Angelina and the New Christmas

by Nancy Garber

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    Angelina stood straight and tall as she sang the Christmas carols. She wore a new white dress that Mama had made especially for her.

    Angelina glanced at the tall evergreen tree reaching almost to the ceiling of the big school hall. The colored lights glowed softly over the chorus.

    Everyone had brought ornaments and garlands of sparkling tinsel from home, and the tree was full and beautiful. The children in the fifth grade had built a fireplace with red cellophane inside to look like flames. Hanging from the mantel were stockings—knitted ones and felt ones with sequins and holly on the tops and the toes. Packages wrapped with beautiful papers and huge ribbon bows surrounded the tree.

    As Angelina looked down at the audience, she could see Mama’s big brown eyes looking up at her. Now Mama will see, she thought. Now she’ll understand that this is the way we should celebrate Christmas in America. We live here now, and we should do things the way they do.

    The final carol was “Silent Night.” The audience was asked to join in on the last verse. Angelina was embarrassed. She knew Mama didn’t know the words, and if anyone else looked at her, they would know it too. She hoped her friend Jane wouldn’t notice.

    When the concert was over, Jane hurried over to Angelina and asked, “Is that your mother with the brown coat? Are those your little brothers sitting next to her?”

    Angelina looked at her family. She saw them as she though Jane must be seeing them. They were different from everyone else—you could tell that right away.

    Mama smiled and beckoned to her daughter. Angelina knew that Jane wanted to meet her family, but she left her standing alone in the hall with only a hurried goodbye. “I have to run. See you later!”

    Angelina put her thin coat on over her new white dress and took each of her little brothers by the hand. Together they crunched over the snow and pushed through the brown slush at the curbs, breaking a path for Mama.

    Little José shivered as Angelina picked him up. “Well,” she said, “how did you like the Christmas program?”

    “Pretty,” he said. “Pretty.”

    She hugged him and he let his head drop to her shoulder. “I liked it,” he said shyly.

    “I’m glad you did,” said Angelina, “and I’ll bet Roy did too.”

    “I liked it,” Roy said, “but I also like our Christmas.”

    “Oh, but that’s so old fashioned,” Angelina snapped. “It’s not the same in this country. Putting straw in your shoes for the wise men’s camels is just plain silly! And why don’t we have Christmas on Christmas Day? Why wait twelve days? I couldn’t stand our old Christmas anymore now that I know what a real Christmas is.”

    She turned to help Mama over a large puddle of slush. Mama’s face looked a little sad, and for a minute Angelina felt unhappy about what she’d said. But, after all, they were in America now and they might just as well live like their neighbors.

    By the time Christmas Eve finally arrived, Angelina made sure everyone had a stocking to hang up. They pinned their stockings to the back of Papa’s chair.

    Papa had brought home a tree, and Angelina decorated it with a string of lights she bought with her baby-sitting money. The boys helped hang ribbons and a bird from one of Mama’s hats on the tree.

    “We need something with sparkle!” Papa said as he tied silver spoons all over the tree. When he turned off the ceiling light and plugged in the tree lights, it was lovely.

    Angelina looked at her brothers. “How do you like an American Christmas now?”

    Little José clapped his hands and said, “Pretty. Pretty.”

    But Roy called, “Mama! Where is the straw for our shoes? What will the camels do for straw? And where are the luminarias (lamps) and the candles to go in them?”

    Angelina felt hot anger rise in her throat and soar up into her cheeks. “Roy! We don’t do that anymore,” she scolded.

    “That’s for Mexico. This is America! Don’t you understand?”

    “Why, Angelina!” Mama said.

    “Well, why don’t they try to understand?” Angelina asked.

    “They are trying,” her mother said. “But it’s hard for them to learn the new ways. It’s hard for all of us—even for you.”

    Angelina ran to her room. Her throat ached as she held back the tears. Why couldn’t her family see what she was trying to do? If Jane ever came over to the house and saw luminarias and straw in their shoes, she would think it very strange.

    Baby Linda made a little sound and Angelina bent to look at her in the cradle Papa had made. Linda looked like the baby in the manger scene at Las Posadas, when everyone in town, carrying candles, joins a procession looking for shelter for Joseph and Mary. Linda looked just like that baby. Angelina lightly ran a finger over Linda’s smooth soft cheek. Then she walked out of the bedroom and stood looking at her family.

    She suddenly realized that Papa had always played the part of Martolo, the lazy shepherd, in the Christmas play in Mexico. He had accepted the part from Grandfather with tears in his eyes. “I’ll do it well, Papa,” he had said. “Then I’ll give the part to Roy when he is old enough.”

    Angelina looked at Mama and remembered how in Mexico she always had a supply of bizcochitos (rolls) and candy for the children who went from door to door singing songs.

    But most of all, she thought of Roy and little Jose. How much they would miss if they never put out shoes of straw for the camels, joined a Las Posadas procession, or hit a pinata with a stick until all the candy and toys showered out over them!

    “Mama!” Angelina burst out. “Mama, I was wrong.”

    Everyone turned to look at her. Mama held out her arms and Angelina ran into them.

    “I can hardly wait for January sixth, the Day of the Wise Men,” she cried. “Then we can do all the things we have always done—the lovely old things.”

    “The new is good, Angelina,” Mama said, “but the old ways are good too. Many people here do not know about our customs. Maybe we could show them. You could invite a friend.”

    “Jane would come,” Angelina said.

    “She might like to see how we celebrate Christmas,” Mama said.

    “I’ll go get the straw for the shoes,” said Roy.

    Angelina laughed. “No, Roy,” she said. “That isn’t until the Day of the Wise Men on January sixth. Remember?”

    “We all remember,” said Mama very quietly.

    Angelina smiled. “I remember too, Mama,” she said. “And it’s good to remember.”

    Illustrated by Dick Brown