We got there just in time. Hundreds of local Mexicans stood knit-one-pearl-one at the front doors of the old mission. We couldn’t see them at first hidden behind the stone wall. What lured us to the site was the trio of sky-licking palm trees emblazoned with Christmas lights. I had to get a picture. I pulled on Josh's hand and we skipped liked kids until we realized we were skipping like kids.
Off in the distance, more illuminated colors drew us with the promise of fun and wonder on the oldest street in Los Angeles – Olvera Street.
Snap, snap. The Christmas palms were mine. Then, away toward an old priest who stood in front of the mission doors reciting vespers. Two feet away, a child draped in ornamental clothing sat atop a donkey and worshippers swarmed around them melted in the promise of Jesus.
We made our way around the crowd to a courtyard. Sugar covered Churros and hot drinks were offered by men and women in warm jackets and mittens.
Across the way -- a depiction of Jesus in the manger elevated on a five foot rise. Beneath it -- penned in goats and ducks, small, adorable creating oo’s and ahh’s from onlookers. A small fuzzy white baby goat nuzzled its mother, then backed away for a picture. It’s Hollywood, I thought, they learn early.
We crossed the street to the heart of the activities. The child, my parents brought there when she was nine, was alive and well and living inside me. All worldly concerns and self-absorbing thoughts vanished. I was here now, and now was wall-to-wall eye candy at every turn.
Stalls filled with hand-crafted leather shoes, belts, purses, key chains, hand embroidered blouses, skirts, hand woven serapes, blankets, toys, candies, all made in Mexico. Tequito stands, candle shops, art and chotchkie shops – all on a cobble stone street with no cars, just as it was over 100 years ago.
I recognized the restaurant right off -- the oldest, finest on this historic street. A permanent canopied extension with thirty tables were filled with customers. Beautiful magenta lights draped its wooden beams. Mexican music played and a lineup met us as we approached. I asked the man in front of us if there was entertainment inside.
Yes, he said, we’ve been coming here every Christmas for 30 years. Doubt if you can get in without a reservation. He wore a black suit and his wife was dolled up, too.
Josh and I eyeballed each other in our jeans and running shoes. What the hell, we’ll try. And, Voila! We were guided to seats at the bar.
As we entered, the bar was to the right and tables to the left. Then the rest of the room was raised and tiered. We ordered marguritas at $8.95 per and swiveled in our chairs to take it all in.
Along each wall was one long table with chairs on one side – the center saved for what was about to come. Higher and higher, various levels held more tables. It looked like the interior design of a cruise ship – only wonderfully rustic – hand carved wooden beams, railings – warmly colored Mexican paintings and fixtures.
A trio of women sang Mexican Christmas carols. And, the food was the best we had tasted from Texas to the Pacific Coast.
At the top of the show came a dance troupe from Mexico. Two thick-thighed bare chested young men costumed with great plumage and two young women wearing an array of petticoats and hand embroidered blouses. Their dance was folklorico – much foot and ankle action, proudly statuesque yet primitive moves.
A few costume changes, similar dance – then, a puppeteer. By this time, all the children sat in rows around the stage. Even some adults joined in -- to keep on eye on the kids? or, just to be kids themselves.
Four foot high stringed puppets walked around the stage, sat on kids’ laps, jumped onto the two long tables and sang to customers.
Yipes and giggles filled the air along with music and song. People were so relaxed and spontaneous, I was sure I was at a wedding.
Mothers stood up and danced with their kids. Other smallfries ran around playing and exploring.
When the floor show ended, a small Mexican band played and people got up to dance. Little girls in long dresses stood at the end of the rise performing for anyone who would watch. Young mothers let go of their responsibilities and grabbed their husbands for a close clutch on the floor.
I pulled Josh away from his second marguerita and we joined in the fun. Later, he presented me with a battery operated Beagle I had admired earlier at one of the stalls – a yappy thing that brings me right back to the magic.
It was a perfectly spontaneous magical evening that reminded me how wonder-filled life can be. And to think, I almost chose to stay home that night.