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Christmas in Nambe

Christmas in Nambé was different from anywhere else in the world. Not necessarily better, just different!

by Ben Romero

Christmas in Nambé was different from anywhere else in the world. Not necessarily better, just different.

The tradition in this little village was like this: early on Christmas morning, every kid who was worth his salt took a container (a flour sack worked best) and walked around the neighborhood collecting candy. It was similar to trick-or-treating, except that the children yelled, “Mís Crismes!” If we came across a house where an Anglo family lived, we would say, “Merry Christmas!”

For our efforts we got holiday goodies. Mostly we received hard candy, peanuts, nuts, or popcorn. Sometimes hard candy stuck to the peanut shells and made a mess. In many cases we were given apples, and some people gave us oranges. This was really special because oranges do not grow in New Mexico. Everybody took part in the tradition, even Grandpa Cruz Romero. He gave us roasted piñon nuts.

It was not unusual to fill a large grocery bag or flour sack by walking a couple of miles going house to house. At some homes the occupants insisted that we sing Christmas carols. But this only happened where Anglos lived.

 There was often snow on the ground on Christmas morning and we were usually sleepy because we got up so early. We stayed up for Midnight Mass to avoid having to attend services on Christmas day. We wanted to get a good start. The excitement was unbearable.

One year it was particularly cold and a wet, steady snow fell. I had been sick and my mother was not going to let me go. Finally she couldn’t stand the pitiful look I had and allowed me to go with my brother, but on one condition. I had to keep my head covered. I couldn’t just wear a baseball cap, mind you. She made me wear a cloth diaper tied around my head like a scarf. It was that or no go. I had to promise I would not take it off, no matter what. And I was reminded that God was watching. I had been to communion at Midnight Mass, so I had better do it. It was terrible.

Cloth diapers in 1960 were large, white rectangles. Mothers had endless uses for them, such as dusting, protecting clothes while ironing, bandanas and slings. But all I could think of was that my little brother’s butt had been covered by it. I kept looking around to make sure none of my friends saw me and was thankful for the drizzle. We avoided several houses. Louie helped out because he did not want to be seen walking with a diaper-head. At one house, I waited near a tree while he went alone to get candy because I did not want a certain girl to see me.

We got plenty of candy, as usual, and, in spite of the bitter morning cold, not seeing any of my friends, and the humiliation of wearing the diaper, it was all worthwhile. It wasn’t the candy, the fruit, or the nuts that made it special. It was the sharing and partaking in the festive mood of every family. Each house had a wonderful aroma, the smell of baked goodies, tamales, piñon wood, and pine trees. I love the holiday memories (although not the diaper-head Christmas in particular).

The year we moved from Nambé to Española, we were not sure if the tradition was celebrated, so my mom bought candy anyway. I was thirteen and too old to take part. So I was happy to hand out candy. Only nobody came. That is when we realized that our Christmas tradition was unique to the village of Nambé. It made me sad to know that my younger brothers would never partake. I sometimes wonder if people still celebrate Christmas Day that way in Nambé.