Christmas Childhood Memories
Today when thinking about Christmas time, my heart suddenly bounced as I remembered the old days when this season was not about presents and decorations, but more about living this wonderful time with my Grandparents.
By the end of the school period in December, in the afternoon of the first Sunday after saying good bye to classes, it was time to leave to the center of the country, yes, Beira-Baixa was the next big thing to me and the train at Sta. Apolónia´s Central Station was already waiting for me and my cousin Nuno.
We were about 6 years old and my mother, or my father or even my uncle TiZé, would always take us both to the train. Entering abord with our small bags and looking inside of each one of the compartments, for any distant cousin or, grandmothers´ acquaintance, to keep us company during the journey…Yes, no worries about anything, and up we went with smiles on our faces, knowing that after a 2 hours ride we would finally be with grandma and grandad. And what a journey it was! Along the river Tagus watching the countryside and the Almourol Castle waving at us, passing through Entroncamento, Abrantes, Mouriscas, up until Barca da Amieira and leaving Lisbon behind us. All the minutes asking each other if we were almost there and when the time came, one of us looking if Granddad was already there with his white beetle waiting at us! And once we saw the Belver medieval castle looking over us, we knew we were almost there.
We suddenly jumped off the train and run to meet Grandad, asking if he could help us to find a Pine-Tree to decorate already that afternoon. It was our main concern once we arrived at Grandma Jesus´ home, in the little, but very ancient village of Vilar da Lapa. Once we got there, we kissed her, changed our clothes, grab our old shoes and join granddad to look for a tree in the sierras nearby. We would also look for green moss to create our own Nativity Crib, underneath the tree, which we tried to embellish with fake white snow made from flour and small pine-combs. It was marvelous, setting it near the fireplace and hanging some chocolate ornaments and colored ribbons. No fancy stuff, no money for those, but it was grand…
We would spend most of our days until Christmas Eve, building Indian shads in the woods with old tree branches - many times with our jammies dressed underneath the old clothes. But we did not even think about it, we wanted to make the most of our holidays outside, underneath the crisp air and the cold wind. Grandmother Jesus would always have the fireplace lit at the kitchen and there was always a big pot of kale- or turnip-leaves soup there to warm our small bellies, with goat-cheese, home-made bread or a grilled smoked-sausage. And in the evening, after our busy day, running up and down with our friends, grandchildren of my grandparents´ neighbors, we would sometimes ask grandma to fry us some Ham with potatoes and egg in the fire… Yamm! No time to be picky, those were the best Christmas Holidays ever! Couldn´t get better that that…
In the morning of Christmas Eve, huge earthenware bowls were filled with dough and hand-pressed to prepare the fritters for the evening. What a toil this was! Watching my grandmother Jesus folding and unfolding the batter and giving me a small portion so that I could also do my share. The big bowls would afterwards be covered up with thick wool blankets to leaven. By the end of the afternoon, the labor began again. The batter would be stretched on the marble counter and made finer to be cut and molded. The Pumpkin “Filhoses” and the “Belhós” would then be fried in hot olive oil at the fireplace, in big iron pans and covered in the end with sugar & cinnamon and others in a thick orange & honey syrup. Can you imagine the aromas in my grandma´s kitchen that night?! It was the best! What a toil this was, preparing the Fritters and seasoning the Turkey or the Kid for the 25th , that would be slowly roasted in the wood-hoven. It was a small place, but the women worked all together and helped the best way they could – Grandma Jesus, mom, Aunties´ Titó and Maria João, all working without stopping until dinner time.
In the evening, after feeding the goats, the donkey, the chickens, the rabbits, the pigeons, grandad João would be ready to have dinner. The table was already set, very simple, but honest. We would then call out the men, gathered in the living-room, to come to the table. A big old-china platter was served with boiled Cod Fish and another one with Portuguese cabbage, eggs and potatoes from the green garden near the house. This was our Christmas-Eve Dinner, never forgetting the Extra-Virgin Oil and the new wine from grandad´s own production. No fancy food, just the traditional things that we had always known.
By 9,30 PM, dishes would be already taken-care off and we would drive 4 km to attend the “Galo” (midnight) mass in Envendos, the village near-by. It was usually so cold, that the air would almost freeze up our noses and faces. After the celebration, we would always kiss the image of Our Lord Jesus Child, before returning to grandparents place.
Money wasn’t much and the presents were scarce. Once we got home, we sat by the fire and drank hot coco with fritters and “Rei” Fruit-Cake that we had got from my Great-Uncle Guilherme. Before going to bed, my Granddad João would ask us to leave our shoes near the fireplace (this should never be put off during those 2 days - Grandma said “the fireplace should be always be lit to warm Jesus Child feet”).
On Christmas morning, by miracle, our shoes, mine and Nuno´s would always have a 20 Escudos green bill. We knew then that Jesus had been there and got us this for us to buy a new toy. And we were happy and smiled at Granddad as he had been right all along.
We spent that day mostly outside playing or near the fireplace. We set for Lunch, having the Christmas Feast without any expensive things. Just the Family, enjoying the roasted meat & potatoes and the fritters and Grandma´s Egg-Flan. No need for overspending, nor extreme food or candy. It was a Family Celebration, mostly in peace and with lots of chatting at the table. Yes, granddad João would drink a little bit more that the usual, but it made him talk more and a sweet tooth as he was, it would help him to eat his fritters easier!
Usually, Christmas afternoon was spent receiving visits from cousins and talking without end – remembering old stories and chatting about some new event in the family.
I miss those days, specially of having Grandad João and Grandma Jesus with us. Christmas was different back then, more real, more genuine. I miss my Grandparents a great deal and remember the moments we shared during this season. I realize today that what really matters is sharing our Love and Joy with people we do care, but also giving a little bit of our hearts to anyone needing some light in their lives.
It´s been many years since we stoped sharing presents, I mostly look at this season as a moment of reflection and spend it with the ones I truly love and cherish, even the ones who look today upon me from Heaven. After all, we should carry Christmas all year round, in our Hearts and Souls.
Wishing you all a Holy and Merry Christmas.
Yours with Joy,