25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
More Things I Miss About Christmas
ne of the things I really miss about Christmas 25 years ago, first and foremost is the preparation and enjoying of the ham. Today, we eat ham at many other special occasions, so much that when you eat it for Christmas it is no longer special. The salted hams used to arrive at the stores around December 15, and dad would proudly bring one from the store. He hung the ham in the kitchen at a very visible spot so that all the neighbors could know that there was a ham in the house waiting to be boiled, baked and devoured. On December 23, it would be scraped, boiled for two hours and then baked and placed on a large platter like a time clock waiting for December 25. No one dared put a knife on that ham before Christmas Day. I remember liking to eat the pork skin, and when mom was not around, I would carefully sneak a little piece of the skin that was at the bottom of the pork leg.
On December 25, we had a portion of ham for breakfast, another piece in a sandwich for lunch and some more in the evening with fried jacks and refried beans for supper. Yes, dad would have a lot sandwiches made for his friends who came to visit. Mom usually placed a lot of ham sandwiches on the table for special visitors. Sometimes those sandwiches disappeared, and one wondered who took them. Ham would be the order of the day for several days, and when it was done you knew it was “adios” to it until the next year. The bone with all the little remnants was cooked in the next pot of beans and it really enriched that pot. And that was the end of the ham.
What was said of the ham was also true of apples, pears and grapes. Those fruits were only available at Christmas time. Today, they are available year round so that they are no longer the “Christmas fruits” as we used to call them. Another thing I really miss about Christmas 25 years ago is that little branch of a pine tree, which we traditionally call a Christmas tree in San Pedro. The little branch was placed in a bucket of sand, which was the stand and decorated with toys, balloons, and a few ornaments. The nativity scene including statues of Saint Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, an Angel, and some animals were placed under the tree. What was special was that the house smelled of green throughout the season until the branch died, but that was after Christmas. The balloons got smaller and smaller, reminding us that the season was over. Today we see a lot of wrapped gifts placed under the tree, a reminder that we are more interested in the material benefits of Christmas than the spiritual aspects. Therefore people do not wait for Christmas to go to Church but rather to open the many gifts received from relatives and friends.
Another thing I really miss about Christmas is the spirit of visiting friends at their homes and really jollying it up. I mean a real Christmas party. We used to gather at a friend’s house and party with drinks, food, singing and dancing for about an hour or two. There was accordion and guitar music and everyone became a musician, a singer or better yet a dancer. We had a treat of the hostess’ ham, turkey and yes, the black fruitcake. From there we moved to another friend’s house and so the day went on and on until everyone was visited. By nine at night, it was time to visit one’s own house and bed. Today we no longer visit family and friends as much. Because we are spoiled with technology, we simply pick up the phone and wish someone a Merry Christmas. Pretty soon we will want to send a piece of fruitcake by fax.
Talk about fruitcake, when was the last time you had a really nice chunk of it? One week before Christmas, every mom in San Pedro was preparing the black fruitcake. It was filled up with prunes and almonds and pecans and the mixed fruits which was sold by the pound only at Christmas time. Then mom would wet the cake with white rum so that it would last long after Christmas. This rum really added flavor to the fruitcake. This cake could last way after Christmas, but do you think it did? No, it was devoured by all the friends who visited the house because this cake was a sign that it was Christmas. Wanna know other things we Sanpedranos miss about Christmas 25 years ago? Read on next week, same time, same page but let me start saying to all my friends and folks “Merry Christmas, see you at church and hope your year was a good one.”
Yes, I miss the hams, apples, pears, grapes, live green Christmas tree, and the house parties on December 25. But there are a few other things that we miss about Christmas 25 years ago. The “Posadas” was a big thing in the 1950’s and 60’s. The posadas commemorated Mary and Joseph looking for a room at the inn on that cold winter night when Jesus was born. In the posadas there is a group of people in a procession and singing for hospitality in the inn. The group of people in the house represents the people in the inn, who deny such hospitality. After pleading to those inside, the door is finally opened, and everyone gathers inside to celebrate and pray. In the posadas the village people- men, women and children participated actively because there were goodies like soft drinks, cookies, candies and party favors given to everyone. Every night from the 16th of December to the 24th, the posadas attracted some one hundred people who came out to pray for nine consecutive nights. You can know that in the peaceful little fishing village in the 1950, when very little was happening, the posadas was a religious festivity that people awaited with eagerly anticipation.
But that’s not all that we miss about Christmas in the past. Those bitterly cold northerly winds used to penetrate the body and really chill you up. They were an authentic reminder of Christmas and the snow in the north. I mean the colds back then were really cold. The only thing it did not do was snow. To go out in the daytime you had to wear some warm jackets and if you went out in the night you had to wear two or three pieces to be able to keep warm. People even covered their ears like you see people do in the United States when it is snowing. In bed we used to cover up with the regular sheet plus another blanket or two. The fishermen refused to jump into the water in those cold winter days of December. They used a special net attached to a long pole to catch the lobsters. And why do I say that we really miss a bitter cold weather? Because it reminded us of Christmas. It was different. Imagine a Christmas with sunlight or worse yet with rain, it certainly takes away some of the spirit of Christmas.
I want to tell you another thing that I really miss about Christmas 25 years ago and it is the Christmas songs and music. Back then as we got into the month of December our teachers used to start drilling us with songs like The Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Joy to the World, Jingle Bells and Santa is Coming to Town. The songs really filled the heart with joy and peace. They made us want to be in touch with Jesus and with Santa, of course. Jim Reeves used to sing the most beautiful Christmas songs. The songs today are beautiful with Reggae and Rock and Roll rhythms but do not inspire the peace and love of Christmas. The songs of the past inspired a feeling. The songs of today only inspire wanting to dance. I really miss singing, not listening, to songs of the past.
The way children used to play their toys was a beautiful sight 25 years ago. December 25, you would see children running the streets playing cowboys and arguing because he shot with his mouth and the opponent did not fall to the ground. The girls played all day with dolls and tea sets and tried to be as clean and meticulous as mama. Today the kids will probably be playing their games on the television with some game boy and you will not see them enjoying the spirit of Christmas because they do that everyday anyway. It is different; trust me. Kids today need something really big to get excited. Back then, a little gun that used pop shot could get an entire neighborhood of children into a daylong game of cowboys and Indians. Yes, I really miss seeing children enjoying simple toys in a simple way of life. Another thing I really miss are the toys made at home twenty five years ago, but that will be the subject of a column all by itself next week. Until then, Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.