Twenty-five years ago Christmas was celebrated in quite a different manner than today- not better nor worse, just different. One knew that Christmas season was approaching when one saw those huge salted hams in crocus bags hanging from the ceilings of the stores around the village. The shopkeeper made it his duty to call on friends and customers for them to lay aside their hams for Christmas. These hams were boiled for 2 or 3 hours to remove the excess salt and then they were baked. Do you know why those hams were delicious? Because they were available for our tables only for Christmas, and never during any other time of the year. People boasted of a prosperous season by hanging one or two hams near the window or main entrance where it would be very noticeable.
Apples and pears and grapes arrived on the island about five days before Christmas and there was excitement and commotion and a rush to get one's dozen or two of the Christmas apples for they would be sold out in a day or two. And do you know what? If you did not get any apples in that rush, you would not be able to enjoy them until the following year.
About two or three weeks before Christmas, mother lay the ground rules- no more eating of eggs from the backyard chickens for these were reserved for the Christmas cake. The special one used to be the black cake made with mixed fruits. As for the drinks, Tio Pil, owner of Elsa P. cargo boat, used to be the agent for Chavannes Lemonade, which came in different flavors (not only lemon), and families would purchase them by the case for the children's treat. These refreshments cost ten cents a pint.
The Christmas dinner consisted mostly of "relleno negro" or "relleno de especie" or the famous chirmole prepared with home grown chickens or turkey. Chickens were purchased at 25 cents and turkeys at 50 cents and then grown in the backyard with leftover rice or tortillas. Many families also killed their hogs around Christmas season for special pork roasts, liver dishes, chicharon, morcia or for special boca dishes.
The dance was also very special for it was one of a few held throughout the year. Accordion music, acoustic guitars and bongo drums with maracas provided the music The floor was sprinkled with body powder to make it smooth for better dancing. Sometimes wax or candle was also applied to the dance floor.
The dance started at 8:00 p.m. on the dot and it was interrupted at midnight for the midnight mass at which the entire village attended. At one in the morning the dance continued and this usually went on until daylight or until some drunken reveler broke it up with a fistfight. The next morning it was a custom to visit friends at their homes to help drink up the beer, which were chilled in one large bathing tub. The wife would serve the ham and turkey on the table for the friends who came along with guitar and accordion to enliven the Christmas day.
Of course there were decorations. They might not have been very fancy like twinkling lights, but a branch of a pine tree was placed in the corner and decorated with balloons and small toys. As for toys, on Christmas day boys and girls were running around in extreme excitement showing off their plastic dolls, water guns, and a few toys powered by hand winding of springs. Some of the wealthier kids boasted a battery-powered toy.
We decorated our Christmas trees but it was a totally different experience. Our Christmas trees consisted of a small branch of the pine or cypress trees which grow wildly and huge here on the island. The small branch was inserted into a bucket of white sand which was the stand and which provided some moisture so that the tree would remain green a bit longer from the 16th to 31st. Listen to this! The trees were decorated with balloons, crepe paper, and any small plastic toys like dolls, guns, even sling shots and faces of Santa Claus cut out from magazine. The tree looked so beautiful at the beginning with fully inflated balloons but took on a sad appearance later on as the balloons became deflated. The tree was placed in the living room and a “quinque” or kerosene lantern was placed near it in the night to give it some glow. Strings of lights did not come into being until about 1965 with the coming of electricity to the village.
Whereas today children’s wish list for Santa Claus include expensive and sophisticated electronic equipment the wish list of children of the past was simple. A doll was a must for all girls age four to twelve. A pair of pop shot revolvers a rifle that fires a cork were a must in all boys’ list for Santa. Once a child received these, he/she would know that Santa was generous to him/her. However there were extras for the kids and they included tea sets, musical boxes, clothes for the dolls, sling shots, marbles, sling shots, trompos or whipping tops.
"Simple"- perhaps this is the best way to describe Christmas 25 years ago, but it certainly had the sharing spirit that you would hope for at this time of the year. And with sharing there was the consequential happiness that delighted each and every one's life on the island.