navajo christmas day
Sometimes my ‘tomorrows’ stretch out a little. Sorry.
Navajo Christmas was an all day process… The food for dinner was prepared the day before so it could be easily set out to serve. We usually did turkey or ham because both could be purchased in easily slice-able form, pre-cooked. Maybe in the years before I got there, the mission had used the original form of turkey or ham and spent the days before cooking enough meat to serve a couple hundred people, but by the time I arrived we didn’t have to do that.
I’m trying to think what else we had… Turkey, I’m sure of, and sister McCormick’s to-die-for dinner rolls (The lady could make dozens and dozens as easily as I could stir up a cake! She tried to teach us repeatedly, but I just never got the knack. I don’t know if Sue or Phyllis did or not.), and cookies. I’m foggy on what else. I think we probably had mashed potatoes with gravy and a vegetable. We stuck pretty much to the basics because those years ago, most community people didn’t have a taste for a lot of the more exotic things anglos eat at Thanksgiving and we wanted to serve things we knew everyone would like. I think we were successful because when we picked up the trash receptacles there was very little food in them-just plates and cups and eating utensils! Regardless we did all of it in the days just before Navajo Christmas so it wouldn’t be necessary to do it all the same day. Then it was easily put into an slow oven in the early morning and by dinner time it was warm to serve.
The gifts we had prepared were stacked in boxes and boxes in another room someplace, ready to be brought out for distribution at the end of things. I don’t remember us ever doing a lot of decorating exactly. I think a little garland or bows for a festive look, but not a lot of pine and tinsel or a big tree. The cost for decorating went into serving the people who would come.
By service time on Navajo Christmas Morning, the church was beginning to overflow. This was probably the only morning of the year when everyone found their own way to church. Most Sundays they waited for the church bus. Today there would be people sitting and standing in the sanctuary, sitting in trucks and leaning on the fenders outside, standing around in groups here and there with kids running everywhere. ( What would Christmas be like without Kids!) Most of them did come in for service, but there just wasn’t room inside for everyone. We had a regular church service but no Sunday school and then McCormick (the Navajo just called him that –no mister, brother, pastor or reverend, just “McCormick”) would give directions on going through the food cafeteria line, then how to collect gifts. There just wasn’t room to do it all in one step so we first served the meal and then folks had to come around a second time for the gifts.
I think, I hope, the community people enjoyed the day as much as we did. It was great to see all the familiar faces coming through the dinner line and serving them. Some of the ladies asked for a plate for a husband who was at home. Generally we did that, but mostly people had to be there to have dinner. Otherwise we could have been packing dinners for half the state! The ones who came to service and who we saw all the time were most often among the first ones to come in. The others were a little more bashful and waited until they could sorta get lost in the crowd. Usually by the time everyone had been served we had very little left. If we ran out of potatoes or green beans we just gave extra rolls or vice versa. No one ever complained about that–not when they were sister McCormick’s rolls! And there were not many leftovers that I remember.
I guess the workers all ate, but I’m not real sure when. I just remember going from morning preparation to church service to getting dinner set out ready to serve, then cleaning that up so we could get the gifts out and organized to distribute, and then the aftermath. It was great. And by 3:00 or 3:30 it was all over and everyone was gone.
There was some cleaning and straightening up still to be done. Some dishes still had to be washed even though we had tried to keep things cleaned up as they were emptied. The sanctuary that folks had to sit in for their meal was also swept, but the mopping up was left for the next day. The dining room and kitchen were swept and all the trash collected and consolidated for hauling away. The tables and benches in the dining room were slid back into their regular places. The kids were put to work picking up any trash outside blowing around, but there wasn’t usually much of that. And with in another hour Navajo Christmas was over for another year.
Maybe that’s when we ate dinner.