The Spanish fiesta of Christmas blends the religious
spirit of the Nativity with the culinary delights of the table, and the
ancient Iberian passion for song, and the universal pleasure of renewing
family ties. The Nachimiento Belenes, or Bethlehem Crib, is more
important to a Spanish family than the Christmas tree. Christmas Eve is
known as Noche Buena, "good night". An old Spanish verse says
“Esta nochos es Noche-Buena, y no es noche de domir,” which
translates as “this is the good night, therefore it is not meant for
an elaborate Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, upon returning home, every
child receives one gift. The other unopened gifts must wait the date of
the epiphany, (Twelve days after Christmas, January sixth), since the
three Kings are the legendary gift bearers. The Kings leave gifts in the
children’s’ shoes that Spanish families place outside their doors
for their royal passing.
FOR THE DE LA VEGA CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION
Amontildar and Selena crept down the stairs toward the hacienda’s
Nativity display. Since she had been ill for the past three weeks, Don
Alejandro had ordered the servants to stop working on the statues of the
Holy Family. Alejandro had only her best interests at heart, but
Selena’s maidservant had told the Señora de la Vega of their quiet
disappointment at the unfinished state of the Nachimiento. All
that remained to be put in place was the crêche itself and the
usual stable animals. The Spanish people especially honor the cow at
Christmas because it is thought that when Mary gave birth to Jesus, the
cow in the stable breathed on the Baby Jesus to keep him warm. The hacienda’s
head servant, Crescencia, was scandalized at the thought of the de la
Vega Nachimiento being revealed to the fiesta attendees minus the
“sacred cow!“ So together Selena and Amontildar plotted to complete
the crêche tonight, sleep or no sleep.
Crescencia asked Amontildar, “All is clear,
mam’selle? Is everyone in the hacienda asleep?”
“Oui, commencez [begin] !” the Creole
whispered. “Now, my mistress, everyone is ready!”
Selena glanced at Bernardo, who nodded that his workmen
At Senora de la Vega’s wave of her hand, all of the
male servants came into the courtyard and began putting the Nativity
The plump Spanish woman spoke in crisp but quiet tones.
“Pronto, señores! We have very little time and mucho trabajo, comprendo
eh, muchachos? And remember to work silencioamente!” Crescencia
faced the vaqueros and house staff with her hands on her rather
“Ouch!” Selena yelped suddenly, “I stubbed my toe
Crescencia and everyone else in the courtyard froze. A
dozen heads swerved back and forth, and twelve pairs of eyes darted from
Don Alejandro’s room to Don Diego’s door. Bernardo lightly climbed
the stairs and double-checked underneath the doorways. Neither haciendado
stirred. Nothing, he finally signed.
Amontildar’ s dark eyes bulged in horror. “Never you
mind, chere! You set dere and look charmante. Diego, your beau,
he kill me dead if you be hurts out here!’
Selena sigh wearily and nodded sleepily. “Did you give
Diego the ‘night potion‘?”
Amontildar chuckled. “Mais, oui, chere, both the pere
et fils [father and son]. Now you be still!”
Selena shook her head in disbelief. Amontildar has
ten thousand tricks up her sleeve, and I think that it is better I do
not know very many of them! Señora de la Vega said to herself. And
I hope Diego does not learn Amontildar added a little something
“extra” in his brandy. Aloud she began to say, “Could I please
“Hush your mouth, mistress!” Amontildar reproached
her. “Tais -toi!”
Bernardo joined them after another look under the
dons’ doors. He signed to Selena, my master claims he never snores,
but he certainly does! he grimaced good-naturedly.
Selena smothered another giggle. “Quite true,
Bernardo, quite true!’ she signed in response.
Crescencia watched Señora de la Vega and Bernardo
continue their silent dialogue. “Amontildar, you understand any of
that?” the Spanish housekeeper asked.
“Moi? Certainly not.” Amontildar praying that this
smart lady could not tell the Creole was lying.
“Ah, by the Virgin, eh, Amontildar?” Crescencia said
emphatically as she crossed herself. “Back to work, amigos y amigas!
