- Author: Valerie Tripp
- Illustrators: Jean-Paul Tibbles, Susan McAliley
- First Published: 1997
- Setting: December 1824, New Mexico
Only in Josefina's Surprise
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Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Christmas Is Coming
Josefina, her sisters, and Tía Dolores were walking to the village, planning to help clean the church for Christmas. Josefina's Papá had went ahead of the girls to bring the wood for the Christmas fire. The wind was messing up Francisca's hair and she struggled to hold her rebozo over her head while carrying her basket. Josefina, who didn't care if her hair was messy, offers to carry the basket. Josefina looks into the basket and asks why she was bringing the chilies to town. Francisca says they were for Señora Sánchez. Ana reminds Josefina that Mamá always gave Señora Sánchez some chilies this time of year so she could make her traditional stew. Tía Dolores smiles and says she was glad Christmas was coming soon so she could try Señora Sánchez's stew. None of the girls are very enthusiastic about the thought of Christmas coming and Tía Dolores asks what was the matter. Ana explains that Christmas came soon after Mamá died last year, and all they could think about was how much they missed her. Tía Dolores comments quietly it must have been very hard and Josefina holds her hand. Francisca explains that last year was a quiet Christmas with no parties or dances out of respect for Mamá. Everyone is quiet as they walk along, wondering what this Christmas would be like. Josefina asks her Aunt if it would be wrong to be happy this Christmas, if it was disrespectful to Mamá. Tía Dolores didn't think it was wrong as the year of mourning was over, Christmas was a blessed time, and she was sure that Mamá would want them to be happy. Francisca and Ana agree with Dolores, but Clara says the traditions wouldn't be the same without Mamá. Josefina felt a knot in her stomach as she realized Clara was right.
Josefina tells her Aunt how much Mamá loved Christmas traditions, such as making a new doll dress for Niña. Ana interrupts and says that Niña should have been given to Josefina last Christmas, but Josefina states she never got her. Tía Dolores asks who Niña was and Ana explained the tradition. Mamá made a doll for Ana when she was eight and named her Niña. Every Christmas, she would make a new doll dress and on the Christmas Francisca turned eight, Ana passed the doll down to her. Francisca did the same for Clara, but Clara didn't pass it down to Josefina. When Ana asks Clara why, she shrugs and says she forgot. Tía Dolores says they could pass the doll down this year and she offers to help make the new dress. She asks where Niña was and Ana, Francisca, and Josefina all realize they haven't seen the doll in a long time. Clara calmly says she must be around somewhere, but Josefina notices a quick troubled look in Clara's eyes. Francisca was usually the messy one while Clara was the neat one,so Francisca teased that Clara actually lost Niña. Clara crossly says she's not lost, just around somewhere, and she would look when she gets home. Josefina offers to help, but Clara snaps that she doesn't need help. Tía Dolores sounds sure when she says Clara would find the doll and Josefina wishes she could be that sure. She decides silently that since Niña was so precious and was supposed to be hers, she was going to look for Niña herself.
The girls start to hear music from the village, which cheers them up and makes them walk faster. They reach the church, where everyone was helping to clean up. Clara, Francisca, and Ana go inside, but Josefina and Tía Dolores listen to the musicians outside for a moment. The musicians play a new song and Tía Dolores comments she hasn't heard this lullaby since she was a kid. She asks Josefina to sing the words and Josefina obliges. She only manages to sing a few lines before she started to cry. She explains that Mamá sung that lullaby to her since she was a baby, and they would all sing the song together at church on Christmas Eve for baby Jesús. Dolores dries Josefina's tears and asks if everyone sung together. Josefina explains the first part of the song was sung by the girl who plays María in Las Posadas. Tía Dolores says that Josefina was old enough to be María, but Josefina quickly insists she couldn't be her. Tía Dolores says that sometimes a girl wants to be María because she wants to pray for something special. She wonders what Josefina's prayer would be, and Josefina replies she would pray for a happy Christmas for everyone, including Mamá in heaven. Dolores says it was a good prayer and asks one more time if Josefina wanted to be María. A part of Josefina wanted to be María, but another part of her knew she couldn't. Josefina explains that last year she could hardly sing because the songs reminded her of Mamá and made her very sad. She was worried that it would be the same this year. Tía Dolores says she understood it was still too soon for her, and the two walk into the church.
