Christmastime for a Cuban-American boy, whose first language was English and whose family belonged to the whitest denomination in America at the time (the Presbyterian Church in America) was interesting. It was interesting because the church I attended was made up of mostly Cuban families, all equally weird among among our extended family members because we weren't Catholics. Everyone went to church EVERY Sunday. There was choir practice and Bible study EVERY Wednesday. Our church was an amazing example of community built on culture, family and faith.
And yes, faith came last. We weren't the super holy people many of the adults pretended to be. Our church attendance was to be admired; but only by way of the love everyone in the church shared. We really wanted to be together. There was an air of superiority to our Catholic brothers and sisters however, which to this day rubs me wrong. But that was part of growing up Presby-Cuban. We were told we were right and more religious, and that is what defined us. There were some faithful among us, who understood the Gospel, and loved Jesus. Looking back however, the overall message of the church was "We are Cuban, and we are Presbyterian." Somewhere in there, we had some Christians, too.
So every Christmas, our church put on "La Cantata"; the concert event to end all concert events. My mom sang in the choir, and for a while there my dad did, too. They really were well put together (...the Cantatas). I am told our church was the talk among young churches in Miami back in the 70's. So the turn-out to the Cantatas was impressive.
And I'm pretty sure one of the few places to go in Hialeah to see a re-enactment of the manger scene was our church.
So "La Cantata" was always followed by "El Pesebre", the life-size manger scene. Every year, my dad built a manger out of wood. I'd go watch him build it, and hand him a 2'x4' now and then. All it took was a nicely designed wooden shelter, some hay and farm animals and you had true-to-life Bethlehem manger off of Okeechobee Road.
Thinking back, it was poetic. That area of Hialeah wasn't the best. There were a lot of seedy hotels, bars and other houses of ill-repute in the area. It was a perfect representation of the kind of people Jesus came to eat with, laugh with, live with and save. Though I don't think too many of us were thinking about that back then.
At least I wasn't. I was more into the live animals, dressing up like a shephard, and hanging out outside, thus avoiding having to listen to La Cantata (I mean, come on... I was 9 years old. Wait a minute... the tought of sitting through a Cantata NOW makes me ill, too... never mind). The night was clear, and I remember seeing the stars out. It was a great night under a Hialeah sky.
Then it happened. One of the animals, a goat, decided to bolt.
One of our wisemen, named "Ito", decided it was his job to bring back the errant goat, so he bolted too. And I'm willing to bet that this was the only time in all of Hialeah history, when a wiseman from the East was seen running across la 12 Avenida con Okeechobee, in full wise man garb, after a goat.
Ito finally caught his goat.
And while parts of this story may have been embelished, and the actual year might be off, Ito did chase a goat down the streets of Hialeah, and I was there to see the return of the goat. And Ito and the goat made that Christmas one of the most memorable ever.