Juan's Christmas Gift





Chapter Three - Posada



The following three days were a flurry of activity, as the last minute preparations were made. Diego had personally never seen such copious quantities of sugar in one place in his life, and couldn't help but wonder how many children would have bellyaches on December the 17th. Juanita, the cook, stayed busy preparing the confections for the piñatas and for the small baskets that would be sitting by the bowls of fruited punch. The baskets themselves had been delivered days previously and were piled haphazardly near the sala door. Servants had gathered bags of nuts and fruits, the former to go in piñatas and the latter to be served as refreshments.

As Diego and Bernardo were hanging up brightly colored paper lanterns all around the patio, a small cart arrived from the pueblo. "Buenos Dias, Don Diego, Bernardo," Juan called out as he carried in two magnificent piñatas. "I was not busy at the church, so I offered my services to the maker of these works of art. Where would you like me to put them?"

Looking down from the ladder on which he stood, Diego pointed to the sala door. "Set them on the table, Juan. And many thanks for your help." The artisan followed the priest's helper with two more of the huge piñatas.

Juan stood under the ladder, after the last two pottery and paper mache creations had been carried into the hacienda. "I can see from the preparations, that the children are going to have a fine time," Juan said with a bright smile. He gathered up two more lanterns and handed them up to Bernardo and Diego.

Alejandro came out from the sala to survey the preparations. Standing near the ladders, he looked at Juan in mild curiosity. "Father, this is Juan," Diego told him. "He is Father Miguel's helper and he has graciously agreed to tell stories at the Posada. The good padre has told me that Juan is an excellent storyteller." Alejandro was the recipient of Juan's bright and friendly smile.

With a slight bow, Juan greeted Diego's father. "I am honored to meet you, Don Alejandro."

"Welcome to our hacienda, Juan, and thank you for helping us out at the Posada. My son is very good with music, but I am afraid that neither of us excel in the art of story telling," Alejandro said.

"I am delighted to be able to tell stories at your Posada," Juan told the elder de la Vega. After helping for a little while longer, the church helper rode back to the pueblo with a servant.

"Diego, Manolito is bringing a small crate of fireworks that came into San Pedro harbor on a ship from the orient. I have heard of fireworks at the fiestas, and I decided to try shooting off a few near the end of the festivities," Alejandro explained.

"I hope that we do not over-excite the children, Father," Diego laughed. Every time Alejandro had heard of a new novelty, he wanted to try it. Diego decided that his father was going to enjoy the Posada as much or more than the children were.

Sgt. Garcia's big Percheron shifted its weight, (and the sergeant's as well) from one side to the other, jingling its tack. Diego's palomino stood quietly. The pair heard the two wagons long before they saw them. The happy voices of the children carried over the rooftops of the buildings in the pueblo, floating almost like the voices of angels. The sun indicated that it was mid-afternoon and there was yet time for the children to attend the small Pastorela that Father Miguel had put together for the local residents.

"Ah, Don Diego, they sound so happy now, and the festivities have not even begun yet," Garcia said with a deep smile.

"It is the happiness of joyful anticipation, Sgt. Garcia," a voice said from behind them. Diego recognized the voice of the priest's helper, Juan. "The anticipation is sometimes even more delightful than the event actually is, although in this case, I greatly suspect that the children will not be disappointed." He walked in front of the horses and watched with the two men.

"Buenos tardes, Juan. Are you ready for your night of storytelling?" Diego inquired with a chuckle.

"Oh, yes, Don Diego, my anticipation is almost as great as the children's, I believe. I love telling the stories from the Bible. In fact, Father Miguel has noised abroad the rumor of my talent so much, that I am telling stories at every Posada, not just yours," Juan announced with a laugh.

Just then the two wagons of mission children rolled into the plaza and creaked to a stop. Father Felipe stood up and greeted Diego. "Diego, my son, the young ones have already decided who is going to play the various parts. They even gathered the materials needed for their portrayals," the priest told him with a chuckle. "You and your father have made many little ones very happy, Diego," Father Felipe added softly.

Diego colored slightly. "It was my father's idea entirely, although I am glad he thought of it. There has been much laughter and activity in our hacienda this past month, and that is a good thing."

Father Miguel joined them. "Ah, just in time for the Pastorela," he said in anticipation. Directing the children into the area in front of the chapel, he soon announced the beginning of the play, which chronicled the journey of the shepherds to see the Christ child. Each time the actor representing Satan appeared to lay a new snare for the poor shepherds, the children booed and hissed with great passion. And they cheered when the intrepid heroes overcame the various traps laid for them. Soon the little play was finished and the young ones climbed onto the wagons once more for the journey to the de la Vega hacienda.

Just before they reached the gate to the patio, the wagons stopped and the children playing the different parts, jumped down and got their homemade costumes ready. The more 'richly' clad innkeepers were ushered into the patio by Bernardo.