Everyone in the church was helping clean and repair when Papá noticed Josefina and Dolores. He asks where they were and when Tía Dolores explains they were listening to the musicians, he says he should have known as the two were the musicians in the family. Josefina noticed her Aunt blushed a little at the comment, happy with what he said. Papá calls over Señor García, the man who took care of the church with his wife, so Josefina and Dolores could get their assignment. He assigns them to sweep the church, and he asks Papá if his family would wash and iron the altar clothes. He recalls that Mamá gave the church the altar cloths, and he adds she would be in their prayers this Christmas. He then asks Josefina if she wanted to be María for Las Posadas, and Josefina freezes up. Tía Dolores puts her arm around Josefina and says no thank you. Señor García comments that Margarita Sánchez could be María this year, but Josefina doesn't say anything. She leans into Tía Dolores's arm, grateful for her understanding. She then heads off to look for Señora Sánchez to give her the chilies.
The morning flew by quickly and soon the work was done for the day. While Josefina was happy she got to work with so many others and pleased with how the church looked, she was eager to get home. She was determined to start looking for Niña that very afternoon.
Chapter Two: Where Is Niña?
Josefina pictured the way Niña looked the last time she saw her. Her arms and legs were flat due to the stuffing falling out, her black yarn hair was tangled, and she wore a pale blue skirt with a green sash. Josefina first looked around the room she shared with Clara and Francisca, but she didn't find Niña. As the days passed by, Josefina looked for Niña, no matter what she was doing or where she was. Josefina looked for Niña in the goat pen, in the chance that the goats had somehow eaten Niña. She still couldn't find the doll, and Josefina tried hard not to get discouraged. When Josefina, her sisters, and Tía Dolores were invited to Señora Sánchez's house, she thinks the doll could be there since Clara and Margarita used to play dolls with each other.
Señora Sánchez welcomed Josefina and her family as they entered. Nearly all the women and children were gathered here to make ramilletes, a paper flower decoration they used to decorate the church for Christmas Eve. As Josefina entered, she scanned the kitchen table for Niña, but only found the pile of completed ramilletes. Josefina tells her Aunt the ramilletes reminded her of the flowers her Mamá planted in the courtyard. Tía Magdalena tells Josefina her Mother would be happy with the way she took care of the flowers, and the women murmur in agreement. Señora López comments plants grew well for Mamá and Señora Sánchez says it was because she treated plants like people. Señora García says that Mamá treated people kindly and her daughters were growing beautifully. She then tells Tía Dolores she's done a good job taking care of the girls and Tía Dolores states the girls worked very hard. Josefina felt a warmth. She knew all of these women her entire life, she knew they were all friends with Mamá. She knew they would never forget Mamá anymore than she herself would.
The women keep on working and Señora García tells them they would put the ramilletes in a arch over the altar, which would be covered with Mamá's altar cloth. Tía Magdalena comments that Mamá was talented with the colcha embroidery. Señora Sánchez asks her daughter to sing the song they always sang on Christmas Eve and Margarita complies. While Josefina didn't join in the singing, the song didn't make her sad. Instead, it sounded like a prayer to God. Josefina wished she had the courage to be María this Christmas, but her heart was sure she couldn't. After the ramilletes were done, Papá came over to walk the girls home. He had went to church to get the trunk with the altar cloth. Before they leave, Señora Sánchez gives them a chicken as thanks for the chilies. She adds that they could use her to increase their chicken flock. They all thank her and say goodbye as they head for home. Josefina tells Clara the ramilletes wound look beautiful in the church, but Clara sourly says no one would know how to arrange them as nicely as Mamá did. She sighs that at least the altar cloth would look right as it would look the way it used to be.
When they arrived home, Josefina tells her Aunt how the embroidered birds on the cloth looked so real, one would expect them to sing. When they opened the trunk and Tía Dolores held up the cloth, no one could say anything. Papá breathed in sharply and left the room without a word. Josefina was confused by the bedraggled cloth that looked more like a rag that Tía Dolores was holding. Josefina couldn't believe that was Mamá's cloth, but it was. Ana says miserably that the flood must have rotted the leather off the trunk, allowing mice and the dampness to get in. Clara cries that it was ruined, just like Christmas, and she rushes out the room. Clara slammed the door and everyone was a bit shaken by Clara's unusual actions. Josefina felt a knot in her stomach. Just when Josefina hoped Christmas might be happy, the cloth Mamá had made so lovingly was destroyed.
Tía Dolores unfolded the cloth carefully, not caring about the dirt and mildew on her skirt. Francisca says the cloth was in shreds and Ana sighs she was glad Mamá couldn't see this as it would break her heart. Tía Dolores examines the cloth, then says she thinks they could repair it. They could wash it, iron it, and mend the embroidery and replace the parts that were chewed away. Francisca looked doubtful, explaining they needed Clara for the colcha embroidery as she was the only one who as good as Mamá. Tía Dolores asks Josefina to get Clara and Josefina complies. When she gets her the room she shared with her sisters, Josefina heard Clara crying. Josefina, unsure what to do, stood still and looked through the slightly ajar door. Josefina saw Clara take out a folded skirt from her trunk and unfold it. Josefina gasped as she saw Niña inside the skirt. Josefina took a step into the room, but stopped when Clara cried into Niña, holding her as if she was the only comfort in the world. Josefina turned away quietly and ran back to her Aunt.
