Mexico and the US: the best of both cultures
Last month, during the holidays, I experienced a magical mix of south and north-of-the border celebrations. My parents visited for two weeks during Christmas, which made it a special time for me. In anticipation of their visit, I decided to decorate the house and put up a tree. Although not a particularly charitable act, I bribed four of my friends into helping me by offering homemade pea soup, replete with ham bone. It must have been good because they asked to be bribed again into another dinner for taking down the decorations after the holidays.
Although many Mexican homes are reflecting the western decorations of Christmas trees and blazes of outdoor lighting, some still adhere to the much less commercialized way of honoring the Christ child. They proudly display their miniature nativity and nacimiento scenes inside their homes. The nacimientos depict entire village scenes. In addition to the traditional three kings, shepherds and Holy Family, you see miniature bakers taking loaves out of tiny brick ovens, women washing clothes by the river and men selling flowers from small canoes. You won't need to look hard to find the devil at work in many of these scenes. In Mexico, the baby Jesus is conspicuously missing from his cradle until Christmas Eve.
In contrast, during December, many talented foreign and Mexican residents put on a variety of special events for the Lakeside community, bringing the real meaning of Christmas ever closer to our hearts.
Las Cantidades, a chorus of 57 Lakeside voices, performed a beautiful concert including excerpts from The Messiah at the auditorium in La Floresta. While I was unable to attend, all reports indicate that it was truly an inspirational evening.
Another group of local singers, actors and a comedian put on four dinner shows, inviting the audience to join them in singing Christmas carols, and filling the room with laughter, song and applause.
Remember Glenn Yarbrough? He sang with the Limeliters in the '60s. He now lives on the south side of the lake, and performed his rendition of "The Forgotten Carols" in the auditorium to a standing-room only audience. Looking very much like Santa Claus, himself, Glenn brought tears to many eyes as he read a powerful Christmas story about a young nurse who had no room for Christmas in her heart. Interspersed in the heartwarming story, he sang songs about Joseph, the innkeeper and other lesser-known characters in the Christmas story.
One of the most special evenings for my folks and I was the performance of Oak Hill School's nearly 150 students (both foreign and Mexican) in an endearing hour-long Nutcracker presentation. I talked with the wife of the school principal and "mother" of the event. She said the remarkable 5 to 14 year old kids had practiced only three weeks. They danced to recorded Tchaikovsky music. The costuming, although not professionally done, was wonderfully creative. The little Thai dancers, Russian dancers, toy soldiers and ballerinas all performed to great applause and a standing ovation.
For nine nights, hundreds of Lakeside children participated in neighborhood posadas. These small processions included a young Joseph leading Mary on a donkey, followed by shepherds and kings. As they approached several homes seeking lodging, the innkeeper within turned them down. Finally, at the last home, they were invited in and a party, complete with piñatas and refreshments was provided for the children.
Each year, on Christmas Eve, in Ajijic's San Andres church courtyard, a very special event is held. About 8 p.m., live nativity scenes are erected depicting Christmas Eve in many states of Mexico and around the world are erected. Over the years, we have witnessed mangers from Peru, Alaska, northern Mexico, Japan, Africa, the planet Mars, Holland and various Mexican indigenous groups.
Of course, hundreds of private parties provided ample opportunities to spend time with family and friends, creating a month of magic.
It took a bit of hindsight to understand that one of the big differences between celebrating Christmas in Mexico and celebrating it in California was that I didn't meet even one stressed-out, harried person who was caught in the vortex of Christmas fever. "Feliz Navidad!" could be heard in every shop, restaurant and on every corner.
Living in the moment is a wonderful part of the Mexican culture. I continually work at adopting these lessons in place of the normally harried holiday environment so many North Americans get caught up in. This year's celebration was so much more than buying last-minute Christmas presents. It was more about watching the wide-eyed joy of the children and having neighbors drop by to share a glass of eggnog or wine and sing, "Joy to the World."
I hope you all had the best of all holiday seasons with good health and good friends.
Happy New Year!