Juan paused near the Nacimientos display. Diego noticed that as the helper gazed at the little statues of the Christ child and his mother, the man's face almost glowed and a look which seemed to be that of longing came over him.

The little girl portraying the angel stood wide-eyed near Juan, and a boy and girl were just behind her. Suddenly, the little angel became very frightened and the tears started trickling down her cheeks. Diego started over to her, but Juan knelt down and gathered her up, whispering in her ear and putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. A smile crossed her face and the tears stopped as suddenly as they had begun. Diego sighed in relief, and at that moment, Alejandro announced that all was in readiness.

The angel led the procession, with Mary and Joseph right behind. The young man knocked on the door. "Who is knocking on my door?" came a young, but gruff voice from inside.

"Please, kind sirs," 'Joseph' called out. "My wife is about to have a baby and we need a place to stay."

"No, no, we have no room, you cannot stay here," came the answer from inside the patio. There was a pattering of feet as the 'innkeepers' moved to their next position. The procession continued through the gate, with the same request made and the same answer given. Finally the group reached the sala door, where the hard-hearted innkeepers waited inside.

"Please, kind sirs, my wife is about to have a baby, a holy baby, the Son of God, please give us a place to rest," came Joseph's last plaintive request.

"Enter, Holy Pilgrims," came the reply and the innkeepers came out of the sala with great smiles on their faces. Father Felipe motioned the entire group to kneel and he gave a prayer of thanksgiving. As soon as he had said 'amen,' the air rang with festive cheers and the chattering of children. The children looked in awe at the huge piñatas hanging above them on ropes.

Don Alejandro brought out blindfolds and Bernardo helped tie one on the youngest. One by one, each child got a chance to swing at a piñata, receiving cheers when the stick connected with the decorated clay pots. Screams of delight accompanied the total breakage of a piñata with a mad scramble for the nuts, toys and confections that spilled out.

A piñata had been hung for the adults, and each chaperone got a chance to swing at the dancing, bouncing paper machied effigy. Diego bowed out of the contest at the very beginning by grabbing the rope and pulling the piñata up and down as the contestants swung at it. When Sgt. Garcia was blindfolded and took the large stick in his pudgy hands, Bernardo noticed a sudden gleam in the eyes of his patrón. Diego waited for the sergeant to reach back for a mighty swing and then let the rope slide through his hands just enough for the stick to connect solidly with the piñata. With a mighty crack, the pot burst and water showered over the hapless sergeant.

Garcia sputtered and then began to laugh right along with everyone else. The evening progressed merrily. Juan never seemed to run out of stories, and when he had finished telling of the nativity, then he continued on, telling of the growth and mission of the Savior. Some of the children never left his side the entire time he was telling the stories. Diego stood nearby for a while and found himself picturing in his mind's eye, the dusty hillsides and broad shores of the Lake of Galilee. Father Miguel was right, Juan was a master storyteller to have his audience able to see so vividly, the events he was narrating.

Many of the children hovered near Bernardo, trying in vain to figure out how the mute could trick them so easily. The manservant's nimble fingers produced eggs and coins from ears, hands, and sleeves and seemingly from mid-air. Bernardo's broad smile indicated how enjoyable this was for him. Occasionally Diego would get out his guitar and sing a few Posada songs with some of the children. Sgt. Garcia's rich bass voice floated across the patio, blending with that of the hacendado’s tenor.

"Your voices blend very nicely," Juan said, during a break in his storytelling. "A heavenly choir could not do a better job, señores." Sgt. Garcia blushed.

"Gracias, Juan.  I have always admired the sergeant's voice. It is wasted in the Army," Diego commented, adding to the sergeant's discomfiture.

Almost too soon, the children began to tire and the younger soon started nodding off in the arms of various adults. Alejandro decided it was time to try out the fireworks and set up the rockets outside the gates of the patio. At the explosive ignition of the first rocket, the children screamed and then clapped their hands in delight at the different colored flashes and sparkles of light that exploded in the sky. A great cheer went up when the last rocket was exploded.

Bernardo and Juan handed out the colaciones, or baskets of confections to the orphans and they sleepily trudged to the wagons for the journey back to the mission San Gabriel. "It was a most enjoyable evening, Diego," Alejandro sighed as the wagons rolled out of sight.

"Yes, Father, it was," Diego concurred.

Juan walked up to the father and son. "We will take our leave, Don Alejandro. I want to thank you for inviting me. It has been a while since I have had such an enjoyable evening, or should I say night. Dawn is only a few hour away." Juan laughed as he and Father Miguel got into a small carriage and rode away. "Vaya con Dios," his voice drifted back to them.



Chapter Four
Chapter One
Holiday Zorro Stories
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