What’s your Christmas tradition? Rio Ranchoans share theirs

Rio Rancho Public Schools Executive Director of Federal, Bilingual and Native American Programs Victoria Tafoya and her family make 20-dozen traditional tamales every Christmas. She, her mother and her sisters use home-raised pork and red chile from the garden. Tafoya says the tamales and her memories of making them are part of the fabric of her life. (Courtesy photo)

For many people, one of the most important aspects of Christmas and the holiday season is coming together with family or with people who share their faith.

Rio Ranchoans seem to have no shortage of special Christmas traditions to help them celebrate. They can be simple activities with family, a special feeling after a church service, the time spent unwinding after the hustle to pick out the perfect gift or just the smell of a batch of cookies baking.

Kelsey Bruxvoort, an employee at Rio Grande Gracious Retirement Living, said her favorite tradition is playing Cranium, a board game where players have to know trivia and also demonstrate their artistic abilities. She said her family plays the game every year after opening presents.

“I love it because my brother and dad are good at trivia and my mom and I are creative,” she said. “My dad and my brother can’t be on same team. … I like it because it creates memo- ries.”

Paul Stephenson, director of curriculum for The ASK Academy charter school, said his favorite tradition is the Stephenson Christmas tree hunt.

“In recent years, this hunt has found us in parking lots and tree lots in the city; however, there were years that we would buy permits and go into (the forest) to hunt, cut and carry our Christmas tree back home. One of those hunts included my father, who had traveled to New Mexico to share the season with us. He passed on this family ceremony that makes this tradition special,” Stephenson said.

The tree also has significance as a symbol of his and his family’s Christian faith, he said.

“Imagine, after spending considerable time on the mountainside hunting for the most special tree,” he said, “… sharing words of thankfulness and love, cutting the tree down, carrying it out to the mountains to the car and making the trip back home. The spirit is incredible and the memories are forever.”

Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni said her special family tradition is going to church on Christmas Eve. She also said that the traditional food on Christmas Day makes the time special for her.

“We have family and friends over on Christmas day to enjoy posole, tamales and all the fixings and exchange gifts,” she said.

Gunnar Fox, who manages Santa Ana Star Center, and his family have a more recent tradition called “elf on the shelf.”

“Kids name the elf and every year the elf comes back before Christmas to check on them and make sure they are being good. Each night the elf ‘flies’ back to the North Pole and reports to Santa, then the next morning, magically, the elf is back and in a different spot.  Kids cannot touch the elf or the elf will lose his/her magic and will not come back,” he said.

His family’s elf is Tinsel, named by his wife and daughter.

“She comes every year the weekend after Thanksgiving and brings the ‘North Pole Breakfast,’ which consists, for us, of powdered doughnuts, muffins, pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream (made) to look like Santa, bacon, etc …”

He said his brother comes to visit every year, which also makes the season special.

Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya said a favorite tradition is giving inexpensive gifts, less than $10, to her parents and brother.

“(It) reminds us of the innocence of our childhood and brings back a lot of heart-warming memories,” she said. “We buy a gift that reminds us of the when we were children and all lived together. We place the gifts in one another’s stockings. There are five of us, my parents, sister and brother and myself, but now my brother is married and has a 3-year-old, so it should be a lot more fun this year.”

Like many people, Victoria Tafoya of Rio Rancho Public Schools has food on her mind this time of year. The traditional tamales, and her memories of her family making them, are woven into the fabric of her life, she said.

“My favorite Christmas tradition is one that is something for the heart and the tummy. Every year, my mom and sisters get together to make tamales, usually made from home-grown pork and yummy red chile from the garden.  As a child I used to watch the process and was fascinated by the laughter and conversation of the adults, yet I was only an observer and taster of the masa-only tamales,” she said.

Masa is the corn flour dough for the tamale. She insisted her family make the chile-free tamales for her, she said. As a teenager, she said, she wasn’t a great help in the kitchen because she was busy taking care of her nephews and nieces. That was when she started eating chile, but only had one or two tamales. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she began making the tamales with the other cooks.

“This is when my mom carefully guided me on which side of the corn husk to use, how to spread a layer of masa on the corn husk, and how to fill the tamale and fold it just so. I have learned more and more of the entire process over the years, yet I wouldn’t dare make them on my own just yet,” she said. “The day is more than just making the 20-dozen tamales. It is a day for laughter, sharing of memories, and continuing a tradition.  Plus, now that my taste for chile is fully developed, I enjoy the tamales smothered with red chile. However, I now make my own children the masa-only tamales.  I guess some traditions you just grow into.”

Wynn Goering, the CEO of UNM West, has one of the more unique Christmas traditions. He and his wife Ardie run a Christmas tree farm in Kansas.

“We sell trees and wreaths that we grow on the Kansas farm where Ardie grew up. Everything is sold there to people who drive out and cut down their own tree.  I like to tell them that makes us part of 400 to 500 family traditions each year!  It’s hectic but we enjoy it,” he said.

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