So tell me, Amontildar, when does the señora’s sleeping draught begin
to work, eh?”
“Not to worry ‘bout dat, Señora Crescencia.” The
Creole winked, “Sooner than my mistress tink!”
Jorge Paco, Juan, Bernardo, Benito and eight of the de
la Vegas’ vaqueros hauled, pushed and shoved the carved wooden
statue of the de rigeur cow next to the statues of the lamb and a
donkey. Everything was finally in place. ... finished. Bernardo
checked his timepiece. One-thirty a.m.
“Parfait!” Amontildar exclaimed as she
touched Crescencia’s arm.
“Excellente, hombres!” Crescencia echoed, “Gracias
Bernardo nudged Amontildar as he looked over at Selena,
who had propped herself against the bottom of the stairway and was
“Sainte Thérèse!” Amontildar said sotto voce.
“Bernardo, Crescencia, we must get my mistress to her bed!”
Fortunately, Selena was too exhausted to protest, and somehow the trio
managed to get her upstairs, whereupon the women guided Bernardo from
the room, removed her night robe and placed her ever so gently beside a
DECEMBER 16, 1821
8:30 o’clock a.m.
Diego awakened when the sunshine fell onto his eyes and
especially after he heard the unmistakable noises of the hacienda staff
preparing breakfast. He yawned and gazed lovingly down at his adorable
Selena. “Mother of my child, wake up. Do you intend to sleep until
noon, or have you forgotten that we both promised my father and the
servants we would finish the crêche before luncheon this
He playfully nuzzled Selena’s neck, showering sweet
kisses from her throat to her earlobe. The lavender scent she always
wore again aroused him. Diego caressed Selena’s soft as silk neck.
What in...dios, mi! His wife merely rolled over and slept on. Hmm...Diego
picked up her teacup and smelled what was left of the liquid. Ah, I
thought so ... Amontildar does follow my orders to the letter.
“Beloved, never mind, sleep as long as you --both of you --
like.” Diego got up, dressed, and sprinted downstairs into the sala
for breakfast. “Buenos dias, father,” Diego stared at Don Alejandro,
who was a strange sight to behold, as he still wore his maroon silk
brocaded robe over a nightshirt and a pair of calzoneros with his
slippers, “are you not feeling well?”
Alejandro yawned. “No, I am fine, gracias. I think
that I slept too well, for I do not remember even falling asleep. And
where is your lovely bride?” The old don’s eyes were sparkling with
Diego yawned several times himself. “I did not want to
awaken her. She and the baby need their rest, you know.” Well, I
believe that I shall inspect the status of the Nachimiento.”
Don Alejandro nodded. “If you can wait ten minutes, I
shall change into some decent clothing and accompany you to the
“Fine, I shall have a large cup of hot chocolate.”
Diego sat down again and signed for Bernardo to pour him some more of
the delicious beverage. “Bernardo,” his master said while he looked
around to see if any of the other servants, especially, Crescencia, were
within hearing range, “are you prepared to work on the Nachimiento
today? I, for one, will be delighted to see the faces of the children
when they see we have all of our Christmas decorations finally displayed
Bernardo signed that he should wait for his wife and
then asked where Doña Selena was.
Diego grinned. “Resting as she should be thanks to
The mute rocked back and forth on his heels and said
nothing as he trailed behind the de la Vega men as they left the sala.
Don Alejandro and Don Diego arrived in the courtyard near the hacienda's
Chapel just as Crescencia ordered the blankets removed that were
protecting the Nachimiento earlier that morning. Everyone the
courtyard stopped working to gaze at the lovely portrayal of the
Nativity now erected in the de la Vega yard. Diego and his folder could
scarcely believe their eyes.
"But how did they ..." Don Diego wondered
aloud, “finish the Nachimiento creche?" He folded his arms
across his chest and whispered to Bernardo, ”Por favor, tell me how in
the name of heaven did all of you manage to complete this display
Don Alejandro muttered, “Perhaps you should not ask that
question, Diego, for you may not like the answer.”
