by Jennifer Hernandez

On Christmas Eve day, I found myself in Mexico City with a new travel companion, a German woman that I had met at an outdoor café in Cuernavaca. As the sixteen million plus inhabitants of the metropolis began to hunker down with their families, we took advantage of the reduced traffic and hit the sights. El Museo Nacional with its giant Olmec heads and stone-carved Aztec calendar. El parque with at least a dozen Santas ready to pose for photos with passerby. An evening performance of Ballet Folklórico, all swirling skirts and trumpets and violins.

As we emerged from the theatre and queued up for a taxi, we sensed a change. Where usually there were any number of taxistas jockeying for our business, this evening — Noche de Paz — there were significantly fewer vehicles on the street. We waited and waited and had even started wondering how far we might have to walk in order to reach our hotel, when finally a green-and-white VW Beetle pulled up to the curb, a taxi to save and deliver us.

The next morning, Christmas, I awoke early and hungry. I set out on the cobblestone sidewalks in search of a panadería. What I found was Christmas magic. In this city center — this always bustling city center — I was alone. Alone, save a few of the ubiquitous Mexican street dogs,  perros that passed quietly like shadows. I was mere blocks from El Zócalo, the true heart of the city, a giant plaza bordered by the massive Palácio Nacional and the Catedrál. All other days the Zócalo teemed with life — government officials, business people, clergy. Congregants, Aztec dancers, tourists. Souvenir vendors, beggars, and taxistas upon taxistas. But on this morning, the streets were deserted. Peaceful. Maybe even holy.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo was taken during my second Christmas in Mexico, accompanied by my new husband, our nephew and nieces.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Although I love spending Christmas with my family, the holidays that stand out most vividly for me are those that I spent on my own during the traveling years of my twenties. In 1995, I was teaching English in Culiacán, Sinaloa, in northwestern Mexico. This vignette describes my first Christmas in Mexico.

jennifer hernandez

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Hernandez lives in the Minneapolis area, where she teaches middle school, wrangles three sons, and writes for her sanity. Her work has appeared in Talking Stick, Silver Birch Press, Disarticulations, and elsewhere. She has recently read her poetry in the Cracked Walnut Literary Festival and as honorable mention in the Elephant Rock Flash Prose contest.