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Book of Christmas customs, and story of modern arrival

Charito Calvachi Wakefield, who lives in Pennsylvania but was born and reared in Ecuador, was often asked by nieces, nephews and others to explain the Christmas traditions of her native land. Soon she realized that most people know little of the culture of Latin America, least of all its religious traditions. She turned this insight into a project resulting in a book and compact disk containing the Christmas traditions, music, prayers and stories, in Spanish and English, of 25 Latin American countries.

Paintings for the book were done by Fernando Reinoso of Ecuador. They are splendid examples of folk art. The painting on our cover is “The Magi,” while “The Nativity” is on page 3. Painted in the magical realism so popular in Latin America, the pictures blend old and new, East and West.

“Everyone needs a star that guides and brightens the way of life,” writes Jesuit Fr. Marco Ruada in an introduction. “Just as the three kings did long ago, we all search for the Lord of Love through paths that are at times dark and obscure, through roads that lead us near dangerous cliffs, and, upon occasion, through paths of peace and harmony.”

Called Navidad Latinoamericana/Latin American Christmas, the handsome book/CD costs $19.95 (plus $3.50 postage), and is available from Latin American Publishing, 235 Orange St., Lancaster PA 17602 or by phone: 717-399-7543.

Once there was a little girl named Xiangwei (SHAN-way),” begins another beautiful little book titled Our Baby from China, by Nancy D’Antonio (Albert Whitman & Co., Morton Grove, Ill.; or from the author at 212-666-1107: $13.95 plus $3 shipping).

“On the other side of the world, in America, we were sad because we didn’t have any children,” the story continues, the “we” being D’Antonio and her husband, Gary. They wrote to the Chinese government asking for a little girl. “After many months your picture came in the mail. We knew immediately that we loved you.”

This is not War and Peace or even Moby Dick. It began as a birthday gift by D’Antonio to her little adopted daughter, a cut and paste job, snapshots from the fateful journey, with simple sentences for a child to understand. But it turned out special and the publisher put it in hard cover and it is selling like hot-cakes, says Grandpa Bill D’Antonio, a minor character in the story. The reason is not hard to find: The beguiling tale is many childless parents’ dream.

It is also in spirit a Christmas story.

The prospective parents first toured China because “we wanted to see the country where you were born.” There are pictures of the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Then finally there was the orphanage and a Mrs. Sun and the baby Xiangwei. “We lifted you up together, hugged you. ... Now we were a family of three.”

Looking so proud, they went sightseeing with their new baby. They had a farewell party. Then the long trip back to the USA, and meeting the folks and starting a new life. It’s as close as we usually get to a happy ending -- or beginning.

Those who have lived in El Salvador often marvel at Salvadorans’ ability to organize and to elicit something positive out of awful circumstances. Such is the case with the story by Paul Jeffrey on page 13 about the founding of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero University in a war-torn area north of the country’s capital of San Salvador. Francisco Acosta, one of the founders of the university, now lives in Maryland and is drumming up support among North Americans. Donations can be sent to the Peace International Foundation at 704 Ludlow St., Takoma Park MD 20912.

We at NCR wish all our readers a happy and holy Christmas. It is a pleasure and privilege to be in contact with you every week. May we all be enabled to ride merrily into a new year full of promise.

National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 1997