Category Archives: Holidays and Celebrations

December Flashback: Christmas Traditions and Pigging Out on New Year’s Eve

2014.

I don’t even know where to start. We are already over one week into the New Year and life is moving fast. The holidays came and went so quickly I didn’t have the time or will to blog.  I’ll do a quick recap here.

We spent the first part of December getting ready to get ready. Right after Thanksgiving Juan went into the attic and brought down our 12 crates of holiday decorations and the artificial tree we purchased last year.  I thought it would be a great idea to have an artificial tree so we could put it up early and enjoy it all month long.

The tree stood in the living room, and the boxes lined the hallway untouched for two full weeks. I kept wishing the tree would decorate itself and trying to find the motivation to hang a few decorations. My advent wreath was set out on the dining room table and the first two candles stayed unlit. Then Olivia came home from her first semester at college, Diego continued to ask about the decorations and I got tired of running into boxes in the hallway. Finally, mid-December we decorated and started our Christmas shopping. Bam! It was Christmas in my house!

The weekend before Christmas my family got together to make tamales. I grew up eating tamales at Christmas and for many years I would get together with my mom and grandma to make them.  Since my grandmother died two years ago we have not made tamales.  This year it was time to start our tradition again.  Olivia wanted to participate so we went to my mom’s house and learned the craft of tamale making while the men “helped” by drinking Coronas, watching football and taste testing. I guess some traditions die hard.

Spreading the masa.

My sister-in-law and I spread the masa.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Another one of our Christmas traditions involve debating how we will spend Christmas. Juan and I have celebrated a dozen Christmases together and I can safely say that we have probably spent three of them in our own house, waking up in our own bed.  That’s because every year when the kids were younger, we would have to share Christmas morning with the other parents and divide our family time between my extended family and Juan’s extended family.  That usually meant Christmas Eve dinner with my parents followed by a sleep-over at my sister-in-law’s house for Christmas morning and then driving back to our side of town for the custody exchange, mid-day. It was hectic but that became our routine. Now that the kids are older and there is more flexibility with the custody exchange we have been able to cut down on some of the Christmas day driving.

Every year I try to eliminate the Christmas Eve sleepover, and this year was no different. Juan and I wanted a nice, relaxing Christmas morning in our own house, but we were completely out-voted. The kids protested, arguing that part of the fun and “tradition” was staying up late and sleeping over to celebrate Christmas with their cousins. So, that’s what we did.  In our annual tradition, we went to an early Christmas Eve service and then returned home to hurriedly load our van with presents for both our families, and our kids, overnight clothes and sleeping bags and then drove to Orange County to celebrate Colombian style with my in-laws. The celebration involved a late night meal, dancing and a hilarious gift exchange where my mother-in-law was the big winner! The kids were right. It was really fun! I guess part of our tradition is that every year I have to complain about our “tradition.” At least this year I didn’t have to rush through Christmas Eve dinner with my parents since everyone in my family was willing to have that part of the celebration on Christmas day. Maybe that’s a new tradition.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. Here, it's 3:30 a.m.

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. We’re still waiting and it’s 3:30 a.m!

Christmas day on the patio at my parent's house and relaxing family celebration.

Christmas day on the patio at my parent’s house and relaxing family celebration. Thank goodness.

New Year’s Eve was also the start of something different.  For a couple of years now I have spent New Year’s Day hosting an open house and serving black-eyed peas and posole. The black eyed peas are for good luck and the posole is because I like it.  This year we decided we wanted to host a party and switched it up for New Year’s Eve. We got together with another local family who are Colombian and combined forces. They brought over a 65 pound female pig to roast and 30 of their closest friends.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

We supplied the house, the black beans, rice, platanos, along with a few other appetizers, a whole lot of left over alcohol from my 50th birthday party, and about 20 friends.  We danced, lit fireworks, and finally ate at 1:00 a.m! It was a good time for all!  So good that the party turned into a sleep-over and carried over the next day as we all sat around in my kitchen eating leftover tamales and the posole I made for New Year’s Day.

New Year's Rockin' Eve in my family room!

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in my family room!

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

It may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

Posole  may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

I guess looking back at how busy we were for the the holidays, I can understand why I didn’t blog much. Remembering how wiped out I was after my New Year’s party, I can also forgive myself for waiting over a week into the New Year for my first blog post.  I have some intentions for this New Year which I hope to share with you in posts ahead.

In the meantime, I have some black-eyed peas I need to eat. Happy New Year!

A traditional New Year's food.

Our other traditional New Year’s food. 

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

Today is a special edition of Throwback Thursday. In celebration of Thanksgiving, I’m throwing it back to November 2007 and our blended family Thanksgiving.

In our blended family arrangement we often have to share holidays with the other parents. In 2007 Nico was going to spend the holiday out of town with his dad while the girls went with their mom. Before they left for the weekend I roasted a turkey breast and made some of our favorite thanksgiving sides. The other parents arrived and we invited them to stay for our impromptu feast. It was spontaneous and fun and we created a nice memory in the life of our family.

This year all our kids are home for the holiday. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and creating more memories. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Yes, There is a Santa Claus: Enabling My Son’s Belief Even When I’m Over It

I expected this to happen sooner or later.  After all, Diego is 9 years old and how much longer could I really expect him to buy into the Santa Claus thing? He really wants to be a believer in all the holiday fantasies.  He enjoys the magic of all of it. He even had me enabling his beliefs when I ran out on St. Patrick’s Day and bought him green gifts so he would think the leprechauns really did visit.