When she arrives back, Tía Dolores asks if Clara was coming. Josefina admits she didn't know, as she bursts that Clara had Niña. Josefina says that Clara had been keeping Niña for herself. Tía Dolores holds Josefina's hands and tells her belief of why Clara lied about the doll. Clara missed Mamá very much. Since Mamá made the doll, Clara saw Niña as a way to feel close to Mamá. Josefina asks indignantly why Clara pretended she didn't know where Niña was. Tía Dolores says that Clara wasn't ready to give the doll, just like Josefina wasn't ready to be María in Las Posadas. Dolores tries to cheer Josefina up by saying at least they knew where Niña was and that she was safe. Josefina asks when Niña would be hers, and Tía Dolores sighs she didn't know. No one knew, not even Clara, and it might be a long time before Josefina will get Niña. She picks up the altar cloth and tells Josefina repairing the cloth would also take a long time, but the sooner they start, the better. She asks Josefina what was the phrase she always said. Josefina smiles in spite of herself as she replies Tía Dolores always said 'the saints cry over lost time.' Tía Dolores says precisely and states they would begin tomorrow.
Chapter Three: The Silver Thimble
The next day, everyone except Clara helped mend the cloth. When it was time to redo the embroidery, Tía Dolores asks what they should embroider. Josefina gets an idea and runs to her room. She comes back with her memory box and suggests that since Mamá made the cloth, they should embroider the things she loved. The girls look at the times in the box to get ideas for designs to use. Francisca decides to embroider swallows, Mamá's favorite bird, Ana decides to stitch lavender springs after Mamá's favorite scent, and Josefina decided to embroider leaves and flowers as Mamá loved those. When Tía Dolores asks Clara what she was going to embroider, she states it didn't matter as it wouldn't look right again without Mamá. Dolores firmly says it would take time, but they could repair it. She says if they all worked together, they might even enjoy doing it. Clara backed out from the light of the fireplace, but Josefina could see her face was as sad when she cried into Niña. Feeling sorry for her, Josefina says doing the colcha embroidery makes her miss Mamá too. Clara didn't respond, but Tía Dolores pulls out a silver thimble that Mamá gave her a long time ago. When she was struggling to learn the colcha embroidery due to pricking her fingers, Mamá gave her a thimble.
Tía Dolores says the girls could use it for themselves. Clara states if Mamá had given her something like that,she would keep it forever. Tía Dolores responds that it made her happy to share the thimble as when they used it, it would remind them of Mamá with every stitch and make her feel closer. Josefina asks if she could use the thimble and she starts to work. Clara watched Josefina and when Josefina was about to tie the knot in the wool, Clara reminds her that was the wrong way to end the first stitch. She comes over to show Josefina the correct way and when she takes the needle, Josefina gives her the thimble. Clara looked at the thimble for a moment and slowly puts it on. She thanks Josefina so quietly, Josefina was the only one to hear it. Josefina did a new task of untangling the wool her Aunt was using. When she looked up, she saw that Clara was still stitching and that she hadn't taken off the thimble.
A few days later, as the girls worked on the cloth in front of the fireplace, Josefina tells Francisca the chicken she was stitching looked like the one they got from Señora Sánchez. Francisca groans and says it was supposed to look like a sparrow. Clara offers to fix up the sparrow and Ana passes the thimble to her, joking that Francisca's chicken might peck her. Everyone laughs as Josefina thinks her Aunt was right when she said they would enjoy working together. Clara shares a memory of when Mamá taught her the colcha embroidery. Josefina looked forward to when they worked on the altar cloth. Francisca made a game where whoever wore the silver thimble had to share a memory about Mamá. Sometimes the memories made her sad, but it also made her laugh and they reminded her of happy times. It was slow work working on the cloth but with each day, the cloth became beautiful again. Josefina begun to feel better about what Christmas might bring, even if Niña wasn't going to be one of them.
Soon it was time to begin Las Posadas. It snowed lightly on the first night, and Josefina's family walked to the village plaza, towards the bonfire. When everyone gathered around, Margarita climbed onto the burro and her Father led the burro, playing as José. When they knocked on the first house, everyone started to sing. Josefina didn't join in the singing at first, expecting to feel as sad as she did lat year. But instead Josefina felt calmed by the music. It even reminding her of Mamá's voice. Josefina looked around at all the familiar faces, feeling comforted by being around others who have loved Mamá too. She tells Mamá in her mind that they all missed her very much, though now the thought of missing Mamá was easier to bear. The procession ended at the Sánchez's house and when everyone sings to be let in, Señora Sánchez lets them all in. Everyone crowded inside for prayers and singing before staring the party. Josefina saw Clara and Margarita in front of the fireplace, looking at the ramilletes. Clara held up a scrap of yellow cloth with a eager and happy face, as if she was planning to make more flowers. Josefina thought that Clara must be feeling the same way she was, that a heavy burden was starting to slip away.
