No doubt Christmas for kids is mostly about presents and such. I agree with that statement but for me being the youngest child of eight of immigrants from Spain, my memories of Christmas included celebrating my Pop’s birth as well as the Christ Child.
My dad was named after Emmanuel and my mom was named Maria. Their children had familiar Spanish names, Salvador (savior), Manuel, Joseph, James, Isabel, Carmen, Frank and of course, Louis. All would gather Christmas Eve to enjoy good food, beverage, family, and watch our dad open his gifts to the delight of his grandchildren.
The day though began in early morning as cousins, uncles and friends arrived throughout the day to pay respect to our family. I can still see Mom in her apron keeping the big round table filled with food and goodies as she forced all to eat. My dad presided at the table with a shot glass to get the eldest in a celebratory mood. Music played despite the din of children and adults alike enjoying each other as families should.
There were four highlights of the evening I remember well. Sometime during the evening’s celebration my mom would spontaneously burst into the rasping nasal tone of her Flamenco past. Her songs of Christmas in Spain still give me pleasure to this day, seventy plus years later.
“Open your presents Grandpa,” the kids would yell. Finally my dad would relent as the kids would yell “mine first” as they delivered presents to Pop at the kitchen table. The next memory was of my brothers-in-law Manuel and Joe adjourning to the outdoor kitchen to make a pastry from Spain called tortas. They presided over this ritual every Christmas they were alive. As midnight approached my sisters would remind me to get ready for Midnight mass at St. Joseph’s in Mountain View, California. By the time we got back home most of the family had gone home to await Santa.
Christmas day was great for me being the youngest. I would count my presents under the tree to see if I got one from everyone. I wasn’t spoiled of course! I would complain, “where is everyone?” We didn’t open presents until everyone arrived at our old Victorian house.
My sisters and sisters-in-law would play a ritual game with me to test my patience. They asked what gift I had for them before they would hand me mine. Of course I gave them the same thing every year. You would have to have been born in the thirties to remember the glass miniature duplicates of oil lamps filled with sweet smelling toilet water. They all faked surprise as they opened their gifts, thanking me. I saved my nickels and dimes throughout the year to pay for these small gifts. Today they probably are antiques; go figure.
Well Ms. Editor, thanks for the memories and tears you made me shed, putting my memories on paper.