Personal Journeys


December 21, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

A warm Christmas welcome in Mexico

By Dan Gerczak


Some years ago, I spent a month climbing and roaming around central Mexico during the Christmas holidays. My friends and I jumped from one local bus to another as we made our way from Mexico City to Mount Orizaba.

At one point, as the only passengers aboard the bus, we persuaded (with the help of cash) a somewhat distraught bus driver to go a bit off his route. Dusk found us wearily disembarking in the remote village of Tlachichuca, at the base of Orizaba, as a fading band of pink light inched its way to the mountain's summit.

We had made no arrangements for our lodging so, as the bus pulled away, we were unsure of what to do next. And the market area was closing down.

Luckily, help was coming. We made the acquaintance of a gentle and spirited man, Joaquin, who recognized our plight and offered us accommodations. We followed our soon-to-be host around dust-filled streets and alleys until he signaled to us that we had reached our destination.

We entered the courtyard of our host, his wife and their two young children. The courtyard was compact and rustic, complete with a skinny tree, an old truck, a tool shed / barn and a well with an adjacent washbasin.

The modest five-room house was decorated for the holidays, but there was no Christmas tree. Instead, in an empty corner, stood a small nativity scene surrounded by several evergreen branches with a small strand of Christmas lights.

The family was about to play host to a posada, and Joaquin's extended family and friends would soon arrive to celebrate the holiday. It was a privilege to be invited to participate in the posada, a traditional Mexican celebration in which Joseph and Mary's search for an inn is re-created. In retrospect, it seems obvious why Joaquin had made certain that our search for an "inn" was successful.

As the guests arrived, we were overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality extended to us by everyone, as Joaquin's wife and daughter went from room to room offering snacks and sandwiches and replenishing the hot spiced tea in everyone's cups.

We were all given candles and sparklers to hold while Joaquin's daughter carried around a toy baby doll, representing Jesus, for all the guests to kiss.

Our limited success with the language didn't seem to hinder our attempts to join in singing familiar Christmas carols. The singing of Silent Night in Spanish and English in this chilly, quiet place, with a clear and starry sky above, will always be a special memory.

It was past midnight when we finally settled down to sleep. I remember lying in my sleeping bag, feeling exhilarated and secure as, outside, Orizaba's dust began to swirl.

Dan Gerczak lives in Baltimore.

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