Chapter Four: La Noche Buena
Even thought each day started to get colder and colder, the girls finally finished embroidering the altar cloth. Tía Dolores states that Clara had Mamá's gift for embroidery and Ana says she couldn't tell apart Clara's flowers from Mamá's. Clara smiles as she hands back the thimble to Tía Dolores. But Dolores suggests that they keep the thimble in Josefina's memory box and Josefina tells Clara she ocuuld go ahead and put it away. But Clara gives Josefina the thimble and says she should put it in the memory box herself and Tía Dolores agrees with her. She adds that Clara had better go as they needed to change clothes for Christmas Eve.
When the two get to their room, Francisca had already finished dressing and left a candle for them in the room. Josefina noticed the room was illuminated by more than one candle and she smiles when she saw why. Someone had alreay laid out her mantilla, comb, and her dress on her bed. But Josefina gasped when she saw Niña on top of her dress. Josefina picked up the doll and saw that besides getting repaired, Niña also had a outfit that matched Josefina's. She hugs the doll when Clara says Niña belonged to Josefina now. Josefina thanks Clara as she adds she thought she would never get her. When asked why she thought that, Josefina admits she knew Clara had the doll. When Clara asks why Josefina didn't say anything, Josefina tells her about Tía Dolores's words. Clara admits she did need Niña as she thought that was all she had from Mamá. But now she knew she had Mamá's gift of embroidery, and she would never be able to lose that. Josefina asks if Clara made the outfit and Clara states she wanted to carry on Mamá's tradition. Josefina smiles as she says Clara also had Mamá's gift for making doll dresses. Clara looked lovingly at the doll as she explained she went to Niña for comfort because she thought she had nowhere else to go. But now she knew that comfort was all around her if she needed it, and Josefina says she was discovering the same idea. Josefina looks at the thimble in her hand and says they would share the thimble as well as Niña, who would sleep in-between them from now on.
Christmas Eve felt like a very good night now that Josefina had Niña as her doll. Josefina wore a rebozo due to the cold, and she tucked Niña inside it. Everyone in town met up inside the church. When Tía Dolores hands the altar cloth to Señor García, he thanks them and acknowledges the hard work they put into repairing the cloth. Everyone then started to decorate the church until Padre Simón, the priest, arrived. Señora Sánchez arrives at the church at this point, looking distressed. She says that Margarita had caught a cold from being out int he cold the past few nights, and she was too ill to play María. Everyone gathered around Señora Sánchez and Señor García, giving their apologies to Margarita. Josefina asked herself a question and thought hard about the answer. Josefina approaches Señor García and asks if she could be María so she could pray for a happy Christmas. Señor García slowly nods yes after a moment of thought, and Josefina asks Papá if he would be José. He agrees in a grave tone. While he didn't smile, he looked at her with pride as love, just as Tía Dolores was doing.
When it was time, Josefina gave Clara Niña for safekeeping. They all went outside in the sleet and Josefina was lifted onto the burro. Papá gave Joseina his extra blanket he was wearing over his Sarape to keep Josefina warm. As villagers gathered to begin the procession, they stopped by Papá and Josefina and wished them a good and long life. The procession starts and they knock on the first house to sing. Josefina's voice was unsteady at first due to being self-conscious. But soon, the lovely music made Josefina forget about her shyness and she sung with a voice full of hope and happiness. When they reached the last building, the church, they all sung to be let in and Padre Simón lets them all in. Papá lifted Josefina off the burro and Clara handed the doll back. Papá and Tía Dolores hold one of Josefina's hands as they and everyone else walked into the church. Josefina admired their altar cloth inside the church, thinking that Mamá would be pleased. When it was time for Mass to begin, Josefina had to sing the first part of the lullaby in front of everyone. She sings the first tow lines with her eyes closed and she opens them as everyone sings the last two lines together. Josefina felt safe and loved when she heard the music, just like she did when Mamá sang the lullaby to her. Josefina hugged Niña, sure that her prayer for a happy Christmas had been answered.
Looking Back: Christmas in 1824
Discusses the Christmas season in New Mexico. Topics include:
- How long the Christmas season lasted.
- How village churches and homes were decorated.
- Religious plays during the Christmas season.
- Las Posadas and how it was performed.
- La Noche Buena and how it was celebrated.
- The last performance of Las Posadas.
- How Pueblo Indians celebrated Christmas.
- The Feast of the Three Kings and how children celebrated.
- New Mexican Christmas traditions today