Traditions handed down through generations will mark the way thousands of East Valley families celebrate Christmas this weekend. The Tribune invited several people to explain how they will add a different cultural twist to the holiday this year.
Christmas is not a one-day event for the Cordova family of Mesa. Fernando, Yazmin and their children, Elisa and Emiliano, start with a "posada" party on Dec. 17, carrying on a Mexican tradition that commemorates Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter. After everyone is invited into the house, they serve punch, tamales and pozole — a soup made with hominy, chilies, pork and chicken.
On Christmas Eve, they will make tamales with Fernando’s side of the family and attend Mass. For Christmas Day, Yazmin, who was raised in Mexico, will cook a pork leg seasoned with apple cider, prunes and garlic, along with mashed potatoes.
On Jan. 6, the family will celebrate Epiphany — or Three Kings Day in the Mexican culture — to remember the three wise men who visited baby Jesus. Yazmin bakes a traditional sweetbread and presents are exchanged.
The Zimmerman kids are going to make out like bandits Sunday.
Christmas and Hanukkah fall on the same day this year. For most people, it’s an either/or proposition. But not for this Scottsdale family. You see, the Zimmermans are Messianic Jews, a term used for Jews who also believe that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah.
Jack Zimmerman is the rabbi of the Valley’s Messianic Jewish congregation. "As Messianic Jews, both Christmas and Hanukkah are even more wonderful, more beautiful,’’ he says. "To Jews, Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. For Messianic Jews, we are reminded that Jesus is the light of the world. In Jesus, we see the fulfillment of our Jewish traditions.’’
Jack and his wife, Sandra, have three children: Jordan, 21, Ryan, 16, and Casey, 15. They’ll receive Christmas presents, plus eight days of Hanukkah gifts.
Christmas comes just once a year for most of us, but not for Roger and Natalie Hansen.
The Mesa winter residents from Carroll, Iowa, don’t want to deal with cold winters back home, and their kids are too busy to escape to sunny Arizona. So the Hansens celebrate Christmas with their family on Labor Day.
On Christmas Day, they call family, then attend a potluck put on by Citrus Gardens, an age-restricted community. The event typically draws about 100. Community members will probably hang around for much of the afternoon.
"They won’t be in any hurry to leave, I’m sure," Roger Hansen said. "There’s no reason. There’s nothing else is going on. People will stay around and just enjoy everybody’s company."
Charlie Vaughn, chairman of the Hualapai tribe in northwestern Arizona, said that over time, his American Indian culture has adopted many Christmas traditions shared by non-Indians, blending them with more traditional American Indian touches.
The Hualapais do many of the same things other families do, stringing lights on houses and other popular decor. Gifts often are cultural objects, such as turquoise and silver jewelry. This year, the tribe is sponsoring a community Christmas dinner, where 300 to 350 will come out for turkey and ham with all the trimmings.
Vaughn said after the meal, the tribe will sponsor a Christmas dance — but the music will be country western, which is popular year-round with his tribal members
In Japan, "the cake is the main thing" for Christmas, says Sunao Arai. He and his father, Ken Arai, are making about 40 Japanese Christmas cakes this year at Arai Pastry, a traditional Japanese bakery in Tempe.
When they owned a bakery in Japan, they baked nearly 500 a year. The cakes come in strawberry shortcake or chocolate varieties and look like round birthday cakes. Christmas is more of a secular holiday in Japan, Sunao Arai says, and "they usually celebrate on the Christmas Eve."