Holiday displays like the one at the BMO Harris building often shape our memories of the season and remain with us long after we’re no longer children. But sometimes different memories define the perfect Christmas for us, as essayist Alexandra Rosas discovers:
On a thin carpet over bare wood floors, my brother and I sat and waited. Buzzing with anticipation, our eyes wide, giggling, with our fingers in our mouths. It was Christmas Eve, and my entire family was sitting around our tinsel covered, brightly lit Christmas tree.
We watched as together, my mother and father pulled out what looked like the world’s largest box from behind the tree. My mother read the tag on the enormous present and my brother and I jumped up, clapping as we heard the words, “para Alejandra y Pachito, del Nino Jesus.” For Alexandra and Francisco, from Baby Jesus.
In our footed pajamas, we tripped and slid over our three other siblings and began to tear at the paper that covered our gift.
“Guarden el papel!” Save the paper! my thrift minded grandmother shouted from somewhere in the background.
Her words fell on deaf ears, for we noisily shred that paper for what seemed like an eternity. When all traces of gift wrapping were tossed aside, my brother and I jumped up and down with a joy because we had gotten it! We had gotten it! The little spotted rocking pony that we had wished for every time that we had seen it, visit after visit, at our neighborhood hardware store. It was here, in front of us, and it was ours!
We pulled our little bodies on board, and one behind the other, we rocked and rocked and that pony squeaked and creaked as we held on tight, imagining it flying us over fields.
These are the technicolor memories I have of a Christmas Eve when I was barely 3-years-old. It was the first year that my father was in this country. While I was writing this piece, I emailed my older sister to see if she had any details to add. She is is eight years older, and she would have been 12-years-old that Christmas.
Typing with excitement over the memory I hoped to share, I asked her, “Do you remember that Christmas that Pachito and I got that rocking pony we wanted so much?”
“Oh. That awful Christmas.” A response that stunned me. “Yes, yes, I do. You two had to share a present. It was Daddy’s first year in America, it was awful…we had nothing.”
I sat at the other end of the email, the wind knocked out of me.
“Are we talking about the same Christmas?” I asked her. “It was wonderful. Daddy was here, we had the pony, we had the chocolate cake with pink frosting at midnight…”
“No. Don’t you remember how cold we were? Your pajamas were too small. We all had to share gifts. No one else got presents except the kids.”
“But we were so happy,” I insisted. “Daddy was dressed up in a suit and tie, and mama had on her flowered dress, and ‘buelita was cooking.”
“Daddy always wore a suit and a tie.” My sister’s email became an explanation. “Mama was pregnant and had on her only good maternity dress. And ‘buelita was always at the stove.”
After our email exchange, I sat and thought about how differently we remembered this Christmas. My sister, being older and able to understand the situation we were in, saw that Christmas through the reality of what it truly was: a struggling one.
For me, being 3-years old, I remember receiving the one thing I truly wanted. And I remember my favorite chocolate cake in the middle of a table covered with a poinsettia tablecloth. And I remember my handsome father finally being home with us.
I think of this as my brown pony Christmas, and it was perfect. I didn’t notice how many presents were under the tree, I don’t remember cranky parents or long lines or fights at stores for gifts. I remember this Christmas as being magic, with a twinkling tree, and an enormous gift for my brother and I to share. And riding that pony together made it so much more fun than riding it alone could ever feel. I had my partner for our adventures.
I remember as a child, whose heart was bursting with the brightest, shiniest Christmas that I could hope for.
Lake Effect essayist Alexandra Rosas is a contributing author of the HerStories Project as well as other anthologies. She's also Milwaukee GrandSLAM storytelling champion for The Moth, and she lives with her family in Cedarburg.