Each year I write a story from a different country for our family’s Christmas Eve celebration. I would like to share one of my family’s favorites, and by doing so, wish you and your family a Feliz Navidad!
Dwayne K. Buhler
Executive Director, Missions Fest Vancouver
A Piñata for Rosita
The late afternoon sun dipped below the mountains in the west, throwing the village of San Juan de la Sierra into dark shadows. Christmas lights flickered on the palm trees of the main square, bringing an unusual brightness to the Mexican village. It was Christmas Eve and residents were making last minute preparations for their midnight supper and celebrations.
Rosa Sanchez walked through the main street which led out of the town. She passed by the tienda, a corner store owned by her friend’s parents. She admired the brightly colored piñatas hanging like large glimmering stars in the shop window.
Rosa was a ten-year-old orphan. She lived with her uncle and aunt, who called her Rosita – Little Rosa – because she reminded them of her mother. She walked along the only paved road leading out of the remote mountain village. She carried a heavy bag of groceries in one hand and a bundle of fresh corn flour tortillas in reddish-brown wrapping paper in the other. As she came to the outskirts of town, she passed a small church. In her heart Rosita said a prayer and hoped God heard her plea.
Rosita did not look to the other side of the road. Four small white crosses stood as a reminder of a Christmas Eve that changed her life.
Rosita’s Uncle Juan and Aunt Maria lived and worked on Don Felipe’s hacienda, a coffee plantation that was a ten-minute walk from town. Rosita was lucky to live close to town and along the asphalt road which wound its way through the valley. Cars zipped by, some with drivers who waved and others honking as they passed the silhouetted figure in the dusk sky. She entered the driveway leading to the large Spanish-style house with its wide arches. She could see the lights of the workers’ homes in the back of the yard. They glistened in the distance through the eucalyptus grove which separated the large white house of the owners from those of the workers. This is where she would spend her Christmas.
Rosita’s uncle worked for Don Felipe, a good man who treated his workers fairly. He waved to Rosita as he left the driveway and headed towards town. She knew he was going to town to pick up baskets of food for the three families who lived on the yard. Because of Don Felipe they would have a scrumptious Christmas dinner. They would all have small boxes of chocolates and candies that would brighten that evening’s festivities.
Uncle Juan was different. He was a hard worker and foreman of the other laborers, but he was also known for his drinking. He made the strongest aguardiente de caña in the region – a sweet alcohol made from fermented sugar cane. He kept a large still where he made the strong alcohol and sold it to his many regular customers.
When Uncle Juan was drunk he often turned violent. Rosita lost count of the times he would shout at her, or throw things, or grab her by the arm. He was worse in the winter months, as the lighter workload on the hacienda meant he had more free time to spend on his brewery. He bragged of a time he drank so much that he fell unconscious on Christmas Day and only woke up in time to enjoy New Year’s Eve. Rosita hated this story and despised her uncle. She longed for the day when she would leave this place.
For some reason Uncle Juan was unusually cruel this year. On one trip to the grocery store he refused to let Aunt Maria buy a small plastic Christmas tree. When Rosita asked if they could buy a piñata he threw such a fit that Aunt Maria said he was going to have a heart attack. Rosita thought he was too cheap and was bothered by a guilty conscience. Christmas lights were out of the question, as he said he was too busy to help put them on the house.
Uncle Juan cared little for Rosita. He and Aunt Maria had no children of their own, nor did he seem to want any. Rosita couldn’t remember the number of times that he’d told her that she was not welcome.
Aunt Maria was the exact opposite. She was a kind soul and struggled to keep everything in order, trying to please her unpredictable husband. She spent most of her days at the big house, working as a cook for Doña Judith, Dom Felipe’s wife. Maria left early in the morning and came home late at night, often leaving Rosita alone in the house with Uncle Juan.
As Rosita neared the brightly painted house she saw Uncle Juan heading for his old Chevy pick-up truck. He called back to Aunt Maria, slurring his words in a drunken stammer. “Fuera con estas cosas! Fuera con ella! Get her and her things out of here!” The engine started with a roar and dust and gravel spun from the wheels. At the last second he saw Rosita standing on the side of the road and swerved to avoid her.
Rosita wasn’t sure what caused this latest rage of anger. Could it be that he remembered that three years had passed since the accident? She feared that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant Christmas Eve.
Aunt Maria rushed by Rosita. “I need to prepare the Christmas meal for Dom Felipe’s family. Be careful with his things – he’s been drinking.” Her comment wasn’t needed. Rosita heard enough to reach that conclusion.
Aunt Maria called back to Rosita as she made her way to the large house. “I’ll be back in an hour. Keep an eye on the ponche.”
Rosita entered the house, filled with the wonderful smell of food prepared for the cena de navidad, their special midnight supper. A large aluminum pot simmered on the stove. Rosita lifted the lid and inhaled the sweet smell of her aunt’s Christmas ponche, the traditional hot fruit cider drink that was a part of every Mexican’s Christmas celebrations. She knew her aunt’s instructions to watch it meant not allowing her uncle to spike it with aguardiente de caña or any other alcoholic drink.
