Chasing the holiday cheer is a common feeling for me. Some years it comes unexpectedly and overwhelmingly, and others it eludes capture. But there's one place that I can always expect to be full of Christmas spirit: the family home of my sister-in-law in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
You knock on the door and are immediately welcomed in.
After making the round of hugs and hellos to whoever is there at that moment, it's inevitable that you'll end up in the kitchen and be greeted with a, "do you want a margarita?" The pitcher is already mixed and the limes are cut in a bowl on the counter (although these are also for the dishes you're about to eat too). Make yourself comfortable (even if that means falling asleep on the couch. Don't worry, it's been done many times before).
There's a puzzle to work on in the corner with its own dedicated table, and even if you just contribute one piece, that's fine with everyone. As you take a deep breath and decompress from whatever holiday stress has made your shoulders hunch so high, family and friends are coming in and out. Even if you don't really know them, it feels like you do, and you smile because we're all a part of this Christmas together.
The whole time, there's laughter around you. Whether it's the unmistakable sound of toddler and kid giggles, or the adults laughing at the inappropriate Elvis ornament that Mom of the house hates but your brother always puts too high on the Christmas tree for her to reach to take it down. The laughter is always there, ready to bubble out at any time. The joy comes easily when you're surrounded by love, comfort, family, and good food, and it's impossible not to join in.
You can taste tradition in each bite on your plate.
The tamales have been perfected by the two best cooks in the family, Mom and Sister, having gained the secrets to the courser masa from their family in El Paso. Grandma would make dozens of tamales at Thanksgiving and freeze them for Christmas eve, and this tradition has stayed a part of this house. There's pozole with homemade tortillas, and the chile warms your soul. For dessert, there are biscochitos (but without the anise, Grandma hated the flavor) and every pie you can think of. Mom has taken up the title of pie maker and makes one of everyone's favorite flavors: pecan, apple, cherry, pumpkin, lemon, and chocolate.
Are you full now? Is it time for a walk? You go outside and breathe in the sharp, cold, dry air, and the family jingles in festive clothes, pushing strollers and walking alongside dogs around the neighborhood. You watch in awe as the sunset turns the snow-dusted Sandia mountains pink; it never gets old. When you get back to the house, the road and driveway are lined in small paper lanterns called luminarias, and they give the most magical glow guiding you back into the comfort of the home.
Now the babies are put to bed, and the sisters reminisce about a time when they could all fit in one bed, and slept together every Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa. Even after they couldn't really all fit in one bed, they figured out a system to anyway. Their other family is all over the US, but Dad and Mom decided early on that this house was the one for Christmas, and you can feel the beautiful memory of every Christmas past resonating in the room. There is no question in your mind that this is what Christmas should be: surrounded by the love and warmth that this family lovingly cultivates and cherishes deeply. You smile because you feel at home.
Frankie is a forager, writer, and maker most commonly found wandering around the Blue Ridge Mountains, in their mustard velvet reading chair, or elbow deep in their garden dirt. They enjoy taking time to connect with the natural world around them, and using this mountain magic to create pieces of art that celebrate the beauty of plants. Good luck trying to convince them that anything in this world is better than plants.