and urge me to finish, so I could start another, usually serving that other to push me a little more; this was, however, the only I way could discover to moderate the alcohol I was served.  (Of course, I did want to drink, just not too much.)

The large, long and delicious dinner included turkey, rice, various kinds of salad and gelatin, and something distinct to Mexico City's Christmas called "romeritos" (a thin, leafy vegetable cooked with mole and shrimp).

While dinner was being finished, one of the uncles stood up and gave a little speech.  The speech was mostly recalling good memories and thanking other family members.  The speech started with the usual happy but not very emotional tones that most such speeches start.  After a few minutes though, a memory of something very emotional arose (I didn't understand enough to get exactly what it was about) and the uncle began crying.  Soon other aunts, uncles and cousins were getting up to hug the first uncle, and making their own tearful speeches.

The first Christmas when this happened, I leaned over to my wife, asking if there had been some tragedy in the family.

"Nothing specific," she explained quietly. "This happens every year.  It's normal."

The second time I experienced the tearful speeches, I saw the same pattern, and felt assured in my wife's explanation.  I guess the combination of tequila, good food, having the whole family together again and sharing warm memories is a good recipe for letting your emotions flow.

The Piñata
The crying was over before dinner was cleaned up, and If I remember correctly, soon after dinner, a doll representing baby Jesus was brought out.  The doll placed in a sheet, and rocked while everyone sang songs to baby Jesus.  After the songs, each person in turn kissed the doll and made a wish. The tradition was fine for me, but in all honesty, I never liked the look of the dolls (click here to read more about that.)

At some point there was also a piñata, outside in the street, and a few rounds of musical chairs (see pictures).  I can't remember the exact order, though.

Afterwards, more tequila was served, some people mixing with grapefruit soda (Fresca or Squirt).  Some people began to dance in the small living room.

I can't remember exactly what time we left, but I remember that it was really late (not for the aunts and uncles - they were still ready to go longer), I was really tired and, despite my best intentions, I felt just a little tipsy from the liquor. There were a lot of hugs, thank yous, and invitations extending over the entire next year.  Fortunately, we found a taxi when we arrived at the main road.

While I'm not one for all night parties, I have to say that my Christmases in Mexico City were very memorable, warm and I felt a true welcome from my wife's family.

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