The Farolitos of Christmas by Rudolfo Anaya

Welcome to December, and a month of holiday-themed books and food!

2016-12-04-16-38-57_resized

Those who know me know my great and abiding love for the books of Rudolfo Anaya. He’s called the Godfather of Chicano literature for a reason, and it’s his novel Bless Me, Ultima, that catapulted him and our beloved home state of New Mexico, to global fame. He brought the life and times of New Mexicans to a worldwide stage, and showed that, no matter our background, heritage, race, gender, religion or beliefs, we all share the same hopes, fears, desires and hurts. Rudy is also a personal friend, an amazing humanitarian and human being, and as I always say jokingly, had I met him 40 years ago and were we closer in age, I would have married him.

2016-12-04-16-47-42_resized

He writes in a mild, gentle manner that hides a voice of power and strength. He promotes love, standing up for yourself and those weaker than you, spirituality, passion, sensuality, and self-awareness. He is a poet, an educator, a shaman of words, and I adore the man, what can I say?

10628845_10152494456493370_8571897603597800997_o
Me and my idol.

One of his books I love reading around the holidays is The Farolitos of Christmas. The story is simple, a little girl named Luz, which means “light” in Spanish, is getting ready for Christmas in her small town of San Juan in Northern New Mexico, during WWII. She lives with her mother and her grandfather, with whom she is very close. Her grandfather, every year since before Luz was born, made the traditional farolitos, little woodpiles lit to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and also to light the way of the children acting in the annual Nativity play called “Las Posadas.” Luz’s grandfather is recovering from the flu and is not strong enough to cut all the wood needed for the farolitos, so one day, while buying sugar for her mother’s biscochito cookies, Luz comes up with the ingenious method of pouring sand into paper bags, putting a candle inside each bag, and lighting it. That way, the wind cannot put out the light, the way is lit for the Christ Child, and Christmas can be celebrated at last.

2016-12-04-16-38-18_resized

Side note: if you ever want to see two New Mexicans argue, ask them which word is correct: luminaria or farolito. Then sit back and enjoy the drama.

luminarias.jpg

Aside from being such a wonderful children’s book, this story is close to my heart because it portrays things that I have grown up around and been part of since childhood. The concept of farolitos, or luminarias, has been part of my heritage and culture always. It would not be Christmas in our family, in our state of New Mexico, and indeed in our Hispanic New Mexican culture, if we didn’t have the traditional holiday dishes of posole, tamales and biscochitos. And then, of course the theme of Luz’s closeness to her grandfather resonated powerfully, as I was raised by my Nana and was closer to her than perhaps any other person on earth. I miss her so very much.

4781_96140268369_1610963_n
My beautiful Nana Jean

My Nana made the best biscochitos, though I’d guess every New Mexican says that about their grandmother. Being so close to my own, making her traditional Christmas cookie made me feel close to her. She was always the one who made Christmas special, decorating, making her holiday candy and cookies, putting up her lavish Nativity scene, decorating the tree with all the wonderful homemade ornaments she’d made over the years.

2016-12-04-16-40-29_resized

With her gone, the heart has somewhat gone out of Christmas for me, though I try every year to rekindle that holiday spirit. I am particularly down this year, for a variety of reasons both personal and political, but what keeps me going is the reminder that, despite and because of everything, life does indeed go on. And so I reconnect with my own life force by doing the thing that always brings me joy – cooking for others. Though I do admit to shedding some tears as I read her recipe and got started. But that is life, is it not? Joy and pain, sometimes at the same time.

2016-12-04-17-11-45_resized

This is the method that I used. It’s my Nana’s recipe, unaltered with the exception of the addition of 1/3 cup of amaretto, and only because I love the almond taste. But other than that, it’s our traditional family recipe. Because how can you improve on perfection?

2016-12-04-17-30-51_resized

INGREDIENTS
2 cups Crisco
1 cup lard
3 large eggs, room temperature

2016-12-04-17-28-30_resized
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons anise flavoring
1 teaspoon vanilla
10 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder

2016-12-04-16-35-49_resized
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whiskey
1/3 cup Amaretto
Sugar and cinnamon mixed together

METHOD
Cream the lard and shortening together.

2016-12-04-16-41-17_resized

Add the eggs and sugar. Cream again.

2016-12-04-16-41-43_resized

Add in the anise and vanilla. Mix together again.

2016-12-04-16-42-08_resized

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl. Gradually incorporate it to the lard/egg mixture, slowly mixing together.

2016-12-04-16-44-01_resized

Slowly pour in the whiskey and the Amaretto to the forming-dough, continuing to mix slowly until you have a nice, round ball of dough.

2016-12-04 16.43.01_resized.jpg

2016-12-04-16-43-24_resized

Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least an hour. When ready to bake, take out the dough, and heat the oven to 400F. Dust a counter or other surface with flour and start rolling out the dough.

2016-12-04-16-45-32_resized

Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or with a coffee cup.

2016-12-04-16-46-22_resized

Dip each cookie shape into the sugar-cinnamon mixture.

2016-12-04-16-46-57_resized

Lay out on cookie sheets, and bake for 10 minutes, or until the cookies are golden-brown.

2016-12-04-17-29-35_resized

Allow to cool, and enjoy. Or you could do what my Nana always did, and share generously with family and friends. ‘Tis the season, after all! These are delicious as snacks, served to guests with some tea, eaten with early-morning coffee, or eaten Italian-style dipped in red wine. Really, they are good at anytime of the day. But it’s not a New Mexico Christmas without homemade biscochitos.

2016-12-04-16-36-42_resized

Here’s to my Nana Jean. Merry Christmas!

2016-12-04-16-39-47_resized

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Farolitos of Christmas by Rudolfo Anaya

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s