“I hope you don’t make a big fuss about Christmas,” my cowboy said, as if he’d been reading my mind.
As usual, I didn’t know where this was going, so my comment was, “I love Christmas.” I was enthusiastic because I did love it and still do.
“Okay; but do you make it a big deal?”
He said, “I hate it.”
I tried not to panic. This was just one more way in which we were as different as the high country of the Chisos Mountains and the floor of the Chihuahuan Desert. Together those two make an astounding national park; better together than they would be separately. I had high hopes for us.
“Christmas makes me think of all the poor kids who get nothing,” my husband continued. “How can anybody believe in Santa Claus? And what a cruel thing it is to tell children about an imaginary old man who brings gifts.”
This handsome hombre was totally ruining my buzz. Then he said, “We’re not going to tell that lie to our children.”
“Now wait,” I said. “Our children will not be poor. Why can’t we have fun with them? I’ll show you how much fun Christmas can be.”
“I have never been given a new toy.” He spoke as though he hadn’t heard a thing I said. “Not once in my life.”
By this point I was biting back tears. “What did you get at Christmas?”
“Tamales,” he said, “If we were lucky enough.”
* * *
Our first Christmas together was spent in San Carlos, Mexico, my new husband’s hometown. We stayed with his sister and her family, but we were in and out of so many houses I lost count. Many of the people we visited were relatives, but I seldom caught the connection in the introduction. I was included in everything, no matter how lost and foreign I must have seemed to them. I was becoming adept at smiling and pretending to know what was going on.
I had lobbied the cowboy until he accepted the fact that I was going to take little gifts for our nieces and nephews. My Christmas spirit was not to be deterred, but I did tone it down a notch.
I gave my sister-in-law a few decorations for her table and windows. It was not much because I didn’t want my husband to be uncomfortable. When he saw his sister’s face light up, he smiled at me. I believe she still has those things 31 years later.
Every time I have ever been in Mexico I learned something of value. That year I learned that Christmas does indeed come “without ribbons. It comes without tags. It comes without packages, boxes, or bags.” (Thank you to Dr. Seuss). Of course I knew that already, but I came to understand it on a more gut level. I took it to heart.
That Christmas was the first time I heard the familiar tune of “Silent Night” with different words, beautiful words. All I understood was: “Noche de paz, noche de amor,” which means “night of peace, night of love.” I believe those two things are what we need more than anything, every night and every day of the year. I believed it then and haven’t changed my mind about it in 31 years.
Strangers hugged and welcomed me everywhere I went. I was offered empanadas and bizcochos until I thought I’d explode. At night we bundled up and watched the stars and breathed in the clean, cold air. We shared tamales with our family because we were “lucky enough” to have them. We laughed and had fun. Children ran around, joyous to be alive no matter any other thing.
This Christmas, I wish you everything your heart desires. I hope you are full of joy and if you are, please spread it around. We live in a world desperate for love, peace, and joy. I hope you are “lucky enough” to share tamales with people you love.