"Christmas Time in Tierra Amarilla"
ByAlfonso de Herrera - Ulibarr ©
Return to Rio Arriba
Growing up in Tierra Amarilla during the Christmas season was an exciting, busy and festive time. The school days between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas break were the time for rehearsals for the school Christmas Pageant where the entire school participated. Amateur actors, set designers, singers, and musicians took up afternoons and evenings as we practiced for the big event. When it was time for the curtain to go up, the bleak high school gym had been transformed into a winter wonderland with fresh greenery, fake snow, and wonderful stage settings created by the students. Our mom's, who eager to see their children at their best did not mind the hard work of making and sewing the customs worn by the actors.
The Glee Club under the direction of Mr. Miller opened the night's festivities with several traditional popular songs of the Christmas season. After several speeches by some of the teachers and the school principal the curtain rose. On stage were several shepherds, wise men, angels with wings, cutout camels, sheep, and a live Nativity scene depicting the birth of Christ. During the intermission the Glee Club again entertained singing traditional Christmas Carols. When the curtain fell at the end of the play, it was promptly raised again and with all the participants gathered on stage and along with the audience sang the final carol of, the night, "Silent Night".
The next day as the Christmas break began; the idle students began to prepare their itinerary for the vacation ahead. Sleds were taken out of storage the runners waxed and readied for the first good snowfall of the year. Rubber shoes were inspected and if they were damaged from last winter all they needed was a rubber patch and they were ready to go. Since most of us wore hand me downs, it was time for our parents to determine if an order to Sears & Roebuck for new threads was in order. We would study that wish book from start to finish just wondering what it would be like to have this and that, a new bike, or a refrigerator for instance. Once an order was mailed, we would wait in anticipation for its arrival, going to the post office daily to inquire if our order had arrived.
We were always taught to believe in Santa Claus, that bearded man in a red suit and his eight reindeer (this was before Rudolf made the scene) that magically appeared on Christmas Eve every year. We believed so wholeheartedly that on Christmas Eve we would write letters to Santa and throw them in the fire of a wood stove, we were told that the smoke would carry them to Santa. To this day I actually think it worked. I am sorry to say that this wonderful tradition of writing to Santa via smoke was not passed on to my children. Since all of my children have wood burning fireplaces or stoves, I hope to revive that tradition with my grandchildren and great grandchildren. They of course are much smarter and well informed then my generation was, so I doubt if they will fall for such a story.
As Christmas Day approached, my mothers and grand mother's kitchens with wood burning stoves were always warm and filled with that wonderful aroma of piñon roasting or empanaditas being fried in a cast iron pot. Bizcochitos and cookies of all kinds were baked for the Christmas season to be given away to family and friends as gifts.
Christmas Eve arrived and preparations began for the traditional posolada after midnight mass at great grandma's house. There would be posolé, chile rojo y verde, frijolitos con racióncitas de borreguito, tortillas, and pastelitos de fruta. The chokecherry wine that had been fermenting in wooden barrels since September would be served to the adults.
A beautiful sight it was as we entered the mission church of Santo Niño that evening. With the lights turned low, the beautiful Christmas trees on each side of the altar flocked with tinsel and lights, along with the aroma of incense burning made you feel warm and welcome. The three tall trees on the left side of the altar lit only with blue lights, guarding the Nativity with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, were works of art as only the sisters who lived in the convent next to the church could do. The right side of the altar was array with the many votive candles burning as parishioners took their turn to light them, kneel for a few moments, and pray for special intentions. The presence of a higher power was evident on that night.
It started to snow as the people left the church, huge snowflakes illuminated by the light of the luminarias settled to the ground. Everyone in a happy mood hugging and wishing each other a merry Christmas.
My grandfather looks up to the sky, takes his hat off and let's the snowflakes settle on his face for a moment or two. My Aunt Cleo and Uncle Gumi arm in arm flashlight in hand walking home slowly through the snow to keep from slipping. The older boys and girls walking home together singing carols down the main street and stopping at the big Christmas tree out side the Green Leaf Tavern for a few more carols before going home. It was time to go home and wait for Santa.
Next day, a cold Christmas Day and two feet of fresh snow, greeted us. I along with my friends went from house to house, dodging snowballs from some of the older boys, for our booty of candy, baked goods, sometimes money, or whatever was offered. It was a cultural tradition that on Christmas morning, all the young boys and girls would take a flour sack or pillowcase door to door yelling "MIS CRISMES" waiting at each doorstep for someone to open the door and slip something in our sacks. In the quiet cold crisp air of the morning you could hear voices yelling, "MIS CRISMES, MIS CRISMES", all over town and kids running from house to house knocking on doors waking up people. On many occasions people did not answer the door, we wondered why, we didn't know that they may have stayed up late celebrating and had probably just gone to bed when we got to their door. This tradition has ceased and seems to be lost forever.
Today as I reminisce about those years growing up in Tierra Amarilla with those long hard winters and the huge amount of snow that fell and how cold it got. I sit back, close my eyes, and transport myself back to those Christmas seasons of my youth. In those days growing up in T.A. my worries were few and family and friends were the most important issues in my life.
Submitted 16 Oct 2008