This year it’s not even Thanksgiving and he’s already asking about Christmas, and Santa. Honestly, I was just hoping that his belief would just fade away and this year he would admit to me that he didn’t believe in Santa anymore. Last year Juan and I drove over an hour to Filmore so that we could have what I thought would be our last “Santa Experience” and Diego could ride a Polar Express train. I figured 8 years old was really the end of the Santa fantasy.  I thought that by now he would stop believing and I wouldn’t have to do the whole leaving cookies and milk thing or sneak around and pretend Santa paid us a visit. My three teenagers stopped believing long ago, and frankly I am kind of over it.  I certainly didn’t expect Diego to ask about Santa this year, much less today. I was caught completely off guard.

On the way to school this morning Diego started asking a lot of Santa questions. He asked, “Why don’t parents get anything from Santa on Christmas? What would I want Santa to bring me?” I was not prepared to have this discussion before I had my first full cup of coffee. I just couldn’t be that creative that early in the morning. I quickly detoured that conversation by saying I had to concentrate on driving in traffic.

On the way home from work this afternoon, in the pre-holiday rush hour traffic we had a lot of time to kill.  We started talking about Thanksgiving which led to a discussion of how many days until Christmas, which of course led into another conversation about Santa.  It was dark and I couldn’t see his expression as he sat in the back seat, but he sounded sincere.

Diego: Do you believe in Santa? Be honest.

Me: Do you believe?

Diego: Yes, I believe.

Me: (Thinking) He’s still a believer?! How could I crush his belief? Even if he really just wants to believe in the magic, but doesn’t truly buy into the whole Santa thing, how could I tell him the truth? I don’t want to lie. But I don’t have the heart to ruin his fantasy. Especially now, when I am driving in traffic, and when I can’t see how he’ll handle the truth. And I’m tired. Can’t he just stop believing without me having to be the bad guy and ruin it for him? 

So, I kind of lied.

Me:   Yes,  there was a man named St. Nicolas. He would give presents to kids.

Diego:  (Not missing a beat). You mean used to be? What about now?

Me:  (Using my lawyer tactics) Well, what do you think?

Diego: I think he’s real. My friend Nelly told me she saw him once with his elf. I think his toy bag is magic and refills itself with the toys for the kids. How else could he have toys for all the kids?

Me: Yeah. (Seriously? This kid has quite an imagination. Either that or he is really playing me.)

Me:  Well, it sounds like you have it all figured out.  Oh look, a traffic accident!

Crisis averted. For now. Damn.

Christmas 2012. I thought it was the last year for Santa. I guess not.

Christmas 2012. I thought it was the last year for Santa. I guess not.

 

Shopping on Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Like most grateful American I want to thank all those in the armed forces for their service, including my father and my cousins. I’ve written about the veterans in my family before, here and here.

Today in observance of Veterans Day, I had the day off from work. Like most busy, working moms I was grateful for the extra day off. I decided to use the time to get do some chores around the house that have been bugging me.  I wanted clean out some of my closets. I started with my linen closet.

My linen closet before the purge and reorganization.

My linen closet before the purge and re-organization.

I was making some good progress that was derailed when I stopped to run some errand to one of my favorite stores, Banana Republic. I intended to be really quick but I found they were having a huge sale and I stayed much longer.  I got as far as cleaning out my linen closet, and didn’t have time to clean out my own closet.

Too bad because I had a successful trip and Banana Republic and now I have no place to put away the clothes I just bought. I guess I’ll have to wait until the next holiday and day off from work,  Thanksgiving.  Followed by Black Friday. Oh no!

Happy Veterans Day! Happy Shopping!

My linen closet after the purge. Now I have room for more towels!

My linen closet after the purge. Now I have room for more towels!

 

Dancing with the Dead: My Own Día de los Muertos Celebration

Last week was Dia de las Muertos. This is centuries old holiday which originated in in Mexico and is currently enjoying a surge in popularity. The holiday honors loved ones who have died. Celebrants typically build a three-tiered altar called ofrendas and decorate with symbols as marigolds, papel picado and photographs and favorite foods of the deceased. On November 1 and 2 it’s thought that the veil which separates the living and the departed is thinner, allowing the living to experience the presence of the deceased. Even though it sounds eerie or maybe a bit morbid, I really like this holiday.

I love the decorations, the foods and the tradition. I don’t think of it as eerie but see the holiday as an opportunity to remember my grandparents, my cousin and others who are no longer here with me physically but remain a part of my life.  One year I put together an altar and another time I joined in a local Muertos celebration. This year I was so busy I didn’t build an altar or join one of the many events around Los Angeles.

This week I had to go to a meeting just down the street from the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. The meeting ended and I decided to stop by the cemetery and say hello to my grandparents.  The cemetery was filled with flowers, especially marigolds whose strong scent is believed to help guide the departed to earth.

A beautiful day for a visit to the cemetery.

A beautiful day for a visit to the cemetery.

I stopped at the flowershop and bought a bouquet to bring to my grandparents. I thought I knew where their graves were located but I couldn’t find them so I went to the office to get a map.  Since I am, as my husband likes to say, “directionally challenged,” I wandered around lost, even after I had the map.  There were so many graves and no landmarks. Frustrated, I paused under a pine tree. In my frustration I asked my grandmother to help me find her and set out again among the graves.  All of a sudden I felt something inside my pants pricking me.  I must have looked ridiculous as I squirmed around and hopped up and down until a pine needle fell out of my pant leg. My grandmother must have had a good laugh at my expense.  Then, a cemetery groundskeeper approached me and asked if I needed help. I don’t know if my grandmother heard my plea, or the groundskeeper was just drawn to me by the sight of my ridiculous gravesite dance! Whatever. I finally found my grandparents’ graves.  I put out the flowers, said hello and was reminded of all the good times I had with them.

Even though missed missed the actual date, I celebrated my own Dia de los Muertos, laughing and dancing with my grandparents.

Saying hello to the grandparents.

Saying hello to the grandparents.

How do you honor your ancestors?

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