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Christmas eve and morning found us at sunny Cd. Juarez, in the company of family. I must say, it has been a very good trip, considering that my parent's health has not been good for a while and it goes up and down like a yo-yo. But I am happy that we got to spend the holiday together.

This is the first Christmas that we spend with my parents in years, and it has been a good one. Most importantly, it has given Carlos the sense of belonging, which is a very good thing.

One of the biggest differences between US and Mexican custom regarding Christmas celebration, is that for us the big one is actually Christmas Eve. When I told ballistabob and Carlos that dinner would probably be served at 10 p.m. at the earliest, they looked at me funny. The truth is, many families serve it at midnight, because you are celebrating the end of the Eve with the beginning of Christmas day, all rolled into one night. (And some march out to Midnight Mass either before or after dinner, but this was not the case.)

My brother's family, where we celebrated Christmas Eve, did not dissapoint: Dinner was served at 10 p.m., but not before we stuffed ourselves with all sorts of goodies. (The cream cheese and pecan roll with raspberry-chipotle sauce was my favorite. I must figure out the recipe at home.) This was followed by the opening of presents, amidst the delighted squeals of an army of kids.

Yes, Santa may bring you presents in the morning, but nothing replaces the expectation of opening at least one present from under the tree.

After the opening of presents, the kids went outside and lit up sparklers under the supervision of adults. (My son, Carlos, was among them. I am not sure if as a supervisor or a supervisee, but who's counting.)

Christmas day we went to my parents home, and opened the presents we had for each other. My Mom liked the nightgowns and classical music collection we got for her, and Dad loved his CD of classical guitars and his very nifty shirt. And of course, following another nifty tradition, common to many places in the world, we ordered Chinese food.

In the afternoon, we were regaled to a re-run of "Men in Black II" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (all with subtitles in Spanish), after which my Dad switched the channel because he wanted to watch his corrida, (bullfights) much to Carlos' chagrin since he thinks that corridas are barbaric.

(Me? I grew up with that, so I don't have a problem. It also goes with being the daughter of someone who used to bullfight in his youth. What can I say?)

In the end, we all sat with Dad and watched the toros, while he gave us a running commentary on the whole thing, and regaled us with some stories of his days as a novice matador.

"Did you know?" he says, "That I put one of the most perfect set of banderillas in the Plaza Mexico at the time?"

"Really? How did you do that?"

"Well, the truth is, the bull had pretty much beat me to the race, and I had nowhere to run. It was that or being mauled. I decided that I did not want to be mauled, so I went on and stuck the suckers on it. Imagine my surprise when they gave me the award for The Most Perfect Set of Banderillas Ever."

Sometimes, it just pays off having nowhere to run.

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