How do you know that Christmas is around the corner today? It is easy, right? You see all the goodies and lights in the shop windows around town. In fact nowadays you see all of this as of the middle of November, even before the big Thanksgiving Day.
Well it was not so 25 years ago. But surely there were some signs that told us that Christmas was around the corner.
One of the first things you would notice about three weeks before Christmas were these huge sacks of salted smoked ham hanging from the ceiling of the two or three stores in the village. The shopkeepers had reasons to hang them there.
First of all that was the way of advertising the arrival of the hams. The villagers would notice them and started talking about purchasing their hams and the word went around the village that the hams were selling out so dad would go to the store to either buy his or set it apart. The shopkeeper would write your name on a piece of paper and stick it to the sack of ham.
Another reason they were hung from the ceiling was to keep them away from rats that were abundant in the stores and kitchens of every household.
Once dad purchased his sack of ham; guess where he would place it? Most people hung them right by the door so that everyone would notice. Having a ham meant that there was going to be a real treat and celebration. Having a ham or two at home indicated progress and prosperity in that household.
Now this ham was never touched until December 24. The members of the household would be praying and eagerly awaiting the arrival of Christmas so that they would savor the delicacy of this once-a-year treat.
On the 24 mom and the children would scrape the ham and removed all the mold and stuff that had accumulated on it during the many months since it was smoked and packed. It would be boiled for several hours, then fixed with some cloves and honey and baked for another hour or two. Then it was ready to be sliced and used to make some delicious sandwiches for the family to enjoy after the midnight mass and the next day which was Christmas.
Generally speaking a ham would last for about a week because it was carefully rationed and never eaten in abundance because the longer it lasted, the longer the Christmas spirit was felt.
Another sign that Christmas was around the corner was the sudden appearance of apples and pears and grapes in the stores. These fruits were all considered Christmas fruits and when the supply was finished after Christmas, you would not see them in the stores until next year in December. Why? I guess because they are seasonal fruits in the cold parts of the world. I am not sure how today we can get them at the supermarkets all year round. I guess they are preserved and then used bit by bit.
But certainly 25 years ago, when you saw the hams and the Christmas fruits you knew that very soon you would be enjoying a special treat for Christmas.
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist