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What's a celebration without a few cuetes?

I spent my first New Year's Eve in SMA, and it was magical! Back in the U.S., I typically spent New Year's Eve alone at home, but usually out of choice. I rarely made it to midnight. The truth is, I don't much care for New Year's Eve. I like to wake up feeling refreshed on New Year's day. The anticipation of what a new year might bring is exciting to me.

But, somehow, this New Year's Eve felt different, probably because everything felt different in this country that I now call home. When it hit me that I was still awake and the clock was about to turn midnight, it occurred to me that I would probably be able to see fireworks from my own terrace. When I climbed up, I actually felt a bit of a thrill as I was rewarded with a view of great bursts of color on three sides of my building. Things are changing around me and within me.

Right before Easter, a friend and I walked to the Jardin and stopped in front of the Parroquia so I could take a couple of pictures of the church as it was being decorated and the women selling palm leaves tied together with chamomile and lavender that people buy to take with them into the church. I mentioned that one of the things that impresses me about Mexicans is that even those with little means manage to find a way to decorate and commemorate the holidays, often with only simple ribbons or tissue-paper flowers on their windows and doors.

My friend, who is Mexican-American, has a different opinion about this. He finds it annoying that Mexican families will spend money on holiday decorations when they may be struggling to keep food on the table. Religious tradition can have a powerful hold over people.

Then the subject of firecrackers or "cuetes" came up. How do they afford to buy them? Mexicans seem to have a love affair with explosions, which can be heard at five or six in the morning, afternoons and evenings, not only during major holidays, but also when people get married, die, have babies, get promoted, etc. My friend commented, rather wryly, "Mexicans will always find the money for cuetes and beer." I laughed, but he told me that they will spend money on these things and forego buying their kids new shoes!

Initially, I didn't mind the cuetes so much until one evening when I heard three explosions in a row. They sounded like they went off right outside my door. They were so loud, and they lit up my windows, and I imagined this must be what it is like to be in a war zone. What I dislike the most is how they affect my dog Jack. He starts trembling uncontrollably and shrinks before my eyes into a tight ball so he can wedge himself between the bathroom wall and the toilet.

The other morning Jack and I made it to Parque Juarez without incident. As the dogs wrestled and chased each other, and I stood lost in conversation with a friend, we heard what sounded like an explosion. We're still not sure if this is what it was or if it was simply the maintenance men dropping something heavy and large into the back of a truck, but Jack took off running. The park regulars know his fear of cuetes, so multiple people were calling his name to try and get him to turn around. Even perfect strangers who heard urgent yelling and could see a dog bolting, started calling his name. Fortunately for me, the training I invested in before I came to SMA paid off. With a little more coaxing, Jack ran back to me and I put him on his leash. But that ended play time for Jack.

Christmas in SMA is lovely. Lights and colorful flags are hung across streets around the Jardin. Decorations, lights, and poinsettias adorn shops, restaurants, and hotels. In the center of the Jardin, live animals are brought in to recreate the traditional manger scene. Several years ago, during my first visit to SMA at Christmas time, I remember poking my nose into the Parroquia (there was standing room only for the Christmas Eve service) and instead of a somber, dimly-lit interior, it was sparkly and festive and bright, all lit up with lights that seemed to make the walls look even more pinkish and fairy-tale like. I remember thinking it was like being inside something made of sugar crystals.

The Christmas experience this year was quite different because of the pandemic. Out-of-towners still flocked to SMA so, for the most part, I stayed close to home and enjoyed a low-key season and the more simple decorations in some of the different colonias and hotels.

I had fun decorating my live tree with ribbon, stamped tin, and ceramic ornaments made in Mexico. But I missed having tree lights. I couldn't find them anywhere except on Amazon. Since they couldn't be delivered until after Christmas, I passed on buying them.

Jack's Christmas photo. He's a good sport.

I had to buy one holiday pillow. The colors are so vibrant.

San Antonio Church about five minutes from my house.

Decorating the tree in San Antonio Church plaza.

The manger at San Antonio Church.

A variety of colorful poinsettias at the nursery where I bought my Christmas tree, about ten minutes from my house.

Several years ago I saw a man at one of the big outdoor markets in SMA with one of these cages filled with birds for sale.

A simple way to add color for the holidays.

People do what they can to get in the spirit of the holidays.

The Rosewood Hotel tree. Very scaled back decorating this year.

Candy and meringue Christmas tree and village inside the Rosewood Hotel gift shop (Starbuck's is also inside!).

My favorite Christmas tree in 2020 was located in Casa Schuck, a beautiful boutique hotel located in Zona Centro.

I never learned the name of the hotel where this beautiful tree was located.

Amor a Mexico, an upscale boutique decorated for the holidays. How can you resist going inside?


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