Take Back the Holidays!

virginBy LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly

I get it. The holidays are overdone. Over-commercialized. I just wish they’d be over. Forget the Christmas crap that shows up in the stores in September, the overdone details of gift wrap and complex appetizer platters on Pinterest boards. Screw the “shop ‘til you drop” mentality and racking up ridiculous bills. And don’t get me started on the most recent bribing of children through Elf on the Shelf. Abandoning all of this doesn’t mean you have to turn into the Scrooge and slam your door for the next several months. What if we reinvented the holidays? What if we said, at their core, we love what they stand for: thankfulness, togetherness, good food, and celebrating the ones we love? Maybe we say goodbye to the standard that just seems to let us down, and make them what we want them to be?

In our house, we celebrate my partner’s Mexican heritage with holidays like Dia de los Muertos, and in December and January, this includes Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe and the Epiphany, or Dia de reyes magos. Fortunately, these holidays have not been blown into over commercialized money makers devoid of meaning, and for us, they bring opportunities to cook, gather, celebrate and recognize those we love in our lives.

Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, or Virgin of Guadalupe Day, falls on December 12, and celebrates both the indigenous and the Catholic history of the Mexican people, specifically with a woman at its center: Guadalupe. In addition, she’s a mixture of the cultures that blended to form Mexico: Aztec and Spanish Catholic; often she’s referred to as the first mestizo, or first Mexican. December 12, 1851 is the day she appeared on a hill outside Mexico City, and in our house on December 12, we celebrate with friends and chosen family with a feast of homemade posole and offerings to La Virgen in thanks for a wonderful year.

Posole is a traditional prehispanic soup, consisting of hominy, pork, chile peppers and seasonings. It’s a fun, interactive dinner, with the posole ladled out in bowls, and the passing around the table the elements you add in individually, from radishes to avocado to Mexican oregano and lime. The 12th falls right in the middle of December, before we’re all burned out from the holidays and overcommitted to parties, gatherings and work obligations: perfect timing. Of course we toast with tequila and words of thanks for the year, and share the story of the amazing female figure at the center of Mexican culture.

IMG_3478On January 6, we celebrate the epiphany or Dia de reyes magos. In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, Santa Claus doesn’t signify the gift giving that he does here in the United States. The three wise men are those who bring gifts, leaving them in or near the shoes of children. We gather with friends casually to share gifts with kids, after all the hype of Christmas, and when they can really enjoy the opening of a single gift. We drink atole, a traditional hot masa drink, and eat a rosca de reyes, a king’s cake pastry purchased at a local panaderia, or Mexican bakery. Hidden inside the cake is a small plastic baby and whoever receives the piece with the hidden baby throws a party on February 2. See? We can keep the holidays going for months.

Yes, we still have the obligatory family and work holiday parties and gatherings, but our Mexican holidays feel different, special, meaningful and authentic. And isn’t that precisely what we yearn for this time of year? I’m done with the hype of commercialized Christmas and look forward to the love and joy celebrated around the figure of Virgin of Guadalupe, a steaming bowl of posole, and the excitement of discovering a plastic baby in my rosca. But most importantly, it’s sharing these moments with my chosen family I cherish. Cheers.

LeAnn Locher looks forward to the holidays, she swears. She can be reached at leann@pqmonthly.com.