More Holiday Traditions

The piece I wrote for Sandra Sookoo’s blog the other day prompted some readers to share some of their holiday traditions. One lady, Helen Burlingham, a good friend and fellow writer graciously allowed me to share some of her remembrances here. Enjoy….


I, too, remember different ways to celebrate. Though I was born in Michigan (Saginaw) I grew up in New Jersey but with some of your traditions. My father bought our tree on Christmas eve and as very young children we did not help decorate. In later years my brother and I did help but it was still the night before.

We did not celebrate January 6th the way you described, but when i lived in Mexico as an adult, I discovered it was THE most important day there. In my husband Carlos’ home, there was always a skimpy pine cut from a nearby mountain side until later years when they brought nicer ones from Mexico City or his youngest brother went to higher mountain areas to cut a fuller tree. For many years there were no presents until January 6th.

I was the first daughter-in-law, and as each of Carlos’ brothers married and began families, we still came together in Tehuantepec for Christmas and Santa Claus did make an appearance on Christmas day. The gifts were placed around the tree in the chapel.

Those were the years that we drove from New Jersey to southern Mexico, with one overnight stop in McAllen, Texas. The car was loaded with gifts for everyone, including the servants of the house. I remember one year we hid a puppy under a pillow as we crossed the border. That dog lived at the family ranch for many years.

Christmas Eve we had a dinner after midnight mass that included turkey and mole. (A chocolate sauce pronounced mo-lay) The first years, the turkeys were very skinny local birds, so we started picking one up when we stopped in McAllen. That way we had one that was really big and full. The year my mother went with us, she made traditional stuffing. She also made a raised dough coffee ring that was a big hit. My sister-in-law, who was only about 12 that year, cut some pieces of the coffee ring and hid them in the old dining room cabinet so she would have some the next day.

As the years marched on, we continued to go to Mexico for Christmas before my mother-in-law died, but we started flying down with fewer gifts to carry as some of the families had other obligations. Even with the introduction of Santa Claus, January 6th was still important in Mexico, but most children received their presents on December 25th.

In Mexico, Christmas time was when village artisans sold the terracotta figures that at one time were the gifts received on January 6th. Some of the gifts were Tops and a toy called a balero, which is a small hollowed out gourd with a handle and a ball on a string that one threw up and caught in the gourd or carved cup. Maybe a small piece of clothing would be included, but no-one expected much even in the families like Carlos’ that had more means.

The first Christmases I spent there was in the early 50s so I was able to experience some of the earlier traditions. One of those was a special procession to place the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve. As young children, my daughter, Kim, and her cousin Lucy took turns each year carrying in the baby Jesus to lay in the nacimiento that was set up in the chapel. They were followed by the even younger children, and afterwards horchata and cookies.were served. Horchata is rice ground on a mecate, with sugar, cinnamon, and milk added.

I enjoyed those Holidays in Mexico, and we still try to follow some of the old traditions, but it becomes harder each year.

Helen Burlingham

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