Bernardo looked at the ground, reluctant to divulge
Don Alejandro and Don Diego exchanged exasperated looks.
"Bernardo, please .... if you can, reveal to us how you performed
this wonderful miracle?" Diego further inquired.
The mozo rapidly began his explanation, waving
his hands back and forth in the air. Señora de la Vega’s idea, my
master. She realized how much her ... illness disrupted the
hacienda’s holiday celebrations. The señora supervised everything
until almost two this morning ... oops. Bernardo rolled his eyes up.
I was told not to mention that ...
Diego sighed. I should have known Selena would not
sit idly by and disappoint the children on the de la Vega estates.
Then he wondered, but why did I not awaken when she left our bed ...
unless ... He glanced at Bernardo, who was probably the worst liar
the young caballero had ever known.
“Bernardo, did Selena tell Amontildar to ah ...”
The mozo merely shrugged his shoulders and
“By the Virgin, Bernardo, between you and Amontildar,
I simply do not have a chance, do I, eh?” Diego said quietly.
His manservant winked at him. I believe, my master,
you have answered your own question ...
After pronouncing the Nachimiento a success,
Diego went upstairs to check on Selena. When he discreetly opened the
door and peered inside, his beautiful wife was already sitting up at her
dressing table and drinking a cup of Amontildar’s special tea.
“Buenos dias,” Diego murmured as he kissed the back
of her neck, “how are ‘we’ feeling this morning?”
“’We’ are feeling much better, especially since
you are here now, mon coeur.” Selena replied softly. “Did you
and your father approve of the servants’ efforts in completing the
display for tonight?”
“Oh, sí, but what I do not approve of is my wife’s
version of a nightcap.” Diego said in a mocking tone.
Selena giggled. “Am I forgiven, mi corazon, for
after all, you have not slept very well these past two weeks worrying
about me ...” she lowered her face and sighed.
“Selena,” he began, “I believe I know exactly what
you need, some quiet time with me later tonight.”
She raised her head and searched his handsome face, and
saw both love and desire blazing within those hazel eyes. “Vraiment?
[Really?] Why not surprise me tonight after the children have seen their
“Anything for my beloved.” Diego huskily responded.
“Until eleven o’clock, then, Selena.” He straightened his navy
blue chaqueta as he walked to the bedroom door.
“That long?” Selena teased.
“Ah, but I must have time to finalize my plans, and I
know you and Amontildar have to supervise the cooking, baking, and
whatnot.” Diego blew her a kiss.
“D’accord, mon cher, jus’qua ce soir.”
[Until tonight then, my dear]. Selena responded dreamily.
In the de la Vegas kitchen, Amontildar was instructing
one of the young Indian cooks how to make pralines. The teenager could
not help laughing at the Creole’s constant chattering in French,
bemoaning the fact that she did not have any pecans for her rich sugary pralines
that Selena loved.
“Pas de noisettes!” [No pecans!] Amontildar
exclaimed as she poured out the praline mixture on the flat, iron
baking trays, “what will my mistress tink?“
“Your mistress, Mam’selle Amontildar, will certainly
not be offended if the candies lack any pecans!” Selena said brightly
as she glided into the kitchen while tying on an apron.
“Mais, chere, what you be doin, eh?” the Creole’s
eyes widened in mock surprise.
Selena defiantly crossed her arms. “I am going to make
some red velvet cake for dinner tonight. Any objections?”
Amontildar shook her head. “Non, but dat cake be
already done, but you can apply the glacé, [icing] mistress,”
the Creole smiled. “But me, I thought I tole you to wait upstairs a
little while longer and I be dere real soon to make you look fine for
your Monsieur tonight pour La Fête du Noel, mais oui?”
“I am bored, Amontildar, and ...” she stopped when
she saw the fierce look on her servant’s face. Selena then decided
that a hasty retreat was in order, “n-nevermind, and mam’selle, I
suddenly seem to be developing a headache.”
“Tres bien, chere,” Amontildar chided her mistress;
“you walk carefully up ze stairs maintenant, oui?”
END OF CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN