Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday cheer at Five O’Clock Somewhere

Christmas is a little different in northern New Mexico

At last, we’re up north for Christmas. Originally, we had hoped to get here a couple of days sooner, but then there was a Christmas party to go to in the Albuquerque area, and then there was some shopping to do, and some business to take care of today, before businesses closed for the holiday.

So we didn’t get started on the journey north until mid-afternoon, and we stopped in Española for groceries; the Wal Mart Supercenter was an absolute zoo – and that was just the parking lot – so we went to the little grocery store that had been the main one in town before Wal Mart arrived on the scene. Sure, the prices were higher, but the atmosphere was much nicer, with far fewer frenzied shoppers per square yard.

Española is an interesting town, and the little grocery store reflects that. Much of the town’s population is Hispanic, descendants of families who settled in the valley more than three hundred years ago. But there has also been a wave of new immigrants from Mexico in recent years. So the store carries a huge selection of local produce, including chile products and locally grown spices, plus jams and jellies and other goodies. In addition, there are a lot of imports from Mexico, including Mexican Coca-Cola, which is made with cane sugar instead of the high-fructose corn syrup now used in the American version. There were three languages spoken in that store – Northern New Mexico Spanish, Mexican Spanish, and English – and while the place may not have been as shiny or modern as Wal Mart, the shopping experience was much nicer.

As we left Española, it was getting dark, and driving up into the mountains, we could see Christmas Eve lights at many of the houses and ranchos that we passed. In addition to electric lights and illuminated Nativity displays, Christmas Eve is the big night for the luminarias – votive candles in paper bags, descended from the traditional small bonfires used to light the way for the Christ Child. Unlike two weeks ago at Elephant Butte, there was wind but not so much as to destroy the luminarias, although it was enough to blow a few out here and there – keeping them lit is a labor of love on the part of those who use them, especially with temperatures in the teens and twenties. (Yes, there are such things as electric luminarias, but purists stick with candles.) The entire village of Los Ojos was completely lined with the luminarias; the Christ Child will definitely be able to find his way there.

Now we’re up at Five O’Clock Somewhere, and there’s about six inches of snow on the ground, with deer wandering through now and again. Pat and Gerald have built a fire in the fireplace and set out our luminarias in front of the house, and I have Christmas food underway in the kitchen. This year, I’m doing a new twist on the sweet holiday tamales – the Albuquerque Journal this year published a variation using pumpkin. I may also do the ones with cinnamon and raisins as well; I haven’t decided yet. Right now I’m making dulce de leche, a thickened, caramelized version of condensed milk that will be served with the tamales. Once that’s done, I’ll be able to steam the tamales, since the tamale pot is the only one I have that’s deep enough to submerge the can of condensed milk to cook it into dulce de leche.

Gerald’s now working on decorating the Christmas tree, and Dulce is sitting on the back of the sofa to supervise. The Chargers just won their football game, and now the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is on television, and we’re finally getting to feel like it’s actually Christmas time. This year has been a stressful one, and we’ve had a hard time getting into the spirit up until now.

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