During my early childhood, Christmas was the most amazing time of the year. We lived in Puerto Rico and celebrated from Thanksgiving to El Dia de Los Reyes Magos. It also helped that my mom’s birthday is on Christmas day. From parrandas, to food, to opening presents, to putting a box of grass under our bed to find them replaced with gifts on January 6th; it was magical!
As we grew up, moved to Chicago, to Utah and back; the holidays changed for us. Divorce meant poverty for us. No longer did we live in a little house in a friendly neighborhood in Puerto Rico, we were apartment dwellers, often changing apartments once a year.
There are a few years for which I have no memories of Christmas, probably those when I was too young to fully grasp just how much things had changed: From age eight to maybe 11. We must have managed to make something out of the holiday then.
Beyond the great Navidades in Puerto Rico, my next recollection is the Christmas I was 13; when everything changed for good.
We lived in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah called Holladay—very apropos, no—where we had moved when I was 11. It was every stereotype of suburbia you can imagine. Houses, yards, kids playing in the streets, etc… Our move there from the Humboldt Park/Logan Square neighborhoods of Chicago was more than a culture shock, it was a culture earthquake. I was still not fluent in English and worse yet, we lived in an apartment complex, something that makes any suburban dwelling kid stand out like a sore thumb.
Being kids, we were resilient. We were practicing Mormons and the church was just a 10 minute walk from home. We made friends with kids in the neighborhood, because of our church connection and we made friends in school. Our closest ties, however, were with the other kids in the apartment complex. Only they could understand the reality of our lives: We were poor kids living surrounded by the upper-middle class.
The Christmas Eve I was 13 confirmed that. There was a knock on our door and when we answered it was a group of strangers. Actually, a family of strangers. In their hands were full plastic garbage bags. We stared at them confused and they informed us that our family’s name had been submitted to a secret santa project.
The horror! I was the most prideful child in the world and it only got worse as a teen—Mom called me orgullosa on a regular basis—and though I was well aware of our financial state, having to stare it in the face in the form of charity was devastating and beyond embarrassing to me.
My sister and brother, being younger, were gleeful. We thanked the delivery team and as soon as they left, they tore into the bags. With our audience gone, I joined in the tearing only to find old toys and old clothes. It was as if someone had cleaned their storage room and delivered their unwanted trash to us.
We weren’t ungrateful, but most of the stuff was of no use to us. We personally, even in our financial state, owned better. My horror, my devastation was now being shared by the rest of the family. We were ashamed; I believe Mom most of all.
Now I must be honest and say that I am not really sure if that day changed Christmas for us forever, but I can say that Christmas isn’t really a joyful time of year for us.
Every few years we make an effort to enjoy the holidays as a family, but more often than not someone is fighting or someone is working. My Mom’s new religion prevents her from celebrating Christmas AND her birthday, so there goes that.
This year, things have been especially difficult for my family and celebrating Christmas is the furthest thing from any of our minds. We’re all just looking ahead to 2011 and making that the year we return to the joy of our youth.