by Jeff Baker
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas around 1993, a week before finals and I was going to St. Nigel’s College in Kansas. To my mind about as far away from where Scott Garcia (that was me) grew up as you could get and still afford to go to school.
Sometimes Albuquerque seemed so far away.
I was studying biology, playing intramural sports and dating around that semester, my Junior year and somehow I got dragged into what was called the Hispanic Students Alliance. It was a way to meet girls and check out guys so I went through it.
One of the ideas we had floated around with the Campus Ministry Department was to do Las Posadas. I’d been in it a few times when I was a kid, but I wasn’t a kid anymore. Still, that evening we all got dressed up and made the procession, followed by a bunch of onlookers.
For the uninitiated; “Las Posadas” recreates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Usually the competition to portray the Holy Couple can be pretty fierce and un-Christ-like but we had Zack and Marta, who were actually married leading the procession.
It was a warmish December evening but we still confined the walk to the inside, through the Administration Building and across the quad to the old dorm building that was used as overflow faculty offices. The way Las Posadas works is Joseph and Mary knock on the doors of houses (or offices) looking for a room and (by tradition) they are turned away. This goes on until we reach the planned destination and since the chapel was closed for renovation for most of that semester we were using the lobby of the old dorm where the offices were.
The big concession to student schedules and finals was we only did this one night instead of for nine. I needed to cram for a couple of finals anyway and I was sure even the Holy Family felt the same way.
It went on the way it was supposed to; we sang Christmas songs (the really old ones, not the one about the Grandmother getting flattened by a reindeer) knocking on doors and being turned away until we reached Professor Meyerbeer’s office on the third floor. He was old, at least I thought sixty was old when I was twenty, and he taught courses in Judaism which was not as incongruous as you might think at a Catholic school; he and Father Gareth had known each other for ages.
Zack and Marta knocked on Professor Meyerbeer’s office door, asked for a room and he sharply told them “No” and shut the door in their faces. We were heading down the hall singing “Silent Night” when we heard a door open and the Professor’s voice calling for us to stop.
“You folks may have a long way to travel,” the Professor said as he handed us all small, warm bags. Roasted peanuts. To this day I don’t know how he kept them so warm in the office.
“My Mother would never forgive me if I let travelers go on their way without a meal,” the Professor said. He smiled and waved. “Now, be on your way and let me know if you find the Messiah.”
We wandered downstairs, knocking on offices, singing and munching peanuts until we made our way to the lobby where Campus Ministry had set up a little Nativity scene by the fireplace that didn’t work anymore, along with some food and cans of soda. We sang more carols, had an impromptu Christmas service and ate.
I went back to the dorm, studied some and crashed.
I dreamed of vast, midnight skies of two-thousand years ago and of voices in ancient language singing, their songs rising to the heavens.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This Christmas story was inspired by an article in my old college’s paper from a few years ago about students doing Las Posadas. I remember reading about it when I was a kid and yes, I have family in Albuquerque.
And to all the readers out there, on behalf of all the writers on this site I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!