Downey's Spanish link with Christmas

Things You Didn’t Know About Downey

DOWNEY – In the Downey Historical Society newsletter of December 1975 there was an article submitted by Ruth Miller titled “Merry Christmas -- Christmas in California.”

That festive time of year is here, and it is fun to take a nostalgic look at an early California Christmas celebration.

In “Navidad,” Don Artura Bandini tells us that Vispera de Navidad, or Christmas Eve, was the day of great expectations, especially for the young people.

They would get on the roof of the large adobe house to watch for the arrival of the great rancheros escorting their individual, gaily-decorated ox-carts which contained their families.

Everyone knew everyone else, and as the families passed each other, the bright curtains of the ox-carts parted, faces peered out, and shrill greetings flew from ox-cart to house and back.

But the big event of the evening was “Los Pastores,” or “The Shepherds,” a kind of scared drama. The principal characters were the Archangel Michael, a clownish devil named Bartolo, and shepherds.

The pastores went from house to house enacting the same scenes. At every house they visited, the shepherds were treated to bunelos -- sweetened cakes fried crisp in grease.

Christmas morning at 3 a.m. was the scene of great commotion as everyone prepared to attend the early Mass, which the Americans called “midnight Mass” but the Spanish Americans named “la misa del gallo” (the mass of the rooster).

Everyone who was not bedridden went to the misa del gallo, which was celebrated at 4 a.m., a beautiful and impressive service with no sermon.

After the mass, everyone gathered at a little distance from the church door to exchange greetings and good wishes; gifts were not customary. The remainder of the day was devoted to social intercourse, music, dancing and horsemanship.

Christmas was a gala social occasion, especially for isolated rancheros, with religious overtones.

Feliz noche buena.

CEMETERY BURIAL: The following is from a March 10, 1949 story titled “Oldest California Resident Laid to Rest in Downey Cemetery”:

Believed to be the oldest California resident, the late Mrs. Dorothea De Luera, 126 years old, was laid to rest in the Downey Cemetery last week.

Requiem mass was said for her on Tuesday last week at the Holy Family Church in Artesia, with Father Patrick O’Connor officiating. Rosary was recited Monday evening from the Arnold Funeral Home.

Born in Mexico in the year 1822, the deceased came to California in 1919, making her residence in the Artesia neighborhood. She passed away Friday the 25th, at her home, 15000 Bloomfield Street in Artesia.

She is survived by a son, Leo Escallero of Norwalk, and a daughter, Lola Escallero of Inglewood.

Bobbie Bruce is a docent with the Downey Historical Society.