Time zones and traditions that lead us home
On October 26, Mexico’s congress voted to abolish Daylight Savings Time, but allowed border regions that are closely tied to regions on the U.S. side of the border to remain on their time zone of choice. Cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez share major population and production bases with cities such as San Diego and El Paso. Due to a bureaucratic misstep, the State of Chihuahua did not pursue the requisite process with Mexico City to request that Juarez remain on Daylight Savings Time, which resulted in Juarez being one hour ahead of El Paso and southern New Mexico starting on November 6. This caused confusion, hardships for students crossing the border daily to go to classes, and for businesspeople with operations/interests on both sides of the border. It was estimated that millions were being lost daily to inefficiencies due to this change.
However, negotiations took place, and by November 30, Juarez was allowed to remain on the same time zone as its neighbors on the U.S. side of the border. Juarez had opted for this choice more than twenty years ago in order for the Borderplex region (Juarez-El Paso-southern New Mexico) to operate in harmony. This return of Juarez to Daylight Savings Time has resulted in life returning to a sense of normalcy in the region, and just in time for the Christmas holiday season.
The “Paisano” (countryman) Christmas season in the border region starts in early December and can last until mid-January. It is a period when Mexicans working in the U.S. return to Mexico to visit family and friends. It also is a time when Mexicans living in Mexico travel north to spend the holidays with their family living in the U.S., or to take holiday vacations at resorts and spas on the northern side of the border. A caravan of vehicles loaded with family members and gifts starts to flow both ways on Interstate 10 this time of year. Traveling on the freeway, I can spot plates from all over Mexico and the U.S. converging at the ports of entry. It starts to put me in the holiday mood, and I think about my Christmas experiences related to Mexico.
I always relate Christmas in Mexico to the Virgen of Guadalupe Day, celebrated on December 12. I have fond memories of living in Mexico City and traveling to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and seeing the throngs of people making pilgrimages during this season. On any given day, thousands of people can be seen carrying offerings to the Virgen of Guadalupe. I saw many worshipers crawling on their hands and knees as they approached the church. This reminded me of my childhood, growing up in Española in northern New Mexico. On Good Friday, my friends, family, and I would often make a pilgrimage by foot to Chimayo to visit the sacred Santuario de Chimayo Church, where thousands would congregate. As I witnessed in Mexico, it was common to see visitors enter the church grounds on their knees.
Mexicans, much like Americans, love the Christmas season. I was surprised that the Santa Claus figure has taken root in Mexico. I remember when a close friend of mine from Mexico, who had gone to the university in Mexico City just before I arrived, told me a story about the Santas that would work in Alameda Park in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes near downtown. Apparently, a couple of Santa syndicatos, or unions, had formed, and were in disagreement on where the Santas of each syndicato could ply their trade. The various union members gathered in Alameda Park in their Santa uniforms and an all-out brawl took place among the Santas. When he told me the story I remember laughing, perhaps out of horror, of the irony.
I have Mexican friends who love New Mexico’s tradition of erecting farolitos (little bags filled with sand and a lit candle), sometimes referred to as luminarias, on buildings and sidewalks. Some have adopted this tradition either by doing farolitos the traditional way or by purchasing electric farolitos for their houses. I always explain to them that where I come from, farolitos, which literally means “little lanterns” in English, are the little bags, while luminarias are the bonfires that are lit on Christmas Eve in a tradition to light the path to the Christ Child.
During my work and travels, I have always had the fortune of returning home for the holidays. The news of Brittany Grier being released from imprisonment in Russia warms my heart that she will be with family during the Christmas season. There is no greater gift than being able to do so. However, I think about the Americans who can not go home, and will spend Christmas in prison, such as Paul Whelan, whom Russia is using as leverage and a political pawn. I also think of the millions of servicemen/servicewomen and civilian staff who are unable to come home because they are discharging their duties to protect our country. As we share holiday meals with family and exchange gifts, let’s make it a point to say a prayer for those unable to come home due to circumstance.