It’s beginning to look a lot like…yesterday, and the day before, and the days before that. Christmas time in El Salvador, at least in my part of it, is more depressing than Christmas in California.
I’m from New Jersey. As kids we’d look forward to Christmas (not winter) vacation from school. But two weeks without snow would be torture. Not to have Jon’s Pond and the brook freeze over would be a catastrophe. The weather was linked to Christmas. Kids wanted sleds and ice skates under the tree. They’re not much good without sufficient quality snow and smooth, thick ice.
Southern California had neither snow nor ice. It didn’t even feel cold to this New Jerseyan. So when the malls put up their plastic trees and Santa Clauses on the parking lot light stancheons it just looked cheap and commercial. The days leading up to December 25th stimulated nothing of the excitement.
Christmas tree lots were filled with lovely trees that were already shedding their needles as they came off the truck from Washington. Workers “flocked” them to give the impression of snow, but I was too familiar with woods and forests where the pine trees had the real thing on their boughs to be taken in.
Christmas eves during my thirty years in the Golden State ran the gamut from overdecorating the inside of the house to putting chintzy little artificial trees on a table. The early years at least had children involved. They always knew what they were getting. That took away some of the surprise element parents, most parents love to see when the kids open the package and find something they wanted but didn’t expect.
This is my third Christmas in El Refugio. For Christmas eve 2008 I was invited to spend the night with Martita and her family. Mother Martha cooked a chicken and we had a small feast. Lots of relatives came by and each had one present for another family member by lot. The presents were quite inexpensive and either practical, a cup and saucer, or decorative, a Winnie the Pooh poster. The air was filled with the sounds of fireworks and the smell of gunpowder. We stayed up until after midnight and got up early Christmas day. But not to celebrate further. Those who had jobs went to work. That seemed to be a downer.
For Christmas eve 2009, Margarita invited me to Casa Blanca to spend the night with her family. Again the lottery among family members and close friends who popped in and out took up most of the night. We had fireworks and they made me nervous. I didn’t want any of the kids to get hurt. I guess that’s another sign of getting old. I had gifts for Margarita and the kids. They really enjoyed getting clothes and toys they didn’t expect. I enjoyed watching them open the packages. Because Margarita and I weren’t a formal couple, we had to stay up until morning. The kids who slept on the big bed were moved into Maria’s bed while Margarita and I talked…until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Still, I was up early to walk back to my house in El Refugio to get some sleep.
In both cases, there was little in the way of decorations to make an American feel Christmasy. In some houses colored lights could be seen. Stores had been selling Christmas wrapping paper along with an extra stock of toys. The stores in the mall in Santa Ana were more like malls in California, but I don’t spend much time there.
Now it’s Christmas 2010. I’ve got a wife and four kids. Two older teen-agers and two in single digits. Margarita and I haven’t talked about where or how or with whom we’ll spend the night of the 24th. We don’t have much money to spend especially after our church wedding in November. I’ll make sure everyone gets something. But I don’t think I’ll be getting a recliner or even a desk chair. The kids will be happy as always with just about anything they can play with. The teens will get something to wear. Maria will get some kind of makeup or jewelry. Nothing from Rodeo Drive. I don’t know what Margarita will get. She always feels so blessed with what she’s got. I bought her a blender today. We need so much for the house. A table of some sort for the blender and microwave that now sits atop the refrigerator where it’s hard for her to reach. I want it to feel like Christmas not just providing the house with things a family, an American family takes for granted.
I downloaded some Christmas songs, mostly by Nat King Cole to put me in the mood as the big day gets closer. But right now, only the TV ads from stores in Bolivia, Columbia, and San Salvador give the feeling of Christmas.