The Guadalupe Reyes Marathon is just not the same without an abundant assortment of turrón imported from Spain. Let me ‘splain. The Christmas season in Mexico officially begins with Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, the 12th of December, and finishes with Día de los Reyes Magos on January 6. Nothing will get accomplished during this time frame. Actually, the holiday starts even earlier, Costco revealing its Christmas treasures in August, followed by El Buen Fin, which is Mexico’s version of Black Friday and CyberMonday, preceding the country’s non-celebration of Estadounidense Thanksgiving. [Note to self: install a footnote plug-in.]
There are fewer fresh Christmas trees in Morelia this year than in years past. Costco only had a few, and Superama a grand total of five. Walmart at Altozano was live tree-free. My Christmas tree comes in a box, an original silver Evergleam, grown in the forests of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, during the second term of the Eisenhower Administration. It’s so beautiful that we could leave it up all year round, topped off with a Doberman angel , handcrafted by nimble Orvis elves. Hand-blown glass ornaments came from Tlapujahua, by way of Rincones de Michoacan.
My tree is an heirloom one, purchased by my grandmother during the one year she didn’t have the florist make up a Christmas tree in something like all-turquoise flocked pine with matching ornaments, and then have the florist haul everything away after New Year’s to prevent her descendants from inheriting Christmas ornaments. My grandparents were always the first in town to have whatever was the newest and latest, so they used that tree once and hid it in a storage closet until more than two decades would elapse. By then, I’d opened my law office, and she suggested it might look good in the waiting room, instructing me that it should be decorated in ornaments of a single color. So, the tree got put up a time or two in the office, and then it found itself shipped to Mexico to my mother, who was living here at the time, who declared it too ugly for words, shoving it back into the bodega, where it would remain for another decade or so. Each year, I would take it lovingly from the original box, the branches removed with care from the original paper sleeves, and erect it with the red and pink ornaments. Friends who drop by are rendered speechless by the sight of this tree, but I know that deep down, they’re just envious. This tree has seen more holidays than my grandmother ever intended, but I think it’s beautiful in that 1959 pink Cadillac with fins kind of way.
[Footnote time: The Aluminum Specialty Company would become Mirro, maker of pressure cookers, which has since gone on to greener pastures.]
And my decorating skills stop there. Holiday décor’s not nearly as important as what’s on the shelves to fill our bellies during the holidays. In times gone past, you just knew the season really had arrived by the odor of sides of bacalao, making the uninitiated wonder what had died at the supermarket display table. Now, most of the genuine Norwegian salt cod is tidily and hygienically packaged.
Maybe you can live without bacalao. I love making bacalao a la vizcaína, but friends approach it with the relish they reserve for okra, so it’s a private thing.
In a land where more than a few boys named Jesus are born every day of the week, we’re driven by sweets. After all, Coca-Cola is the national sponsor of all respectable public Christmas décor here. When we’re not worshipping Coca-Cola in this country, we’re paying homage to our Spanish motherland. Everything that comes from Spain is just a notch above. It’s our England.
You can’t have Christmas without sweets, and that means turrón imported from Spain. Up until a year or so ago, easily 30 minutes could be spent just picking which boxes of turrón would grace the season’s sweets table – chestnut truffles, pistachio, fruit and nut, walnuts. The crunchy, the fudgy, the nougaty, and the crumbly. Andalucian pine nuts given the Jordan almond treatment. Almendras rellenas. Creamy almond and honey Jijona turrón. El Lobo Alicante turrón. 1880 yema tostada turrón. Peladillas (almonds given the Jordan almond treatment). 1880 Alicante crunchy almond turrón. Dark chocolate almond turrón. Even though the traditional ingredients were honey, sugar, and egg white, the concept extended to all Spanish candies available at Christmas.
Living in the candy capital of Mexico isn’t enough. Ates, Checolines, coconut-stuffed limes, and Morelianas (cajeta sandwiched between communion wafers) aren’t enough. There was a time when U.S.-branded candy bars – Milky Way, Almond Joy, and oreo-studded Hershey bars, were rare around these parts. We have to make do with Carlos V. We could always depend upon Christmas to bring out the best of Spanish turrón – and to fill the larder with the post-Guadalupe Reyes sales.
This year appears to be marked by a turrón shortage. Costco had a measly three-pack, Walmart had none, and Superama, known for carrying no less than nine kinds of flavored sesame seeds (including green bamboo-smoked) had a paltry end-of-the-aisle display of only a few choices. And if that wasn’t enough, the prices were double what they were last year. Some nerve! The most expensive box was going for $299 MXN ($23 USD).
Meanwhile, marrons glaces, imported from Italy, are going for $130 MXN (that’s $10 USD) for a 454-gram box, cheaper than ever. There are supplies of German and French sweets. And, more abundant than ever, Estadounidense Christmas candy. If that damned ribbon candy ever hits the shelves, I’m packing up and heading south.
No matter what changes, we’ll always have firecrackers and guns shot off into the night sky for the holidays. And that’s reason enough to be thankful for living in Mexico.