When we lived in the homeless shelters we weren’t allowed to decorate very much, if at all. Space was also extremely limited. So we’d make a small poster with secular Christmas imagery. Our first Christmas in the shelter we spent it alone and I made spaghetti. Rather depressing for someone who was used to a bunch of food. But we didn’t have a proper kitchen and we weren’t allowed to spend the night out of the shelter.
The following Christmas, I made a tree of sorts out of my daughter’s baby blocks. I used her gingerbread cookie blanket as a tree skirt. The “tree” looked more like a pyramid but my daughter was happy.
(image is of a pyramid made of blocks surrounded by Christmas presents)
The next year I bought a small tinsel table tree, it cost about a dollar and some change. This tree was very small and it disappered when my daughter put some candy canes and a huge heart ornament on it. Once again, I used the blanket as a skirt.
(image is of Christmas presents surrounding a very small tree, above the tree is a green and red arrow pointing to it , there’s a red and white stocking hanging from the wall with some toys in it, also on the wall are some Christmas cards.)
Last Christmas we spent it with some family although we did have a strict curfew at the shelter so our time was limited.
This year however we’re in our own apartment. I bought a full size yet inexpensive tree. We bought a few ornaments at the 99 cent store. We made a lot of ornaments as well. We’re going to cook Puerto Rican Christmas food and spend today with family and friends.
Every Christmas since my daughter was two, I’ve hung the stocking she decorated in daycare. And once again the gingerbread cookie blanket is out as a skirt. Old habits die hard and I also wasn’t going to spend money on a tree skirt when the blanket proved to work just as well.
I wrote a letter to Santa once. I remember it still. I asked him how he was, how the elves and his wife were and to please be careful on his trip. I asked him if the tropical weather bothered him. It was 1995 and I asked for a specific Barbie doll. I never got a response and I didn’t get the Barbie I wanted, although I did get a Dream House and another Barbie. I was happy.
That Christmas Eve, I went to bed earlier than usual. I woke up sometime in the middle of the night. I heard mami talking to someone. I go check and she’s sitting next to the dream house and the Hot Wheels race track my brother was getting. I asked who she was talking to. She told me I had just missed Santa. She told me to go back to bed. Which took a lot of will power because the Barbie dream house from 1995 was amazing!
The next Summer, I was looking for something in mami’s dresser and I found the letter I had written. At first I was upset because I thought mami forgot to send it which would explain why I didn’t get what I had asked for.
But I got to thinking, where would mami send it? I had all these questions but I didn’t want to push it.
We never left Santa milk and cookies. We left him Pepsi and Lays potato chips. I asked my mother why we couldn’t leave him milk and cookies like I saw on TV. She said Santa had that in all the other houses; he appreciated the variety. Then I asked if we could leave Doritos instead. She said Santa didn’t like those. I didn’t believe her because everyone loves Doritos, right? Then she told me that Santa couldn’t eat Doritos because the cheese dust would make his white beard orange. That made sense to my child mind, so I left it alone.
One Christmas I got a talking teddy bear. Grandma told me she had a scare when she was wrapping the presents because the bear had started talking. I had thought Santa brought them all wrapped! Mami explained that that year he was very busy so he left them with grandma and mami to wrap them.
I was eight years old when I finally stopped believing in Santa. I was looking for something in our armoire (curiosity didn’t kill the cat but it certainly made them question things) and I found lots of wrapped gifts with my and my brother’s name on them. I asked mami about them. First she said those were for other children who had our same names. I didn’t believe her but I left it alone. That Christmas, what do I find did under the tree? Those gifts I had found in the armoire! I asked mami how come the presents were the same ones I had found. She said they weren’t, she just used the same wrapping paper for our gifts.
Then it all hit me. Mami doesn’t like milk, she doesn’t like Doritos. Her favorite snack combo is Pepsi and chips. Then I realized I had heard voices that one Christmas Eve because while she was setting up our gifts she started playing with them. A huge doll house and Hot Wheels race track, who could blame her?!
