From cooking special Christmas tamales to keeping nativity scene mangers empty until midnight on Dec. 25, Hispanics in the Wood River Valley keep many of their countries’ traditions alive as they celebrate the holidays far from their former homes.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics make up almost 20 percent of Blaine County’s nearly 21,400 residents, compared to 11 percent in Idaho and about 17 percent in the U.S. When the holidays hit, that means the valley pops with all sorts of typical celebrations from Latin America.
On Dec. 12, a large number of people—mainly of Mexican descent—kicked off the holidays by attending the mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Hailey.
According to the website of Inside Mexico Publishing—a Texas-based firm that produces news videos and articles about Mexican culture—the Dec. 12 mass is one of the most important celebrations of the year in Mexico as it marks the unofficial beginning of the holidays. The website states that in Mexico City, thousands of people from all over the country attend the mass.
In Hailey, cars were double- and even triple-parked near the church. The church door had to remain open for portions of the service to accommodate people looking in from the outside steps. Father Joseph F. McDonald conducted the mass in Spanish.
During the mass, McDonald said the world would be worse if the many different Hispanic cultures were forgotten or lost. He said it’s important for Hispanics living in the U.S. to promote their culture within the family, but also to be able to integrate well in American culture.
“We’re like a mixed salad,” he said.
According to Inside Mexico Publishing, the holidays in Mexico officially begin Dec. 16, when the first Posada takes place.
“We do Posadas,” said Marisa Mendes, a California-born College of Southern Idaho nursing student of Mexican descent. “They’re reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. We celebrate with a procession to a different friend’s house every night until the 24th.”
“Posada” means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish.
Mendes also said that traditional Mexican Christmas foods include tamales, posole—a thick soup made with pork and hominy—and fruit punches.
“Guava is the most common punch flavor,” she said. “My favorite tamales are the pork ones.”
She said on Christmas Eve, many Mexican families break piñatas filled with candy and fruits such as oranges.
Jacquelyn Jones, a Dual Immersion kindergarten teacher at Bellevue Elementary School, said her family has continued many Costa Rican holiday traditions in the valley since she moved from the capital city of San José with her husband and two now grown-up daughters in 2000.
Jones said that each home sets up a nativity scene, but “El Niño” (baby Jesus) is not placed in the manger until 12 a.m. on Dec. 25.
“[In Costa Rica], each year our family would go together to the big market where stands are specific to selling items for the Nativity scene,” she said. “Our children would pick something special to add.”
Jones said her family continues to set up the scene in the traditional way.
According to Jones, tamales are also a typical Costa Rican Christmas food, but the typical fresh banana leaves to wrap them are hard to find here.
“We settle for the frozen packs from Valley Market!” she said.
Carla Gavalino, an architect with Ruscitto, Latham and Blanton in Ketchum who grew up in Lima, Peru, said Peruvians practice the nativity scene tradition as well.
“Most everybody sets one up, from small ones to huge ones with rivers and everything,” she said.
Gavalino said Christmas in Peru is a “fun week” and that it’s typical to have dinner at midnight on Dec. 24.
“People here think that’s weird,” she said. “We greet each other, wish each other well, have a toast, sit and have dinner, then open presents. We’ll stay up until 4 in the morning.”
Juan Flores, a Hailey resident who also grew up in Lima, said his two sons—ages 9 and 11—go to sleep before the midnight dinner, then they wake up for the celebration, stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. playing with their presents, and go back to sleep. Flores said he’s lived in the valley for 12 years.
“My littlest one told me he wanted to open his presents on Christmas day this year,” he said. “If that’s what he wants to do, that’s fine, but my wife and I will still have dinner and open presents at midnight. That’s how we grew up.”
Brennan Rego: firstname.lastname@example.org