As I walked down an aisle of Ikea back in October, still worried about my Halloween costume, I saw to my surprised horror a line of perfectly priced and decorated Christmas trees.
My Grinch-self woke up that minute and I remembered how much I hate Christmas (mostly because it tends to bring feelings of sadness and longing). But just like the Grinch, I did not always hate Christmas. I was raised in beautiful Baranquilla, Colombia and, while I was there, Christmas was always a special occasion for people to celebrate their love for their family and spirituality.
For those of you who were born here, let me give you a super brief description of what the holidays are like over there. As December progresses in Latin America, family homes, businesses and churches start putting up their nativity scenes and getting ready for the posadas or novenas. Christmas lights brighten up the nights while villancicos and other typical holiday music invade the air. Families get together at grandma’s house, you see your fourth cousins (who you still consider cousins) and probably eat some plato navideño that, depending where you are from, could be either tamales, hallacas, pasteles, pernil, buñuelos, or pan dulce, among millions of others. Many people go to Christmas Mass, children wait for el niño Dios, and nostalgic cheer invades the hearts of most. For New Years Eve, you must wish a Feliz Año to the farthest relative and the meanest neighbor: everyone deserves a Prospero Año Nuevo.
Coming from such a strong and deeply rooted set of traditions, Latinos who immigrate to the United States do what we are expected to do: assimilate. We get caught in America’s consumerism and start practicing its holiday customs: spending all our savings, maxing out our credit cards, chasing after merchandise, attending parties and over-populating our closets with stuff we’ll never wear again. All this in order to be depressed and broke in January.
However, even my Grinch-self realizes that Latinos can turn this situation around. We don’t have to change the traditions (or the lack of them) in this country but we shouldn’t let it deprive us of ours. We should stand by our customs and beliefs, and even if we’re not religious, we need to hold on to the practices that make the holidays such a family oriented occasion. We are, after all, a family-oriented community.
This Christmas, make it your motto to embrace your Latino heritage by having a stress-free holiday season, cooking a typical plato navideño from your country, putting a manger scene next to (or instead of) the Christmas tree, spending quality time with family, attending posadas or novenas in your area, playing some Christmas music in Spanish, or even just telling stories to your children of how Christmas was back at home. Remember it’s our job to make sure we retain as much of the essence of our culture as we are able to.