Christmas Eve in the Territory

by Jeanne

Warnings: None Except this is a pwp. Just a little slice of life. A special thanks to Kathy who beta'd this for me, it was her first beta job too.

Special Note: Christmas Eve in New Mexico is a picturesque event rich in tradition and cultural heritage. The flickering lights of 'farolitos' or 'luminarias' line streets, sidewalks, homes and churches to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

Farolitos is a Spanish word for "little lanterns". It is a tradition from the 1800's to make little bonfires to line the streets. Then to block the ever present wind people made little paper containers. Today to make a luminaria you need paper lunch sacks, sand, and candles. You can use tea lights or votive cantles. Roll down the mouth of the sack a couple of times to make a 'cuff'. Put around two inches of sand in the sack to stabilize it in the wind and place the candle in the sand.

~~~~~ Christmas Eve ~~~~~
Young Vin watched the two men as they saddled their horses. He wondered why this late in the afternoon they were saddling up to go to town. Mr. Buck and Mr. Chris were acting like it was early in the day instead of almost dark. Besides it was cold outside and the wind was blowing.

The whole week had been strange. Mr. Buck had put a small pine tree up inside the house and insisted they help decorate it. "Come on Little Bit, ain't ya never seen a Christmas tree before?" He'd asked when JD just stared at the paper and paste spread out on the table.

"Nuhuh, we weren't allowed a tree at the orphanage. They said it was wicked." The little boy leaned close to his protector. "Vin said his ma had a tree and she wasn't wicked. He got whipped, and sent to the punishment room for days an' days. Don't say I told."

The big man swallowed his anger before he spoke. " Well now, Lit'le Bit it ain't wicked. It's just a way to celebrate Baby Jesus' birthday. So what we're gonna do is take these strips of paper like this, and some glue, and make a chain like this. An' when we're done we'll string it on the tree, round an' round."

The dark haired boy nodded eagerly and copied Buck's movements. He would do anything if Buck said it was all right. Vin just watched them. It wasn't until Chris joined in after supper that the little blond helped string the popcorn and make the paper chain.

Little Tanner looked away from the window toward the small tree. It was barely taller then himself and covered with brightly colored paper chains, popcorn garlands and clusters of wild red berries. Vin decided it was almost as pretty as the last tree his ma had made.

He looked out the window again as the two men finished and walked inside. "Time to bundle up boys. We're ready to go," Buck called as he shut the door.

Chris made sure that Vin's coat was buttoned tightly and then led the boy outside. After he mounted he reached down and pulled Tanner up in front of him in the saddle. He made sure the boy's legs were covered with the long tail of his duster. It was already getting colder as the sun got lower in the sky. "You ready to ride, Cowboy?"

Vin nodded and asked, "Where we going?"

"To town. Mr. Josiah has something special planned for Christmas Eve."

"Zat what this is? Christmas Eve?"

"Yep, tomorrow is Christmas."

"Oh. What's Mr. Josiah gonna do?" the boy asked after a long pause.

"Not quite sure. It's a good thing I bet. He and Father Mateo have had their heads together for a week planning something."

"Oh," the boy said as he leaned back into the warmth of Chris' embrace. He thought for awhile enjoying the ride. "Mr. Chris, did you have Christmas when you was my age?"

The gunfighter looked down at the small boy he was coming to think of as a son. "Yeah, my ma loved Christmas. Her ma was from Virginia and she had all sorts of Southern notions about celebrating Christmas. But it was fun."

"Like what?"

"Oh, well when I was seven, like you, I got to go and help get the tree. It wasn't much taller then me, but we thought it was great. After supper my brother and I got to make popcorn strings just like we did the other night." Larabee paused remembering his Indiana childhood.

"It had snowed for days and we couldn't go into town for church. My pa read from the Bible on Christmas morning. Our house smelled of baking for weeks, but we couldn't eat any of it until after the reading. After that we got to look in our stockings we'd hung. My brother and I got carved animals and a shiny new penny. My little sister got a rag doll. She was only three so she didn't get a penny. We all three got a stick of candy too."

Vin nodded hearing the happy memories in Larabee's voice. They rode in silence each vaguely aware of the chatter of Buck and JD.

After a while Chris looked down at the little boy. "How about you, Pard? Do you remember a good Christmas with your ma?"

The boy nodded and softly said, "I 'member the last Christmas we had. It was cold and the wind was blowing real hard all the time but no snow. Weren't no proper trees around but Ma dragged in a tumbleweed and set it in the corner of the soddy. It was as tall as me. She told me it was our very own special Christmas tree an' we was going to make it pretty and then bake a birthday cake for Baby Jesus. Didn't have much, but we used some of her quiltin' rags that was too small an' wild berries you couldn't eat an' she even let me put a ol' birds nest I'd found on the top. It was the most beautiful tree ever. The best part is she'd wrap a blanket around us and we'd sit and watch for my Pa to come and she'd tell me stories..."

Chris looked down at the suddenly silent boy, "What's wrong Vin?"

"Was right after that, she got sick. It was our last Christmas together. My Pa never did come home neither."

"I'm sorry Vin."

"Don't be, she was the best ma anyone ever had."

"I'm sure she was."

Again silence prevailed as they rode in the gathering dark. Larabee felt the boy relax against him and smiled at the wonder of having the small body pressed against his. A feeling he didn't think he'd ever have again a few months ago.

They turned around the bend and Chris smiled. "Look, Vin."

Little Tanner opened sleepy eyes and gasped, sitting up straight. "What is it?" All along the road leading into town were tiny little lights.

"I think it must be part of Josiah's plan."

They rode into town and the road was lined with paper cones with flickering candles inside them. They lined the boardwalks and some were even on the balconies leading all the way to the church. As they got closer they could hear singing coming from inside the church. It seemed Ezra's rich tenor lead the voices in song. Josiah and Nathan stood on the steps welcoming everyone inside.

The older man looked up at Vin and Chris and smiled. "Welcome boys, we got a great evening planned tonight."