Rosita counted four bottles on the kitchen table, despising the gift that Uncle Juan would give to Dom Felipe and his co-workers. She cleared a space on the counter beside the sink and began to put the groceries away. She couldn’t help but notice that the house was strangely quiet and peaceful. When she was done, she made her way to her room and shut her bedroom door.
Rosita smiled at the first thing she saw as she entered her room. Aunt Maria always bought a new party dress for Rosita at Christmas, and it was spread out on her bed. It was white with green and red stripes along the bottom, gleaming like ribbons in the light. She held it up and looked in the mirror. Then she noticed something that caused her to fall to her knees.
An open suitcase sat on the small night table. Two cardboard boxes were also placed beside her bed. Rosita never took Uncle Juan’s drunken threats seriously, but this was different. Her aunt had not said a word and she wondered what was happening. This was not good.
Just then Uncle Juan barged into the house. “I forgot my wallet,” he called as he entered the living room. “Maria, where are you?”
Rosita stepped out of her room and looked around the corner. “She’s gone to Dom Felipe’s house.”
Uncle Juan came to her door, looking over her shoulder to the night table. “Feliz Navidad!” he said with a slur. “It looks like you’re going to get your wish.” Rosita could smell the strong odor of alcohol on his breath. Sarcasm dripped from his words.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What wish?”
Uncle Juan came into Rosita’s room and pointed towards the suitcase. He held an open bottle of his homemade brew in his hand. “This is our Christmas present for you. You need to pack your things. Everything! You might not be coming back for a long, long time.”
Rosita didn’t know what to say. She stood speechless.
“I picked it out myself,” he said. “Maria thinks it’s too small, but it’s all we could afford.”
Two questions ran through her mind: Where am I going? and Who’s taking me? She was unable to get the words out of her mouth.
Uncle Juan did an about face, smashing his elbow into the wall. He caught himself from falling. “I’ll be back soon. Make sure you’re ready to go.” He left as abruptly as he came, dodging the kitchen furniture and slamming the screen door as he found his way out of the house. Rosita could hear the pick-up start with a roar.
Tears began to flow and Rosita fell into her bed. Obediently she began to pack her suitcase. Uncle Juan had said it could be a long time, that it wasn’t going to be a short visit.
As Rosita packed she began to think who might take in an orphaned girl. It must be someone who lived far away. Could it be one of her father’s brothers or sisters who lived in Mexico City? Maybe it was someone from the adoption agency.
She began to pack her clothes. Terrible thoughts came over her. Two months earlier a man came, promising a nice payment to Uncle Juan for sending her to work as a maid for a family in the United States. One of her friends was sold by her mother to work for a cruel family in Veracruz, a city about an hour away from her home. Other girls her age ran away and ended up on the streets of Mexico City, a place where many unmentionable things were done to young girls. She wondered what was going to happen to her.
Rosita stopped for a moment, picking up the small black book that Aunt Maria had placed in the suitcase. The blood-stained Bible was her mother’s. Memories of the worst night of her life flooded her soul. She was only seven at the time, but the scene played like a movie in her mind.
“Why does Juan have to come? He’s drunk and should stay at home,” said her mother to her father. “I wish that the one time you come to church with me, you could leave my drunken brother behind.”
“But he owns the truck, and I need him to keep me company,” blasted Rosita’s father.
“You’re just going to sit in the truck and drink. You don’t plan on coming in at all, do you? The children are in the choir and it would be so wonderful if you would be there to hear them,” Rosita’s mother now pleaded. “Please ask him if you can borrow the truck and we can go in together.”
The conversation was interrupted by a honking horn. Uncle Juan waited outside, ready to drive them into town. Aunt Maria was not with him. It was not a good sign.
”Vámonos!” Rosita’s father said. “Let’s go!”
Uncle Juan honked again. Rosita and her brother and younger sister climbed into the back of the truck. Her mother started to enter the cab of the pick-up but stopped with a start.
“He’s been drinking. We can’t go with him!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Get in the back with the children!” Rosita’s father needed a drink and had no patience for his wife. “Do you want a ride or not?”
“I’m fine,” Uncle Juan added. “It’s only a short drive. You have nothing to worry about, not yet!” Everyone in the truck knew better.
The next ten minutes were a foggy memory for Rosita. Her father and Uncle Juan sat in the cab, sharing a bottle as they drove towards the town. Rosita sat on a makeshift bench in the back of the truck, sandwiched between her brother and mother. Her younger sister sat on her mother’s lap. All four huddled against the cool night air.
They were nearly at the church, turning left onto a street leading into town. Uncle Juan didn’t time his turn well and a large speeding farm truck clipped the back of their vehicle. Their truck began to spin and tumbled towards the ditch, launching Rosita out of the back. She landed on a grassy patch on the bank of a deep ditch, while the truck flipped and landed on its roof. Somehow Uncle Juan was thrown clear of the truck as it began to roll. The rest of the passengers were trapped in the wreck.
Rosita was badly bruised and remember the lights and sound of an ambulance taking her away from the accident. Her mother lay at her side and handed Rosita the blood-stained Bible, the same Bible which now sat on top of the clothes in Rosita’s open suitcase.
