As you may probably guess, Christmas 25 years ago was different. More humble, simpler, more religious, more family oriented, less elaborate, less expensive, and less commercial. Let's see how it was.
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS- Today, it seems like lights say it all. The more lights, the more Christmas-ish it looks and feels. 25 years ago there were no colored twinkling lights to decorate the homes nor the streets. To decorate the home a nice branch of a pine tree (called Christmas tree) was cut and placed in the corner of the living room. The tree was decorated with colored balloons, small toys and some angels' hair. Under the tree was placed Joseph and Mary and the figurines that make the nativity scene. This was done 5 days before Christmas and the tree usually lasted until the New Year when the needle leaves would start to fall and everything was dismantled and thrown away, of course.
CHRISTMAS FRUITS- Throughout the year we ate bananas, plums, and oranges. However, for X-mas, and only during X-mas, we ate apples, pears and grapes. These fruits did not come to Belize at any other time except December. People had to go to the store in advance to make an order of 5 lbs. of grapes and a dozen apples or two dozen pears. For the children, this was the treat of their lives for they would eat and enjoy "Christmas Fruits." I wonder how we can get these fruits throughout the year now. They are so common and no longer special. At 25 cents for an apple and a dollar a pound for grapes, they were considered outrageously expensive and mother would cut an apple or a pear in half and shared it with the children. Other poorer families shared an apple in 4 parts. And once you ate your share, you could not get another piece until the next day. On Christmas day, it was extra special, so children got a whole apple all for themselves and a whole bundle from a bunch of grapes. When Christmas was gone, there was a sense of sadness as we knew we could not have any more apples, grapes or pears until the next year and we would go back to our guavas or craboo and mammy and sapodillas. Yes, these too were delicious, but not special because they were not "Christmas fruits."
CHRISTMAS FOOD- The Christmas food was the salted hams that were boiled and baked and sliced for sandwiches. We never used the refrigerated picnic hams because we had no refrigerators. Ten days before Christmas, the shopkeeper would advertise the arrival of hams by hanging them from the ceiling of the store. Customers would select their hams by size and either took them home or lay them aside in the store. At home people would boast of their hams by hanging them from a nail also so that it was visible that there would be a special Christmas ham. Another Christmas special was a baked turkey, but this was a yard turkey the the family had grown for some eight months or so. The yard chickens were also used for the special "black relleno" or "chirmole negro." And still yet another special consisted of killing a hog by which a family would have salted meat, the "higadia" (liver), the "morcia" (blood in the tripes) or the "chicharon" (fried pork skin). With the pork many delicious dishes were made and this made Christmas extra special and fish would be absent from the tables for at least a week or two.
Christmas 25 years ago was not better, but as you can appreciate, very SPECIAL. One knew that Christmas season was approaching w hen one saw those huge salted hams in crocus bags hanging from the ceilings of the 2 or 3 stores around the village. The shopkeeper made it a point of duty to call on friends and customers to lay aside his ham for Christmas. These hams were boiled for 2 or 3 hours to remove the excess salt and then baked. People boasted of a prosperous season by hanging I or 2 hams near a window or main entrance where it would be very noticeable. Apples and pears usually got here about 5 days before Christmas and it was a rush to get your dozen or two of the Christmas apples for they would not be seen again until the following year.
About 2 or 3 weeks before Christmas, mother lay the ground rule - no more eating of eggs from the backyard chickens as these were reserved for the Christmas cake. Til Pil, agent for Chavannes Lemonade, which came in different flavours, also brought a larger stock of lemonade. Households purchased them by the case or 1/2 case at 10 cents per pint. The Christmas dinner consisted mostly of "relleno" and/or chirmole prepared with home grown chicken or turkey. These victims were purchased for 50 cents and a dollar respectively 6 months early and were grown and fattened with leftover rice and tortillas. Many families also killed their hogs around the Christmas season for special pork roasted, liver menu, chicharron, "morcia," or for "boca."
There was a dance organized for the occasion. Accordion music and acoustic guitars would provide the music for the needed and long awaited "fiesta." Dancing was so special that body powder was sprinkled on the wooden floor for the experts to execute their "Ricky Martin" steps.
At midnight the entire village went to midnight mass, and then the dance continued until 6 or 7 a.m. Then there was the custom of visiting friends house to house to help empty their tubs filled with ice and beer or to devour the goodies at the kitchen. Teams of 10 to 15 persons would drop in, the number getting bigger as the day went along and them smaller as the night approached. Music by accordion or harmonica was the sound heard all over the village with Aldo Marin, Ovidio Guerrero, Wil Alamilla, Wil Nunez, Wilber Marin, and Ramon Nunez leading in the accordion hands. Talented guitar players like Santiago Vasquez, Flavio Vasquez, Andrew Bradley, Emilio Rivero, Aldo Marin, Betito Marin, and Alfredito Alamilla (deceased) among many others, also formed their bands for a day with guitars, maracas, tum tums, and forks and bottles and sticks. It was fun, real fun, 25 years ago.
Yes, children got toys - plastic baby dolls, waterguns, and a few toys powered by hand winding. Checkers and Chinese Checkers were the educational games and just a few battery toys made the day for the wealthy boys and girls in town. And so we shared the same spirit of love and sharing 25 years ago.