As I get older I look back at those memories fondly. I don’t have any resentment towards my mother for telling me Santa was real. Personally, I don’t consider Santa a lie in the sense that it hurts a child or their relationship with their parent. It was a fun fantasy. I also think mami was very clever thinking on her feet the way she did. She never missed a beat when I had questions about Santa.
I do think she’s wrong about not liking Doritos, though.
A friend suggested I write about the holiday traditions I grew up with in Puerto Rico. So here you go!
Note: Links to recipes and music open up in new tab.
Music and Television:
I was familiar with American Christmas music because we had cable and watched a lot of American programming. However, the music I loved best during Christmas was the traditional aguinaldos. We’d have parrandas where people would play the Puerto Rican cuatro, drums, maracas, guitars and the güiro and visit their neighbors. This is similar to Christmas Caroling.
I grew up listening to a lot of Salsa, particularly Hector Lavoe and Willie Colón (along with the rest of The Fania All-Stars) because mami was a huge fan of them. For Christmas she’d continuously play Asalto Navideño I and II. Every year, we’d decorate our tree and listen to Hector’s unique voice, the lights in the tree would sync up with the music. It was always so much fun.
Like I mentioned before, we had cable so we watched ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas. Mami grew up watching the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. She introduced us to Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town and Frosty the Snowman. We also watched CBS’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. However, our favorite special was Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
Every time it came on we’d all sit around the TV and my grandma would make an egg yolk and sugar spread that we’d eat on crackers. We called the Grinch, El Pillo Verde, literally the green thief.
My favorite thing about the Puerto Rican holiday season is the food. We usually don’t have turkey but pernil (roast pork). My grandma would cook turkey on Thanksgiving though. One of my favorite memories from Thanksgiving was when my grandpa would carve the turkey because he’d sneak us pieces. Grandma would tell him not to because it would spoil our appetite but grandpa would keep doing it and would tell us in his heavily accented English “no listen to your mama. if you hungry you eat”.
Puerto Ricans are known for our rice and beans. But during Christmas we make arroz amarillo con gandules (yellow rice and pigeon peas). Along with that we have pasteles which are similar to tamales. I’m not a fan of them which is blasphemy to Puerto Ricans, but I was destined to be the black sheep, so here we are.
For dessert we have arroz con dulce (we really like our rice, that’s for sure). Arroz con dulce is rice pudding. Most recipes add raisins, but since I believe raisins are evil, I don’t add them to my recipe. We also make tembleque which is coconut pudding. From American television I learned people hate fruit cake. I’ll never understand why Americans have a dessert they hate. Our desserts are delicious!
Pernil (roast pork) is the shining jewel in our Puerto Rican Christmas dinner. The more cuero (fat) on it the better. Nothing reminds me more of Christmas in Puerto Rico than smelling pernil being prepared.
We have our version of eggnog, which we call coquito. It can be made without rum but we also like our liquor. I mean, we have a Christmas song that goes “si no me dan de beber, lloro” (if i’m not given something to drink, I’ll cry).
Los Tres Reyes Magos y Santa Clos:
Our tree went up after Thanksgiving and would stay up until January 6th.
This was because we also celebrated Three Kings’ Day. My younger brother and I would go out and look for grass to put in shoe boxes for the Magi’s horses. For Santa Clos (as we called him) we didn’t leave him milk and cookies. We left him chips and Pepsi. That wasn’t a Puerto Rican tradition. That was what our mother came up with since she dislikes milk and cookies. My wanting to leave Santa something else was what lead me to stop believing in Santa, but that’s another post for another day.