After the accident, Rosita went to the homes of her mother’s side of the family. Her father’s family lived far away in Mexico City and didn’t know her. All of her other uncles and aunts had families of their own and she didn’t fit in. The only couple who didn’t have children were Uncle Juan and Aunt Maria –the last place Rosita wanted to stay. She felt like a leftover pumpkin at an open-air vegetable market, poked and jabbed but never wanted.
Uncle Juan swore he would never drink again and tore down his brewery. His promise lasted only a few months. When spring came and new stalks of sugar cane began to grow, he was back in business. Rosita blamed him for the accident and prayed she would not have to live with him. Her prayers weren’t answered the way she thought they should be answered. She was mad at God for making the second biggest mistake in her life –having her live with Uncle Juan and Aunt Maria.
Rosita’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of two vehicles driving into the yard. Uncle Juan honked his horn, following a strange car. Rosita wasn’t sure if she should be excited or if she should run and hide.
Rosita watched from her window where she could see a couple and their young son emerging from a large new car. She knew that they were from the city. Most of the people in her town worked in the coffee and sugar cane haciendas and drove well-used trucks. Rosita saw Aunt Maria run over from the main house. Uncle Juan seemed to know the visitors.
Five people were silhouetted in the yard light above them. The adults greeted each other politely, the men shaking hands and the women offering a light hug.
“Ven! Come!” Aunt Maria called out when she saw Rosita looking from the window.
Rosita stood, mouth open in unbelief when the visitors approached. The man who extended his hand towards her was like a younger version of her father. He was tall and spoke softly as he introduced himself.
“Hello, Rosa. I’m your Uncle Eduardo, your father’s youngest brother. This is my wife Raquel, and this is Juan Carlos.”
Rosita knew their names and recalled meeting them at the funeral. Juan Carlos was only a baby then and was now four or five. They were well dressed and looked rested in spite of having traveled all the way from Mexico City.
After some polite introductions, Aunt Maria invited the group inside the house for a drink of hot ponché. Rosita assured her aunt that it was not altered. They all went inside and found places to sit in the simple living room.
Uncle Eduardo was the first to speak.
“Two months ago, your Aunt Maria called us and asked if we would be willing to take you in. She said she wanted you to have a family with brothers and sisters.”
“Why hasn’t anyone talked to me about this?” questioned Rosita. “Why did you wait so long?”
“We weren’t sure how you would react or how things might work out. Your uncle and aunt will take you only for a short time,” said Aunt Maria. “If you like it in Mexico City, you can stay. If not, you can come back.”
Aunt Rachel added, “We want you to be able to make some choices for yourself. About four months ago, we asked Jesus to come into our lives and started to go to a church. Then when your Aunt called us, we thought this was from God.”
Uncle Juan interrupted, “Anyone want a drink? Best aguardiente de caña in the whole area.”
“I don’t think so. I’ve got to drive.” Uncle Eduardo was off to a good start.
Aunt Rachel smiled. “We thought we could go to the Christmas Eve service at your mother’s church. Then we’ll come back here for Christmas midnight dinner. We would like to drive back to Mexico City tomorrow. We’d like you to come with us.”
That evening Rosita wasn’t sure if she was living in a dream. The service was beautiful. The children’s choir sang Noche de Paz, Silent Night. Uncle Juan never allowed her to go to church, and just being back there made Rosita feel like Christmas returned. It was a joy-filled service and Rosita thanked God for answers to her prayers.
When they returned to the farm, a wonderful late-night dinner awaited them. The house was filled with the smells of turkey, sweet potatoes, and ponché. Candles were lit on the kitchen table where the two families sat down to a royal feast. Rosita was making friends with Juan Carlos and played with him.
Uncle Juan summoned all to the table and motioned for everyone to be silent. He was sober and controlled.
“Three years ago I made the biggest mistake of my life. My drinking habit led to the accident. I thought I could change, but I can’t. I thought I could make it up to you, Rosita, but I haven’t. I’ve been miserable and made life unbearable for you. I don’t want you to be miserable any more. From the bottom of my heart, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. I want you to have a new start with a new family. I am sorry and hope that you will forgive me.”
That was the first time Rosita had heard those words. It was the second or third time that day when she didn’t know what to say. Uncle Eduardo motioned her to go over to Juan. They embraced, cried, and rejoiced in a Christmas miracle.
“There’s one thing I forgot,” said Aunt Raquel. “With two children in the house, we must have a piñata.”
“I’ll go get it,” said Uncle Eduardo. “Even though we won’t break it until after supper, it’s always fun to look at it and try to guess what’s inside.”
He emerged with a brightly adorned, star-shaped piñata. It had five gold points with tinfoil cones attached to the clay pot. The piñata glimmered and reflected the Christmas lights as the families enjoyed their meal together. It was exactly like the piñata Rosita saw in the shop – just like the one she saw in her mind when she prayed to God, asking for a special Christmas.
(NOTE: Dwayne’s collection of international Christmas stories are available at Amazon.com. Look for the title, Gold, Common Sense and Myrrh or go to Amazon.Com).