“¡Ya llegué!” I wake up to the sound of Mamy’s voice early in the morning, it’s Christmas Day. I open my eyes groggily, still sleepy from Christmas Eve celebrations, I put on my holiday robe that I love and make my way to the kitchen. There are loud clanking noises and shuffling sounds coming from the kitchen, and I can already smell the deliciousness that my mom is stirring in a huge olla.
I walk into the kitchen and I see my grandma who just crossed the border from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to my house in El Paso, Texas. We meet halfway and she gives me a tight hug. “Donde está la música Navideña?” she asks as she hands me a regalito. My mom is still stirring the montería and it smells so good that I can’t help but ask for a small taste from the ladle. My Awe walks in holding a big olla de tamales and multiple containers of leftovers from yesterday.
This is what a regular Christmas Day would look like in my family. Like many other families, mine usually celebrates the holiday with a big party, including as many family members as we can fit in our apartment along with as many foods as we can place on the table. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I will not get to spend Christmas Day with my abuelitos, or any of my extended family. Amid the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the social distancing guidelines suggested by the CDC, having a conventional celebratory Christmas Day party is impossible this year.
“Este año no participare en el intercambio de regalos (this year I won’t partake in the gift exchange),” said my mom Hissel Glenn, in the family group chat. The family group chat I am part of, alongside family members, has changed its name from “La Familia” to “¿Y ahora cuando nos vemos (when are we seeing each other now)?” Every year we have a gift exchange, sort of like Secret Santa, but this year, due to financial hardships and the fact we won’t be meeting, the gift exchange has been canceled.
Like many others across the country, myself and many of my family members have suffered from job loss and other forms of income loss. What was an exciting experience in years past – picking out the perfect gift for a Christmas gift exchange – has now turned into stressful and anxious time for many.
“We are not completely economically good,” said my aunt Julieta Rio. “I’m a singer and I haven’t been able to work since March and my income has gone down to zero.”
Although gifts are a big part of any Christmas celebration, it is not at the forefront in our family. The unity of all family members is the most important part for my family.
Like many families in the Borderland, mine is a big family. From great uncles and great aunts to baby cousins and everyone’s in-laws, any family gathering – especially holiday celebrations – are sure to bring together at least 30 people at once.
“What’s most important and what’s really sad, is that on the night of Christmas, when we should all be together, we won’t be able to be united,” my grandmother, Carmelita Prado, said.
My parents’ apartment is usually where we spend Christmas Day and my grandparents, uncles and aunts travel in Juarez travel to El Paso to be with us. Now, because of the border being closed to all but “essential” travelers, my family on the other side of the Rio Grande can’t come over.
It may seem dramatic to some, but after all that we have all endured – with the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 and even contracting it ourselves as I did – the cancellation of Christmas Day as we know it is the sour cherry on top of this unprecedented year. The holiday that is so dear to me and my family will not be the same. I held some hope throughout the months that the pandemic would be over by the end of the year, but that is gone.
The only consolation that is left is due to the recent arrival of a vaccine that could help bring the world as close to normal as it can be.
“Even if this year is going to be sad, I know that things will get better and we will have the best Christmas next year,” my mother said.