There was a parade every year either in town or close to the beach. People in the parade would hand out candy to the children, while The Three Wise Men waved to the children from up on their horses. We’d also put on a show in school. I was picked to be a pastorcita (shepherdess). I recited a poem where I offered a gift to El Niño Jesus (Baby Jesus). My aunt made me an outfit similar to this:
(image is of a little girl wearing a shepherdess outfit in red, black and white)
Old and New Traditions:
I’ve lived in the States for 12 years. I no longer celebrate Three Kings’ Day or Thanksgiving but I still celebrate Christmas. We lived in homeless shelters for a long time, so our Christmases were very humble. However, I tried my best to teach my daughter the holiday traditions I grew up with. I learned how to make the Christmas foods and coquito. This year I’m going to learn how to roast a pork. This is the first year I’ve had my own oven so I’m taking every opportunity to use my kitchen. This is our first year with a tree.
(image is of a decorated Christmas tree on a picture collage with different holiday stickers of wreaths, trees and ornaments)
We don’t have cable but we still watch the Christmas specials I grew up with.
(image: DVDs of Christmas specials, clockwise from left, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)
We’d started our own traditions too. In the shelters we weren’t allowed to have trees, so we’d decorate as best we could. This year we do have a tree so we made several ornaments.
(image is of several handmade ornaments, made from wire, beads, paper and ribbons)
In Puerto Rico we’d put a manger under the tree. I even made one once in my Sunday school class.
(image: handmade manger scene, the tree has a white skirt with a winter scene on it, the floor is terrazzo tile)
I am an atheist now so instead my daughter and I decorated her doll house and put that under the tree.
(images are of a pink and purple doll house decorated with a small wreath and beads for lights)
This is the first holiday season where we won’t be homeless so it’s extra special. As I teach my daughter her heritage, we’ll also continue to make up our own.
I had a lot of fun writing this! Looking for links to songs and recipes I found stuff I had forgotten about. It brought a lot of memories. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did writing! ¡Felices Fiestas!
Ever since I turned 27, the thought of children has been on my mind. At 28, I am now a year older than my mother was when she had me. I always thought that my life would go a certain way. I would get my degree, get married, start a career, and have a baby. All of this was supposed to happen before I was 30.
Then I got sick, and one by one those dreams went up in flame.
I couldn’t go to medical school. Not only that, but I might even be able to manage a regular job let alone a career.
I got a degree, but unlike I expected my whole life, I am graduating with a bachelor with no idea of when or if I will ever be able to get more.
Some things changed, but not for the worse, just became different. Instead of a husband, I have a wife. The important part of that: the love, the support, the companionship remains the same. We live in Canada for now, which mean marriage for us is possible.
And then there are children. Continue reading “Children and Disability”
Growing up I used to hear this expression a lot from my singing teacher. It usually meant that I was doing something with my throat or voice which, while sounding good at the moment, could do long term damage to my vocal cords. I’ve been thinking about this expression a lot lately.
Ever since it came up during a discussion with friends. I was explaining how some of my medication I seemed to take in order to deal with the side effects of other medications. The conversation turned into a discussion of side effects and I mentioned how almost all of mine have increased risk of cancer listed. I joked that the meds I were taking risked me dying a slow and painful death, however I take them to avoid dying a slow and painful death now.
I joked that I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul. Continue reading “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”
Someone came up with a brilliant idea. Hey, why don’t we charge money for public toilets?
The reasoning is that by charging for bathrooms, the only people who will use them are people who actually have to go. Cut down on public sex, drug use, and raise money for the city all in one go!
Except this is just another example of how often the rights of the disabled are trampled over in the interest of “the greater good”.
What’s the big deal? It’s just a bathroom? If you can’t afford to use it, just wait till you get home?
Bathroom use is one of those interesting issues. On the surface we know that it effects everyone. One of the most recognized books in toilet training is literally called Everybody Poops. We don’t need to be socially convinced that people need access to washrooms. Where we make mistakes is in taking bathroom access for granted.
For the average person, if you need to use the bathroom, it is just a matter of finding one. You are able to devote a bit of time to looking for one, and if it takes a little while to find it, you are able to hold it in until you do. Chances are you have a restroom in your home and/or at work.
But some of us are not the average person. Some people are like me. Continue reading “Don't Make Me Pee In Your Fruitloops”