We would always call his family shortly after midnight on Christmas Eve and the phone would be passed around from person to person as they wished each other a Feliz Navidad. And inevitably the phone call would end with Ray feeling homesick and nostalgic. He isn't a man of many words though so we never talked too much about it and I never really understood why he would get so sad. I don't come from a small family really but we are pretty spread out geographically and I've lived far enough away for long enough that I don't have many holiday memories of everyone together.
Last year, after being with my husband for nearly 10 years, I finally got to visit his hometown of Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua. I met his entire family for the first time and got to see what all the fuss was about with this town he lovingly refers to as Parralito. I still don't know why they call it "el capital del mundo," but it turned out to be a trip of bucket list proportions. For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you did get to see some pictures and commentary of the trip as it happened and you might remember that we had a bit of a rough time getting there to begin with. As it turns out, holiday bus schedules in Mexico aren't as reliable as the flight schedules in the US are. We were told we couldn't even buy tickets for December 24th until the day-of because a lot of times the drivers don't show up for work on Christmas Eve so they have to cancel trips entirely.
Needless to say there was quite a bit of uncertainty as we got our tickets but once we had them in hand the rest was gravy. We traveled via Chihuahuenses Select and I absolutely loved it. When you got on the bus they gave you a little bag with a pillow, headphones, a sandwich, chips and a pop. Each reclining seat had leg rests and it's own touch screen TV where you could choose from a variety of movie and music channels to occupy yourself during the trip. I was exhausted because packing, planning and a last minute midnight trip to the ATM in El Paso meant I hadn't slept the night before but between the beautiful scenery and my little touch screen I didn't get a wink of sleep on the 9 hour bus ride.
We arrived in Parral in the late afternoon and his family was more welcoming and accepting than I could have ever hoped for. Aside from one of his brothers that had lived in Mesa when we met, I had only met my mother in law and his youngest brother when they came to Juárez days after our move to Mexico. That visit was overshadowed by the stress of my initial adjustment to life South of the border though. I didn't have time to really appreciate our time together because I was so caught up with trying to find a job and a home that I could barely see straight. This time together was completely different. Special.
|Ray (center) with his parents and siblings|
We freshened up from our trip and then one by one family members started to arrive. Everyone seemed to have a hand in helping my mother in law to prepare the food, which was tamales and a rice with rajas de chile, corn and crema. They talked and laughed and listened to music while they cooked and it was all so overwhelmingly comforting to me. I instantly felt like I had known them my entire life and oddly enough, I felt at home. I went into the trip assuming I'd feel uncomfortable because I'm kind of a set-in-my-ways type of gal, but that couldn't have been further from the truth.
As the night progressed I saw more and more new faces, each one just as welcoming as the last. I met sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and friends and friends of friends. I was amazed at how many people you could fit in the humble one bedroom home that my husband grew up in but as he had always told me, space was never an issue. We all danced and sang karaoke and played card games and No Te Enchiles and laughed and laughed and laughed. I honestly don't think I have ever had so much fun in my entire life.
|Ray playing 100 Mexicanos Dijeron (Family Feud) with his nieces and nephews|
When midnight rolled around, everyone began to hug and kiss each other, one by one. I had never seen or even heard of such a holiday tradition and as I sat back and watched it all before me, the tears began to flow. There was so much love in that room. I really don't know what to say to describe it but it was just the most amazing, heart-warming thing I think I have ever experienced.
We saw a lot of things that week in Parral. La Mina Prieta, the site where Pancho Villa was killed, La Puerta del Tiempo, El Palacio Alvarado... Those things were all cool, but nothing could top that moment of los abrazos de La Noche Buena for me. It made my entire trip.
|Iglesia San Jose in downtown Parral|
|Artwork on the walls of the Centro de Documentación|
|El Palacio Alvarado|
|My cuñado Javier and I on a tour of La Mina Prieta|
|La Puerta del Tiempo|
|Statue of Sr San Jose at the top of La Mina Prieta|
Obviously I wanted to blog about this a year ago but I guess life got in the way. That happens sometimes. We reluctantly decided not to go to Parral this year because I'm saving our money and vacation days for maternity leave. I'm really too far along to be traveling at this point anyway so we were back to our old tradition yesterday with the late-night family phone call. We had so much fun at dinner last night with our friends here in Juárez but for some reason as the phone was passed around at midnight, I found myself feeling that same sadness that Ray has always felt each year. That feeling I had never understood before... I finally get it. I found myself wishing we were in Parral dando los abrazos and celebrating with his whole family. It's a bummer that we missed out on the fun this year pero ni modo.
Next year it's on. And with our newest family member in tow!