17. A Hispanic Christmas
By Miguel Pérez
We call it "Navidad," the Spanish word for Christmas. But literally, it means "Nativity" — and we have no qualms about the birth we are celebrating.
Christmas traditions unfortunately are becoming politically incorrect in many segments of American society, but in the overwhelmingly Christian Hispanic-American community, we still proudly display our faith in Jesus Christ.
Efforts to quash public Nativity displays and even censor references to the word "Christmas" are seen as ridiculous in a community where most homes still display Nativity scenes and other religious ornaments that remind us of the real meaning of Navidad.
This is one area in which Hispanics, perhaps even more than most Americans, hold on to traditional family values.
After all, more than a time for shopping and gift giving, more than a time for commercialization and greed, Christmas is a time of religious and homeland traditions.
And those are traditions that Hispanics have been able to preserve — thanks to the huge importance we place on Christmas Eve.
We call it "Nochebuena," which simply means "Good Night." But in Hispanic homes throughout this country, Christmas Eve is by far the most cherished night of the year.
This is the time when we reach into our souls and reflect on our lives, our faith in God, our heritage and our need to be with our loved ones.
Regardless of where we are, most Hispanics long to be home for the traditional Dec. 24 dinner and family reunion — the Hispanic equivalent of Thanksgiving.
That means that instead of "dreaming of a white Christmas," many of us long for a greener, tropical and, yes, religious Navidad, "just like the ones we used to know" back in our native homelands.
Other memorable times may fade with the years, but thanks to the Nochebuena family reunions, memories of Christmases past remain vivid in our minds.
This is the time we use to retell old family stories, mourn relatives who have passed, call family members who are far away and cherish the ones who are sharing our meals. During dinner, the discussions usually take us back to other Nochebuenas. We laugh about the good times, share some tearful moments and give thanks for overcoming the obstacles.
On Christmas Eve, in most Hispanic homes throughout this country, you can bet there were people hugging, revisiting their lives and giving thanks for their blessings. That's what Nochebuena is all about.
Celebrated throughout Latin America and Spain, the Nochebuena tradition differs slightly from country to country, as it does among the 60 million U.S. Hispanics, especially in the dishes served for the family feast.
But its significance doesn't change. We all see it as a time to dig out the roots of our faith and our culture — and to pass them on to our children.
Indeed, throughout the world, Hispanic families gather for reunions they considered even more important than Christmas Day. After all, most Hispanics grew up receiving gifts not on Dec. 25, but on the Jan. 6 Feast of the Epiphany — and not from Santa Claus, but from the same Three Wise Men who brought presents to the child Jesus in Bethlehem.
That's why among Hispanic Americans, the figurines in the manger still have a special significance. And that's why efforts to expurgate them from any public square are seen as absurd.
Yet, desperate as it may seem, some public officials, misinterpreting the Constitution, are trying to diminish the religious significance Christmas.
Obviously, we live in a pluralistic society in which all religions should be embraced and celebrated. But in order to be politically correct, we are expected to wish one another "happy holidays" or "season's greetings" instead of "merry Christmas." It's idiotic.
I know. Only a small minority of misguided individuals, apparently lacking anything better to do with their lives, are fighting with Christmas every year. But they seem to be growing in numbers, especially those public officials who claim they are taking down religious Christmas ornaments because they don't want to offend anyone.
In fact, though they may be protecting a small minority of Americans who are offended, they are insulting the overwhelming majority who always will refuse to keep Christ out of Christmas.
But that's not even a problem in the Hispanic community, where the religious significance of Christmas is rekindled every Nochebuena and where Jesus Cristo is still the only reason we celebrate Navidad.
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