By Freda Rumford from the December 2011 Edition
It seemed very strange on our first year in Manzanillo to have Christmas in Mexico.
We had spent many such years in the cold of Canada, where we looked out on the snow filled streets with snowmen on guard in front gardens and real “frosticles” hanging from the eaves. There, freshly cut Christmas trees were readily available at Boy Scout stands or “Cut your own trees” available by permits in selected forestry sites, so it was very strange that in the Mexico heat, with brilliant sunshine glistening on waves rolling onto sandy beaches, to see the pathetic old trees for sale in the supermarkets losing their needles by the handful. Nevertheless, happy youngsters with beaming faces proudly hauled their balding tree to the family car decorating in time for Christmas Eve dinner.
Even more plastic trees were available everywhere and much less likely to explode into flames. The shops, full of decorations from the end of October, by mid December were all on sale for more than 50% discount. In fact, although we had decided not to decorate our small rented pad, it was impossible to resist buying a small tree that was constructed like a broomstick and all the baubles and lights for less than $25 (we had chanced upon a 95% discount at a new Wal-mart in Colima). We still have that tree 10 years later but this will probably be its last year as the connection wires have rusted beyond repair.
Many of the ceramic Christmas scenes, elves and Santas by the dozen, have been coming into the stores in later years but goodness know where they can be displayed in the tiny houses in which most Mexicans reside. They seem to be very expensive to me but weekly, the stock is diminishing.
The toy sections in stores are piled high with baby dolls, Barbies, puzzles, cars & trucks. Many of the toys incredibly expensive with cheap plastic facsimiles found in the markets or the discount store “Waldos”. Naturally, the latter don’t last too long but at least the kids have something that Santa brought.
Several organisations, very aware that Christmas is not available to the poorer families, hold a Christmas party for children in poorer neighbour hoods. Santa is in attendance with his helpers and maybe the Three Kings who visit Jesus on the 6th January each year.
Christmas dinner is usually at about 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, after the family has been to church. Not many families have turkey and ham as is usual in the northern countries, but probably tamales, pozole (chicken or pork soup with hominy corn), and bacalao (salt cod) are on the menu. After the dinner children usually get just one gift, the rest waiting until 3 Kings Day on 6th January before they are distributed.
The foreign population stick to their special day as 25th December and although some restaurants are open, the price for the turkey dinner seem to be a bit out of line with (occasionally) prices of 450 pesos per person being the rule.
Most people seem to prefer having a pot luck supper with friends. Everyone chipping in for the price of the turkey and ham and then bringing a side dish to share, This works very well in most instances and it is surprising how all of us who maybe not have met previously, can meld into a family for at least the one evening.
If gifts are given, it is usually just one gift that is exchanged in a lottery like process, usually much merriment surrounds this part of the evening, especially when someone receives something totally inappropriate. I well remember one year, when a young lad got a very saucy pair of lacy panties and was totally horrified. Fortunately with the laughter surrounding the gift, he entered into the spirit and was able to exchange his gift for something more suitable but not so memorable.
We can now get turkeys readily; hams are creeping into the stores selection gradually, along with cranberries and yams. Luxuries like “Brussels sprouts” (a childhood horror that I now enjoy), may not materialise until well after Christmas. It is really surprising when something that is needed is actually found on the shelves, word goes around very quickly. Having a “Sam’s Club” in Colima has helped us find our own assortment of treats associated with Christmas and it is surprising how inventive people can become. Suitcases travelling south have a medley of goodies within. Spices that we are used to using are not readily available as the Mexican flavours and tastes do not run to sage and onion stuffing or the like.
Regardless that time honored traditions are not always possible, it has become very easy to become adaptable and discover new Christmas likes such as Apple salad and the Stollen like cakes that materialise at 6th night (3 Kings day) and contain small plastic babies that mean the finders must host a taco party in February.
With friends abounding in this community, it is very easy to have a wonderful Christmas away from loved ones whom we always toast during the evening.
Merry Christmas to all, wherever you may be in this festive season.