By Margie Harrell
Each year as December approached and my warm-and-fuzzy holiday feelings began, I would dream of making a trip to Bethlehem to experience a once in a lifetime Christmas Eve. My first holiday season spent in Mexico told me I need look no further to enjoy a deep spiritual bond with my Maker.
Weeks before the big day the village of Ajijic is a-buzz with activity, a sure sign that wonderful things are about to happen. As the brightly colored street garlands sway in the breeze off the lake, the shops are flooded with hand-made wreaths and decorations of all kinds. Candles shaped like the Madonna and Child are a must for this newly-planted gringa as I learn from my helpful maid the holiday treats to prepare for my guests.
Anxiously I look forward to the midnight mass service at the local Catholic Church. In the courtyard I watch for weeks as boards are hammered together and straw is placed around the creche for the outdoor nativity scene. I am told, in spite of the slight chill in the air this time of year, live actors will portray Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. Each time I stroll up to the plaza on the square I am caught up in the festive mood all around me.
At last it is Christmas Eve and I am standing at the entrance of the church. I have arrived early to ensure a good seat as I know from past experience that it will be overflowing with worshippers both inside and out. Everyone is in a happy mood and shaking hands with their amigos as the priest enters from a side door. As usual, he is wearing his sunglasses which I find amusing and I chuckle under my breath. He makes his way down the aisle, stopping occasionally to greet some of the parishioners. Before I realize it I have thrust my hand out to receive his warm blessing. In an instant I have become one with my new neighbors as I feel the warmth of the season wash over my whole body.
The service, naturally, is in Spanish and as I haven’t yet mastered the language I begin to count the many beautiful candles lining the aisles and altar. The church is ablaze with their glow as the collection baskets are passed amongst us. In Mexico, where mama and papa go, so go the niños and there are many in attendance but nary a peep is heard from them. I seem to be rooted to my pew as I wish these precious moments would never end. Later as I stroll back to my casa I stare up at the starlit night and know in my heart I have found my own Bethlehem right here on the shores of Lake Chapala.
The next evening after a hearty Christmas dinner friends and I stroll around the village to see the sidewalk fires that are lit to celebrate the birth of Jesus and I say a silent prayer, hoping my warm-and-fuzzy feeling will last at least until next December when it will all begin again. Peace On Earth and Feliz Navidad To All.