Pam Merkel: ‘Feliz Navidad’ from the bottom of her heart

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2001

Features Editor

The familiar carols of Christmas are sung throughout the holiday season, but the carols being sung around the Murphree Street neighborhood Wednesday night were only vaguely familiar.

As doors were opened to the carolers, familiar tunes drifted in, but the words were foreign to the listening ears.

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Pam Merkel, laughingly admitted that not many people to whom her "choir" sang were fluent in Spanish, but they understood the universal language of music.

Merkel, who teaches Spanish at Charles Henderson High School, started a tradition of caroling several years ago and it is the activity that her Spanish students look forward to the most each year.

"Caroling has become a tradition in my Spanish class and we enjoy sharing our knowledge of Spanish with the community," Merkel said. "During the holiday season,

we have a party and each student brings something to the home where we are invited. They might contribute a casserole or a spoon or a napkin, but everyone contributes something."

After a wonderful Christmas dinner with a Spanish flavor, the students practice so they can

"get our act together" and then they go out caroling into the night.


This year we had dinner with the Gaskins on Murphree Street, so we caroled in that neighborhood," Merkel said. "The night was foggy and it really seemed like Christmas. And, we had something very different happen. The Episcopal Church is in the neighborhood and there had been a meeting at the church and people were coming out. We stopped to sing to them and I could tell by the looks on their faces they had never heard caroling in Spanish before. They responded with ooohs and ahhhs. They seemed to be in awe of something new and different."

For Merkel, who is a native of Puerto Rico, Christmas traditions in Alabama once were new and different. Even though she enjoys a South Alabama Christmas, her heart often goes home at this time of year.

She does miss the traditions of her childhood, and although there is great diversity in the 21 Spanish speaking countries, there is the commonality of religion that binds them, especially at this time of year.

"The Spanish speaking countries are generally Catholic and the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene are the most important elements of the holidays," Merkel said. "We set up wonderful Nativity scenes and some of them are very elaborate, but there is always one piece missing – the Christ Child."

On Christmas Eve, Merkel said the tradition is to attend midnight mass.


Puerto Rico, the midnight mass is called ‘mass of the rooster’ because it occurs at about the time the rooster would begin to crow.

"Because it is after midnight and, therefore, Christmas Day when families leave and go home to be together, one of the children is allowed to place the Christ Child in the manger," Merkel said. "That is a wonderful time for all."

One of the family traditions that Merkel holds most dear is that of Old Christmas.

"We got presents on Christmas Day when Papa Noel visited us,

but the biggest day for gifts was Jan. 6 – the day the Three Kings arrived bringing gifts to the newborn King," Merkel said. "The Three Kings arrived on camels so we children would put out shoe boxes filled with grass and buckets of water for them, like children here put out cookies and milk for Santa Claus. My father was an expert at making huge camel prints. It was so very exciting and we really believed. We got presents on that day and the children had parades in town. Those were the ‘good old days’ and I like to think of the traditions. What a wonderful time of the year this is. ‘Feliz Navidad!’"