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THE NEW YEAR
ON New Year’s Eve Juanita had been allowed to sit up long past her usual bedtime, that she might enjoy the celebration of the holiday, as well as take part in the religious observances. To Juanita the latter were no less important than the former, for she belonged to a devout Roman Catholic family. With them holy days and holidays were one and the same thing, and the Mexicans have a great many of them.
Juanita’s father, Alvaro Jiminez, was a merchant of the City of Mexico, and the home he had provided for his family was all that a moderate income, combined with good taste, could command.
The big door of this home opened on a tiled entrance leading to a lovely garden. A large palm rose in the centre, its fronded leaves gracefully falling over beds of violets, heliotrope, and pansies. A brilliant bougainvillea vine, cerise in colour, trailed along one side of the wall like a rich robe instinct with life. A broad, tesselated corridor ran around the garden. This patio, or court, was open to the sky, as is common in Mexican homes, and sunshine and light thus reached all the rooms.
The parlour was a stately room, the chairs lined up on each side of the sofa, so the men could sit on one side and the women on the other.
Of course all the rooms were comfortably furnished, but one of the most interesting in the house was the kitchen.
The Mexican kitchen is always provided with a brasero, or range built of bricks, about three feet high and from three to six feet wide. On the top are two or more square openings, each containing a grate, and underneath the grate is an open place to furnish draught and from which to collect the ashes. Charcoal is used in the braseros.
The earthen pots and iron kettles are placed on the burning coals, and meals are therefore cooked in a very short time. The Mexican cook can thus prepare three or four articles at once. No stovepipes are used, and the walls of the kitchen are soon very black from the smoke.
Sometimes a brick oven is built apart from the brasero. When the family has no oven, the cook puts the food in a dish, with a piece of sheet iron on top covered with hot coals, thus cooking underneath and above.
Though weary, Juanita was very happy on the morning of New Year’s Day. The celebration of the previous evening was fresh in her mind, and, childlike, her imagination ran riot.
At midnight, with her parents, she had attended mass in the great cathedral. The privilege of celebrating midnight mass on New Year’s Eve was granted to the Mexicans by Pope Leo XIII. Hence, the Mexican churches are filled with devout people as they approach the threshold of the new year. On the first day of the year special services are held, on which occasion a pontifical mass is had, commencing at nine o’clock in the forenoon.
Early in the evening before this midnight service the Jiminez family had partaken of a supper prepared with unusual care and generosity, at which several guests, old and young, were welcome visitors. The intervening hours were occupied by cheerful conversation and social games. In the latter you may be sure Juanita took an active and joyous part.
In the homes of some of Juanita’s friends, where there was less observance of religious rites, entertainments and midnight suppers were given. Peculiar ceremonies were performed. When the cathedral clock struck midnight, the moment on which the old and the new hinged, a pretty girl from among the number present poured a bottle of champagne over a porcelain clock, thus christening the new year. Then the orchestra struck up and everybody danced.
In some other homes there was a more gruesome celebration of the passing of the old year. All the members of the company were dressed in black. Upon a table in the centre candles surrounded a small coffin, upon which was a clock set so as to stop when it reached the hour of midnight. At just that moment the clock was put into the coffin and buried in the garden, or patio, as if it were a dead person.
Strange as it may seem, the Mexican children, as well as older people, found much fun in this ceremony, and after the mock funeral all engaged in dancing.
Throughout the place a noisy welcome was given to the new year. When the great bell struck the hour of twelve the entire city seemed to give a great throb. Bells all over the city took up the new story; steam whistles were let loose in all the factories, and, during the traditional five minutes that are supposed to cover the eternal confounding of the old and the exaltation of the new year, small boys went through the streets blowing horns and shooting off firecrackers.
Like the children of many lands, as well as like some children of a larger growth, Juanita made some good resolutions at the beginning of this new year. Among them was a purpose to be helpful to those who were not so happily or so pleasantly situated.
She set about to carry out this purpose at once, and went to call on her friend, Rosa Alvarez, with the express purpose of inviting her home to dinner that day. This was entirely in keeping with the hospitable Mexican’s idea of beginning the new year.
Juanita and Rosa were very close friends, though Rosa’s father was a man of much more humble occupation than Señor Jiminez. He was a carpenter by trade. He earned Mexican money per day, or about seventy-five cents in American currency. Her mother was an industrious woman, and in order to add to the income of the family, she took in laundry work.
