My gazebo set

So, I’ve been greatly cheered by a round of Christmas shopping and looking forward to Christmas Eve/Day with my family.

I love everything about this time of the year. I love Christmas music on the radio. I love the occasional rain we get that signals the winter-ish season is upon us. I love going to the drugstore and seeing the aisles packed with toys, cards, decorations, candy, everything! This holiday is important to me because it was the happiest time in my home. It meant my mom was in high spirits for a month or more, that family was coming, that I’d get to stay home and read books and watch movies while the clouds outside got gray and fat.

The lead-up to Christmas began in November.

My mother would have the light display fired up and ready for the official lighting ceremony (yes, we DID have an official lighting ceremony, complete with music that cued me to activate different strings of light) after Thanksgiving dinner. For at least thirteen years running, she has entered and won trophies in the City of Downey Holiday Home Decorating Contest (for Lawn/Roof Display). People came and lined up to see our house. When I was in high school, and classmates visited me, they’d say, “Oh, you live in the Christmas Light House.” I’d come home late at night and the lights would still be on, warm and colorful. Baby Jesus and Santa welcomed me.

From then on it was hidden presents–being forbidden to look in my mom’s trunk, especially not under the sheet she covered the lumpy boxes with. Her twelve days of Christmas, giving my sister and I stocking stuffers and singing a customized line from the song (i.e. “On the first day of Christmas, my mami gave to me…..a really really fa-aancy pen!”). Watching the tree on quiet nights, with our tubby white cat Frosty lying underneath it.

While some traditions have changed since I left home, some stay the same.

Nothing compares to the all-out insanity of Christmas Eve.

Picture 20 Cubans, all out-talking each other, reaching over you at one long crowded table and trying to serve themselves lechon (a roasted pig), yucca, rice and beans. A couple of years ago there was almost an “incident” as my mother and her twin sister battled over the last slice of avocado in the salad. Then throw in the occasional poor bastard that my sister or I bring along. That, to me, is the true test of a relationship. If you can handle this shit, I’m yours. I can’t imagine what my red-headed, freckled Uncle Al (an honorary Cuban) thought the first year he was exposed to it.

My present pile last year

After the food has been hurled through the air, it’s time to hurl presents. We pack up the table and chairs, and assemble in the living room under the enormous tree (my mother got herself a hydraulic tree–goes up and down at the push of a button), next to the even more enormous piles of presents. One or two callers, like auctioneers, read the tags and launch gifts. “To Helen, from Tio Flaco.” “To Aunt Bi, from the Yoakums.”

The frenzy subsides and we are left covered in shreds of wrapping paper. Full of food and excited to play with their new toys, the families go home and my mom starts to clean and prepare for the next day. I go see Edna, my best friend. I’m glad to say that’s a tradition that will be returning this year.

When I come back home it’s important not to look in the direction of the tree, because my mother has put our big gifts, our “Santa” gifts, underneath it.

In the morning she fries the leftover yucca (my favorite!) and we drink Cafe con Leche, then open our gifts. It’s the day I don’t shower until well after noon.

I used to spend the rest of the day cleaning out my room, making places of honor for my gifts. Now I just lounge around, enjoying the quiet of the house and chatting with my mother while she puts the kitchen back in order.

I think looking forward to that is enough to lift anyone’s spirits.

In case you haven’t had enough,this is the entry I wrote last year about Christmas. I still feel sad about that little tree, more this year than before. I’m not going to put it up anymore, I think I’ll get a new one.