At Christmastime, Mom taught us to celebrate Christmas in a special way. We were Catholic and we believed Christmas meant we were celebrating the Birth of Christ. Starting two weeks before Christmas through to January 6 of the New Year (the Feast of the Epiphany), every evening at 7:00 pm, our family gathered in the living room and said the Rosary.
As in most Hispanic family homes, we always had a crucifix and a small altar in our Living Room. During Christmas time, mom decorated the altar with the Nativity scene. My mother loved ceramics and so our Altar was always very special. Each figure was made of hand painted porcelain ceramics standing about six to ten inches tall. Mom would find straw either from a farm or craft store. She used the Christmas lights to string across the top of the roof. The baby Jesus had a beautiful, radiant face and was carefully layed in a manger, filled with straw. He lay atop a handmade silk blanket and mom hand sewed his silk baby gown. Mary kneeled on his right, Joseph on his left. The Shepherds and their sheep were on the right, the three wise men on the left. An Angel perched from Heaven above as if to say “Hosanna in the Highest.”
At exactly 7:00pm, our parents and all of my siblings stopped whatever we were doing, picked up our rosaries, found our favorite spot facing the altar, knelt down and started to pray. Usually our Mom led the rosary, saying the first half of each prayer as the rest of us contributed the last half, in unison.
For those not familiar with the rosary, it is said in five sections, with the leader reciting the appropriate “Mystery” of the rosary after each section. We followed the tradition and added a song after each mystery.
Our Dad was so strict about our speaking English at home, but he did make an exception for the Rosary. While we said the prayers in English, Mom often read the Mysteries from her Spanish prayer book. She also taught us a special song to sing at Christmas during the Rosary. It was in Spanish. It was a song her mother taught her as a child. It went like this: “Ya rompió el alba del día, nacio el Niño Manuelito. Cantemos con alegría, Alalu, Niño Chiquito. Alalu, Niño Chiquito.”
It was a short, simple song with a very beautiful melody. Two of us rocked the baby Jesus as we sang it.
It´s funny. When I think about my childhood Christmases, I don´t think about toys or gifts of any kind. Instead, I think of the rosaries we always said. Each year, as I put up my Christmas decorations, I make sure to put my Nativity scene right over the fireplace. As I am putting it up, I keep hearing that beautiful melody playing, “…Alalu, Niño Chiquito. Alalu, Niño Chiquito.”
Those are the memories you never forget!