There’s something about Florida that brings out the diversity of Christmas. One highly decorated house around the corner from us on Skylark includes among its holiday lawn crew what I fear is a light-up blue octopus with a Santa hat on. Lit-up palm trees are a requirement. The ice cream truck plays Christmas carols. The ice cream truck unaccountably plays Christmas carols year round, but that somehow seems normal here.
So it was with some interest that I’ve watched a year go by at the Latino household up the street on East Tarpon. When mama is cooking dinner, and I haven’t had mine yet, I die. Whatever she's making smells like a cross between pancakes and pizza. I learned that they own a booming local Mexican restaurant--the happily named La Esperanza (Hope)--when one of the little boys whom I’ve seen on my walks greeted us at the restaurant entrance and proudly informed us that they own the place.
Last Christmas, in the midst of a boisterous light display, a large manger appeared on their lawn, festooned with yet more lights and accompanied by the Holy Couple and Wise Men, all patiently awaiting the arrival of the Baby Jesus. The Holy Infant arrived about a week before Christmas, which might be a Mexican tradition, I’m not sure. It was a delight to walk past every morning and evening!
After Epiphany, the lights and the whole entourage retreated to wherever they spend the rest of the year, but the manger remained. At the time, Bobby, Gilda, and I were walking together, and we’d noted that the, let’s call them Esperanza, family also had lifelike ceramic dogs on their lawn. Bobby quipped, “They should put the dog in the doghouse.” (The manger did look like a big doghouse.) We laughed.
Not a week later, I was walking by, and there sat the cocker spaniel statue, in the middle of the manger! What had been a nativity scene was now a fine tableau of an idiomatic expression, even though I'm sure the Esperanzas had no “dog in a manger” metaphor in their language. I loved the kids’ whimsical use of their nativity scene for a while.
It stayed that way, all year long. The mama told me recently that the boys once had a dog just like that, which would explain why they’re so attached to its graven image.
I wondered what would happen when Christmas rolled around again.
Why did I even wonder? This had become a tradition! First the cocker spaniel was placed gently outside the manger, relegated to watchdog status. Then back came the Holy Couple, who instead of an inn or a stable found only a doghouse for shelter in Southwest Florida. The Wise Men had no problem worshiping at a doghouse. And the Baby Jesus, I’m sure, loves it with all his heart.