Bilingual is Better

Suzanne and Sabrina

In my family Christmas celebration traditions have come and gone, just as they may evolve with any family. My mom has mentioned how before they immigrated from Mexico she and her brothers would celebrate Christmas differently than how it had changed here in the US, but then again a lot changed as they made a life on the other side of the border.

The one part of our Christmas celebration that has remained the same throughout our upbringing is our Christmas dinner. Growing up my parents were well connected with a Catholic church. We would normally have a Christmas Eve dinner, head over to midnight mass, and then open gifts up. There were years we didn’t make it to midnight mass, it all really just depended on what was going on in our family, whether it was good or bad. I think the same applies now. Now that I have a baby I don’t foresee us staying up until midnight…at least not this year.

This is our first Christmas with Sabrina and both my husband and I are anxious to share the history of this beautiful celebration with her, but of course, she is only six months and she may not fully grasp what we are telling her with words. That being said, I am a firm believer that children and babies have their own way of interpreting the world, yet it all contributes to their formation and understanding of it. Therefore, just as I felt a strong conviction to start new traditions for our Thanksgiving holiday, I feel the same is true with Christmas.

Ever since my six-month-old was born I feel as if I have been experiencing a rite of passage. As the holidays approached and as she reached certain milestones this rite of passage I am experiencing helped construct my new identity as a mother.

As I was writing this posting I was struggling because I wasn’t quite sure how we celebrate a bicultural Christmas. I think this is partly because for the longest time I thought everyone in the U.S. celebrated Christmas the way my Mexican parents did. After struggling to define the ways my nuclear family celebrated Christmas with a Latino flavor I decided that this year (this blog entry) would serve as an introduction to the way we would like to share a bi/tri-cultural Christmas with Sabrina in the years to come.

After much exploration and reflection we have decided to do the following with our small family of three:

1)         Prepare tamales on the 24th with family and friends to share on the 25th of December.

My abuelita has made tamales for special events such as family members’ birthday to selling them in order to buy a new and much needed appliance in her home. Tamales have an extensive history dating to pre-Columbian times. The story goes that women in Mexico would make them while traveling with armies. The tradition of making has evolved over time, as have the varieties of tamales. There are 500-1000 kinds of tamales all over Mexico and the tamal has several names depending on the country or the part of Mexico it is made. Anyone who has ever made tamales knows it is a laborious event, hence the reason why they are usually made for special occasions such as Christmas. It is a tradition my grandmother and mother have shared with my sisters and me, and one we will introduce to Sabrina and her cousins this year.

2)       Participate in a posada.

My parents exposed us to posadas growing up through our local church. It is a Mexican tradition where Joseph and Mary’s search of lodging to birth baby Jesus is reenacted. I learned that many of the local churches in Austin, including our local parish, invite the community to participate in a posada.

3)       Attend a St. Nikolaus Markt.

We live about an hour and a half from a small German town in Texas called Fredericksburg. It has a special place in our hearts because it is where we got engaged, but also because my husband has German roots. The St. Nikolaus Markt offers us an opportunity to celebrate his heritage as well. The town is fully decorated to reflect the Christmas season with lights, a public Christmas tree, and lots of holiday goodies. Visiting this town also reminds him of the years he lived in Switzerland which is another opportunity to expose Sabrina to another multi-lingual culture.

4)       Attend midnight mass after celebrating all day on December 24th.

As mentioned earlier, part of our Latino heritage includes celebrating Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day. Attending a midnight Christmas mass is something we did growing up after a long day of preparing the dinner meal and spending time with family by playing loteria, constantly conversing and reading the story of baby Jesus in the bible.

5)       Setting up the nativity set.

This is a new tradition I would like to start. This year we put up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, along with setting up our special nativity set that was given to us as a Christmas gift from family in Ecuador. Setting it up every year with Sabrina will give us another opportunity to explain the history of Christmas, in addition, to sharing with her about her Ecuadorian heritage.

As I complete my rite of passage of becoming a mami I am sure I will keep some of the old traditions passed down to Sabrina from her Mexican, German, American, and Ecuadorian ancestors while at the same time starting a few of our own.

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