Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Vanity Of The Bonfires

Festivals are mostly born of tradition, often by way of specific culture or religion, and such celebrations often define humankind’s desire to affect others with their own version of happiness and contentment. No one enjoys celebrating life with other human beings who enjoy celebrating life more than I do. Christmas is one of those times where I enjoy celebrating life with other human beings, mostly my family, utilizing tradition as a harness of holiday continuity. I have brought the traditions of my North American heritage here to Mexico and insist on sharing it with my family.

My traditions, passed on to me from my parents and grandparents and so on, are being passed on to my own children here, irrespective of some international boundary. And I hope that they pass it on to their children, and on and on. It is a wonderful and humble tradition, my version of Christmas.

As the name infers, Christmas is intended to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who many believe to be the Christ, the son of God. Pagan rituals, some of which celebrate the fact that in the Northern hemisphere the days cease to become shorter and shorter and start to become longer and longer, have historically been held to celebrate the return of the sun (or else, the neopaganist Winter Solstice). The Hebrew festival of Hanukkah is celebrated in December. Kwanzaa is a December celebration, and even Ramadan is sometimes celebrated around Christmas when Eid al-Fitr coincides with a December lunar cycle. I don’t think it matters that much why we celebrate this time of the year, but I think that it’s important that we do. And we all do seem to, in one form or another.

I can only hope that all such December celebrations involve good food, good family and good friends.

* * * *

Somewhere in the past, in my aggressive pursuit of cultural understanding and my willingness to embrace Mexican traditions, I decided that it would be a good thing to have a quinceaños, a traditional Mexican fiesta, to celebrate Elizabeth’s fifteenth birthday. I ignored Rocio’s misgivings and insisted that we celebrate her sister’s birthday by announcing to the community that she had reached that magic age of puberty, that we would invite people to help us acknowledge her ascension to womanhood.

It was a mistake, this fiesta, an event that left a bad taste in my mouth and taught me a lesson. Elizabeth’s quinceaños was too big, too much money that could otherwise be used to feed the poor or pay some bills was instead spread amongst hundreds of people in the form of catered food and five-gallon buckets of one-hundred and seventy proof brandy. All of this, complete with a mobile music machine and a rented event hall and hired security, for a fifteen-year old girl from a poor family in the projects of Tijuana. Instead of happiness and contentment, I felt shame and regret.

As Rocio pointed out afterward, the quinceañera only works well on a small scale, in the vast tracts of small pueblitos that make up the majority of Southern Mexico. The bigger the region, the more that traditional fiestas become too big for their own good. In the case of the quinceaños, and often times in the case of Christmas, it seems that the idea is to build an enormous bonfire rather than a cozy campfire. Bonfires are a complete waste of energy, consuming copious amounts of fuel for no other reason than to feed the vanity of humankind.

The vanity of the bonfires.

Christmas, or whatever you wish to call it according to your own culture or religion or whatever, has turned into, in many cases, a bonfire. Something too hot to roast chestnuts over. Something that even Tom Wolfe wouldn’t dangle a marshmallow into. Christmas has mostly become a time of year for spending too much money on gifts and cards, more fuel for the bonfire.

More fuel for the bonfire.

* * * *

The traditional Mexican Christmas includes, at midnight tonight, tamales and posole, which I will enjoy tomorrow while I cook a traditional American Christmas turkey and stuffing and potatoes and yams and so on. Rocio, in the meanwhile, will take a cab to Centro and get Charlie and Jodie and bring them back here for dinner, we are their family here, and look forward to inviting them every year. I’ll miss Joshua and Rebekah but me and Rocio and Anna and Sharon and Juan and Elizabeth and Charlie and Jodie and Rocio’s parents and anyone else who happens by will be illuminated by a solitary candle at the table while Charlie says grace. And we’ll enjoy the thing that this holiday is all about, which is candles and wine and good food.

And each other.

May everyone have such a wonderful Christmas as I will.

May everyone trade in their bonfire for a candle.


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