Taos Aglow

Memories of a Christmas Past

'Not a time for buying and spending your last penny'

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In the past, during my parents' early years,  people celebrated Christmas in a very different way than we do today. Christmas time was not a time for buying and spending your last penny. It was a time for worship, people getting ready for the coming of the Messiah, Christ our King.

The four weeks of Advent were important for everyone who was brought up in the Catholic faith. With the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, people began to prepare for the greatest festival of the year, Christmas or the Nativity. Pigs were butchered and prepared for the nine days of Christmas.

My mother did not own a Frigidaire, but she had a little house by the Arroyo Seco River. It was covered with screen wire and shelves. Here, she always kept her food nice and fresh. The pig’s head was cleaned and boiled. My mother cooked the meat. She ground it, flavored it with minced onions and made head cheese.

Empanaditas (meat turnovers) were made from the pork she cooked for three hours. My mother ground the meat and sweetened it. She added piñon nuts, raisins and spices. She made the dough from scratch. Her apple pies, posole and many other dishes were ready for the celebration.

My mother’s brothers and their families came every year to celebrate Christmas with us. During the year, my mother made many quilts and tablecloths, and many other gifts for those who came.

On Dec. 16, we would all go to the mountains to get a Christmas tree. My mother made popcorn from the corn she raised in the garden. We strung the popcorn and decorated the tree. Under the tree, my mother placed the animals she made for the children who came to spend Christmas with us.

When I was 4 years old, my mother went to Posner’s Store to buy gifts for our guests. She bought a windup toy for one of our cousins who lived about a half mile from our house. It was one of the most beautiful toys that I ever saw.

On Dec. 16, many schoolboys would wear masks and go visit the houses where luminarias were lit. The masked boys (abuelos) would come to our yard and dance around the luminarias. They made us kneel and pray to the Ave Maria. After the abuelos danced, we knelt down to pray to Our Father and recite the Ave Maria once again. Every night during the nine days before Christmas, my mother invited the masked young men to come into our house for the feast she prepared. We celebrated Christmas at home. In the evening, our guests left. They happily took the gifts we gave them.

Before the holidays were over, my uncle and aunt invited us to go to their house for dinner. When we went back home, my mother found out that I had stolen the beautiful toy that my mother had given to my cousin. When my father found out what I had done, he took a switch and made me walk all the way back to my relatives to return the stolen toy. Never again during my lifetime did I take things that did not belong to me. I learned that lesson the hard way.

At dawn on Christmas morning, the kids from the neighborhood would come asking for Christmas gifts. They sang: “Oremos, oremos. Angelitos semos (somos). Del cielo venimos. A pedir aguinaldos y oremos,” (“Let us pray, let us pray. We are little angels coming from heaven to ask for gifts and prayers.”).

I believe Christmas is the most important day of the year. It is a commemoration of the coming of our Lord.

Josephine Córdova was a retired teacher and school administrator. She was a long-time member of the Taos County Historical Society and Honoree of the Year in 1991.

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