The Alvarez family was, however, a happy one. The father was not given to pulque-drinking and gambling, like some of his neighbours, and he spent no money on lottery tickets, cock-fights, or bull-fights. He was a plain, practical man, not given to extravagance, and, while some of his fellow workmen had their belongings in pawn most of the time, this industrious artisan was saving money, and rightly expected some day to exchange his vivienda (tenement flat) of four rooms for a home of his own in the suburbs of the city.
Juanita found Rosa at home. She well deserved the pretty name that had been given her. She was a girl ten years of age, with hair as black as the polished wing of a raven, deep dark eyes, and a complexion like a blush rose. Like many Mexican children, she also had pretty teeth. Juanita’s own name had been given her because she was so petite and simpatica, the last a term that is scarcely translatable, but which means popular, lovable, etc.
Juanita also found at home Rosa’s younger brother, Francisco, who was commonly called by his nickname, Panchito. He was invited by Juanita to dine with Rosa at the Jiminez home.
You may be sure the invitation was gladly accepted, for rarely did they have an opportunity for such a pleasant time.
As Juanita ran along with her little friends, she stooped to pick a deep pink rosebud, which she laughingly pressed to the blushing cheek of her playmate as if to see which rose was the loveliest. Juanita was not as pretty as Rosa, but she was so entirely unselfish that no envy entered her happy thought.
The children gathered little yellow roses and red roses from Juanita’s garden, entwining them with honeysuckle, and into the centre of the blooming, blushing flowers they set a couple of glorious gladioli.
“Come right into the house,” said Juanita, as they arrived at the door of the Jiminez home. “It is now noon, and I think our dinner will be all ready. We are to eat by ourselves, as papa is at the store and mamma is not in just now.”
So Rosa and Panchito followed their hostess into the sunny dining-room, where they found the table well-laden with good things.
The tramp had given the children splendid appetites, and they enjoyed their dinner very much. Vegetable soup was first served, then egg omelette, with rice cooked with tomatoes. They had roasted veal and potatoes, with lettuce salad.
But the dish of the day was mole, a spicy food made up with turkey or chicken and prepared with a sauce which had numerous ingredients, such as tomatoes, chili peppers of two kinds, cloves, chocolate, cumin, raisins, almonds, garlic, and one or two other spices. It was eaten with tortillas, the flat unleavened bread of the lower classes in Mexico, which is just like the chupatties of India and other Eastern countries.
Then the children had a course of frijoles (Mexican beans), while the dessert was composed of fruit jellies and custards with seasoned gelatines. The sweetmeats were in fancy shapes, and Mexican children, like all others, are very fond of their dulces.
When the children had been given their dulces, Juanita suggested that they sit out upon the balcony, to which there was entrance from the dining-room through a low window. Here they could enjoy the fresh air and watch with childish pleasure the changing scenes of the Mexican street.
The children handed some of the dulces out through the bars of the balcony to the poor children who stood around suggestively. Dulces is the one word that carries more suggestion to the hearts of Mexican children than almost any other in their language.
The home-made candies which had been provided for Juanita and her friends were made from Mexican sugar, which is the best in the world, though American sugar is imported for the manufacture of American confectionery. On all family or social occasions dulces are passed around on small trays or plates. Birthdays, saints’ days, and dances are always thus sweetened. The native confectionery includes even fruits and sweet potatoes cooked in syrup and encrusted in sugar.
These Mexicans did not chew gum, though millions of pounds of the product of the zapote-tree are annually consumed by young Americans.
Among the children who were thus remembered by Juanita and her little friends were some newsboys. Newsboys were unknown in Mexico ten years ago, but these busy, noisy little fellows are now found everywhere. Poor, ragged, and often hungry, but always resourceful, this waif of the byways will shout the names of his papers, but is not allowed to yell their contents, as his American cousin does.
Panchito knew very well how sharp was the Mexican newsboy’s struggle for existence, for on some occasions he had sold papers himself Like Panchito, many of these youngsters had parents living, but they took no more than a passing interest in their children.
The Mexican newsboy does not get his name registered in the accident books of the police. He is too wide-awake for that. Even among these children of five to seven years of age, the instinct of self-preservation is well-grounded, and the passing carriages and streetcars have no terrors for him. The street belongs to him, and no stray dog knows better than he the art of getting out of the road.
Their sweetmeats consumed, Rosa and Panchito remained with Juanita a part of the afternoon, passing the time in simple childish games. When they finally went to their more humble home, there were at least three very happy children in the City of Mexico.
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