“What the @$#% do you mean?” she screams, waving the advertisement in the cashier’s face. The shoppers in the checkout lines fall deadly silent. But after just a few seconds, the holiday madness resumes its frantic hustle and bustle. I feel a little like a fish out of water in this shopping mall—a place where one woman can go off her rocker just because the store sold out of Rock Band 2. I did not grow up in this consumeristic Christmas. I remember a place of much simpler joys.
The differences between America’s consumer oriented holiday season and the Feliz Navidad of Mexico reveals two contrasting Christmases. The Mexican city of Juarez is very close to the United States geographically, but remains miles away economically. Some districts of Juarez emulate America with 4-bedroom houses and identical cars parked in the driveways. However, right next door are neighborhoods oozing with poverty.
But Christmas crosses borders. In the midst of hardship, even the smallest homes are strung with Christmas lights. Regardless of the cultural differences, this time of year brings people together all over the world. Similarities run through people, no matter the nationality. We have the same smiles, the same joys and the same felicidad (happiness). Growing up in Mexico showed me how Mexican traditions bring a warmth and color to the holiday.
The Navidad season begins with the procession of Los Posadas, a celebration building up to Christmas Eve. This tradition commemorates José y Maria’s long journey to Bethlehem. After nine days of celebration, activities climax on Christmas Eve when all of the neighborhood children parade through the streets dressed as shepherds, angels, kings, and donkey. Two of the younger children lead the way in Mary and Joseph get-ups. The whole group goes caroling from home to home searching for a place to rest for the night. Of course, when answering the door, each family knows to turn them away until they finally arrive at the “inn,” often a church or community park, where everyone comes together for a lively party. The mothers of the neighborhood spend hours preparing tamales for this occasion (making Mexican Christmas especially delicious).
Finally, the highlight of the Los Posadas celebration comes when one blindfolded child at a time gets a stick and a swing at piñatas while the other kids chase the candy flying from the seven-pointed Christmas star made of old newspapers.
But for my family, Christmas started months before Los Pasadas. For months leading up to Dec. 25, people from the States would send stuffed animals, dolls, play cars and every other kind of toy imaginable to my family in Mexico. Boxes of toys would start to fill closets around the house. By Thanksgiving, we would start piling the boxes in our living room and, by Christmas day, our home was packed to the brim with boxes of Christmas gifts. We would move boxes out to the cars just so we could have room for a Christmas tree. But these toys weren’t for me.
My parents still live as missionaries in Juarez and every year we do a huge outreach for families in the poorer neighborhoods. On Dec. 26, 27 and 28, we go door-to-door inviting all the kids in the neighborhood to local church. We have a church service combined with a Christmas party. At the conclusion of every service, all the children get presents that Americans from all over the nation have sent to Juarez. A little girl with a big smile, eagerly waiting in line for her gift, wraps her arms around her new doll. A preteen boy, pretending to be too cool for Christmas, cannot wait to show his friends how well he can spin his new top.
When this Christmas tradition started, it was just my family. As we told friends about making Christmas for kids in Mexico, they started asking if they could give too. More and more people from all over—New Hampshire, Kansas, California and Canada—have started coming every year to hand gifts to Mexican children. Remarkably, this ministry has grown beyond a chance to make Christmas brighter for a Mexican child. Now, it’s also about Americans actually making their Christmas about others.
As I stand in a line at a store in the mall, I long to go back to the simpler joys. Maybe the kids in Mexico don’t get their presents until Dec. 26, or maybe they eat tamales rather than ham and drink arroz dulce (Sweet Rice Milk) instead of eggnog. Maybe they sing Christmas carols in a different language. Regardless of the status or tradition, Christmas still carries the same meaning for families in Juarez, Mexico as it does for you and me—Christmas symbolizes giving joy to the people around you.
In the midst of craziness, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the consumeristic side of Christmas. Before getting caught up, let Christmas consume you. The States can make Christmas about others, too—let’s spread some Feliz Navidad.