Christmas is Christmas, but 25 years ago, it was celebrated quite differently, so here is a taste of Christmas 25 years ago. One knew that Christmas day was approaching when you could see those huge hams in sacks hanging from the ceiling at the two or three stores in the village. There being no meat in the village throughout the year, these hams were a special delicacy, and the shop keeper made it his duty to call his customers so that they would reserve their order.
Every family desired to have one for the family’s delight beginning right on Christmas Eve, so pretty soon, there would be one of those large hams hanging right by the front door of every home at a very conspicuous place where everyone could see that they were ready for the celebrations. Indeed the Christmas ham was more special than the Christmas tree. These hams were a lot of work, but worth the effort, for they had to be scraped to remove some mold and boiled three different times to remove the excess salt, and then finally baked.
Another signal that Christmas was approaching was the presence of apples, pears and grapes in the stores. Here again the shopkeeper sent word to his customers who usually bought them by the dozen. Five pounds of grapes on the table was a sign of prosperity and happiness. Even though the children were eager to take a bite of apples from around the 20th , mom made sure that they were not eaten until the very 25th, so that that particular day felt like Christmas to them. The cutting of the ham signaled Christmas for the rest of the family.
About three weeks before Christmas, mom announced that there should be no more eating of eggs from the backyard chickens, for they had to be reserved for the Christmas black cake. When relatives and friends came to visit it was customary to offer them a piece of cake with lemonade. This lemonade was not lime juice, but a pop that was brought from the City. There was Bradley’s lemonade and Chavannes lemonade in five flavors- strawberry, pineapple, grape, cream soda, and ginger ale. Again these were very special because there was no Coca Cola, Pepsi or any other kind of pop or juices in the village stores.
The Christmas special on the tables was either relleno negro, relleno blanco, chirmole, escabeche, tamales, or mechado, all made with home-grown chickens in the backyard. After eating fish throughout the year, trust me, these dishes were super delicacies. That is why when someone stole your chickens, it was a real big loss. Got the point? Christmas with chickens, ham, grapes, apples, pears, lemonade and cake was indeed a big scale celebration fit only for the rich and famous. Who would miss toys and lights with all these goodies?
Now let us talk about the parties. The band struck its first selection at 8 o’clock on the dot at Daddy’s Club or Marino’s Club. The band was comprised of accordion, acoustic guitars, bongo drums, maracas, and the famous coconut grater which served as a percussion instrument.
The gents were all too eager to locate a dance partner in the dance hall and dance the night away. If you did not get a partner, no problem! You simply had to pat a gentleman on the shoulder and say, “Paloma”, (meaning pigeon) and he was expected to allow you to dance with his dance partner. What a nice custom 25 years ago!
The dance hall had its special preparations. Body powder was sprinkled on the floor to make it slippery, or at times candle wax. It is not certain what caused some couples to fall during the Christmas dance- the wax or powder, or their shoes, or the drinks.
At midnight the bell would be rung inviting everyone to attend “Misa de Gallo” (midnight mass). The music would stop and everyone went to mass. The dance and the festivity continued at 1a.m. after the usual greetings of “Merry Christmas” but no kissing as it was not the custom 25 years ago.
NOTE: To be continued with children and adult fun activities during the day of the 25th December.
– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist