Centenarian Santa still shining bright

“‘Twas the night before Christmas….” Time to wake Little Santa Light up from his annual estivation/hibernation.

Covered with nicks as one would expect with his years, Santa spends 364 days carefully cradled in fluffy cotton to extend his life as long as possible. We are unsure of this Saint Nicholas’ actual age, but family lore passed down by the Mister’s grandmother, Virginia Lamar Hornor (1895-1988), traces his birth back before World War I.

With expensive early electric bulbs regarded as fragile and unreliable, Santa was treasured even at a tender young age. Grandma said the Lamar family would light him each night during the holidays, keeping Santa burning to guide her brother, Lucius Mirabeau Lamar, III (1898-1978), safely home from World War I.

Through the ensuing decades, the jolly old elf became regarded as a good luck omen – as long as he would light. And he has continued to do so.

Partially crediting Little Santa Light with his own safe return from World War II, Louis Hamilton Hornor, Jr. (1922-2005), coddled him for years. The Mister’s uncle bought Santa his own little Charlie-Brown-esque tree and found a sturdy box to serve as his bed. Uncle Louis fretted over the proper voltage for the aging family relic, so he attached a voltage attenuator to ensure no powerful electrical surge would knock the little guy out.

The annual Christmas Eve lighting is always tinged with excitement and a bit of fear. Suppose this is the year Santa refuses to rouse? What would a burned-out Santa signify?

Once again on December 24, family members took a deep breath as the Mister’s younger brother screwed Santa in tight. Sighs of relief and cries of good cheer burst forth as Saint Nick suddenly glowed.

Not wanting to exhaust the family’s oldest member for much more than a flash, he was quickly unscrewed and tucked snugly back in his bed. As we closed the lid once more on his lair, I am sure I heard him whisper as he went out of sight: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) wrote the enduring poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” in 1822.

Edward Hibberd Johnson of the Edison Lamp Company first hand-wired 80 red, while and blue light bulbs and strung them around a tree in the shop’s window in 1882, according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine.

 

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Bite the baby; throw the party

three-kingsThe pair of skinny Santas on stilts (I know; I don’t comprehend their significance either.) who roamed the plaza in front of the Cathedral around Christmas have been replaced by itinerant trios of kings soliciting tips for family photos. This troupe was the only one around bearing gifts for Baby Jesus accompanied by the beasts (well, sort of) originally transporting them to the manger in Bethlehem on January 6.

Epiphany was always a holy day of obligation when I was growing up, another command day at church which fell within several weeks of a multitude of visits to church. But we weren’t rewarded with cake.

In Mexico, Saint Nicholas traditionally does not arrive bearing gifts for children on Jesus’ birthday. Children have to wait until the day Jesus received his presents – gold, frankincense and myrrh – delivered in tribute to him by the three kings. So, on January 6 in Mexico, Mass is followed by presents and a party with cake – rosca de reyes.

Shannon Costello's rosca de reyes

Shannon Costello’s rosca de reyes

The staff at the Library of the University of Texas at San Antonio has translated, along with helpful baking tips, a traditional kings’ cake recipe from Panes de Levadura by Josefina Velazquez de Leon, part of the collection of Mexican cookbooks, La Cocina Historica.

Not everyone in Oaxaca appears to make these from scratch. Boxes of the rings of cake have been flying off shelves in bakeries all over town.

Hidden inside each is a little figure representing Baby Jesus. If the piece you receive contains the nino, your family has to host the next fiesta specifically for Jesus on the calendar, Candelaria on February 2, or prepare the homemade tamales for the party (Whoa! I prefer the no-strings-attached prize in Cracker Jacks).

Candelaria is when all the Baby Jesuses housed by the faithful in their homes receive new clothes. Then, dressed in appropriate finery, all the little statues are carried to church to be blessed.

Hmmm. What should Jesus wear? Is Oaxaca ready to follow the fashion trends being set in San Cristobal de las Casas? Happy Kings’ Day.

And, if the kings have any gifts in mind for me, of the ancient trio, I’d prefer the gold.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, albeit in a different zipcode

I used to buy boxes of Christmas cards. Good intentions. Always unsent.

But I think this should count. It even includes our holiday self-portrait, all sombreroed-up to shade us from the afternoon sun, still intense during this season of the winter solstice.

Feliz Navidad to ya’ll, and to ya’ll a good noche.