My beginnings were very humble. I lived in a rural community most of my life. I would venture to say that if you blinked for too long as you drove through Cuba, New Mexico, you might just miss it. Cuba may be small, but I can say with confidence that some very big lessons have been taught and learned there.
Mamas Are Everything
As a young Norteña and Latina woman, I knew one thing was certain. My mama, my grandma, and my tias ran the show. In other words, I witnessed a true matriarchy. This is not to say that our fathers and grandfathers did not play a vital role. However, the women in my life were honored, and their strengths were cherished.
The women in my life taught me that giving is better than receiving.
While that may sound cliche, the ways that the women in my family chose to give were testaments to their faith, womanhood, and to their communities. While I may not have understood all of the rich lessons I was learning, the interactions I witnessed among these women created a strong foundation of values that I try my best to live out daily. They taught me about the true meaning of Christmas: giving.
Although my brother and I lived very humbly as children, I remember my birthdays, holidays, and celebrations to be nothing short of magical. I don’t know how my parents managed, but without fail, they truly made our childhood dreams come true. My heart holds fond memories of my grandmother’s house at Christmas, things like staring in awe at her beautiful tree, lit up with presents all around. I loved getting dressed up in my pretty Christmas dress and sharing the special day with my cousins and family. Christmas was magical, but as I grew, I realized that this magic existed in our everyday lives.
Lessons in Everyday Magic
As a little girl, I wanted to dance. There were no opportunities or dance classes in Cuba, so twice per week, my mom drove 90 minutes to Albuquerque so I could dance. She did this as soon as I turned four years old and kept driving me twice weekly until I was thirteen. My mom drove me in rain, snow, and when the sun shined. She drove me late at night, on weekends, and to all of the extra practices and recitals. She drove me without complaint, with diligence, and with love.
When I was about nine years old, my dance company was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall. My mom and I had bake sales to fundraise. My aunts and grandmas made tortillas and baked goods to help. Before I knew it, my family and I were on our way to New York City. I spent time in workshops during the day and explored with my family and our dance company in the evenings.
On one occasion, my mom noticed one of my teammates and her mom had not been out at night much. As we took a ballet workshop, I noticed my mom and her mom deep in conversation. My mom found out that my teammate came from a single-parent home and her mother was on a very limited budget. They could not afford to go out to the restaurants or fun places at night.
That night, however, things were different. My teammate, her mom, and my family visited an Italian restaurant. We all ate a beautiful meal and dessert together. My brother and I shared, and so did my teammate and her mom. At the end of the meal, my mom quietly took the bill from my teammate and her mother and gave her hand a small squeeze. They quietly acknowledged one another. What my mom may not know is that I was watching.
Christmas Is Every Day
That same year, we didn’t do Christmas gifts in our home. She reminded us that our Christmas is every day. Instead of gifts for ourselves that year, my mom took us shopping to pick out clothes and gifts for a family in need. On Christmas morning, she piled my brother and me into the car. My dad helped her load gifts and drove us to deliver a bit of Christmas cheer. We walked up the snowy driveway, gifts in hand, and knocked on the door. When the door opened, we all said in unison “Merry Christmas!” I will never forget the face of that mom.
As I grew older, I learned that many of the women in my family chose to give the gift of Christmas to others on many occasions. My paternal grandmother bought gifts each year for a dear friend and her son who struggled with a significant disability. Mama, my maternal grandmother, and her sisters got together each year and pooled their resources to make sure that all of my cousins got at least one gift. They wanted to make sure that none of their parents had to feel ashamed when times got hard. My mom bought clothes for a classmate who lived in a large family and only had hand-me-downs. My aunt helped provide joy in her classroom each year so that all of her students and parents had the opportunity to enjoy the holidays.
What Christmas Really Means
As a mom, I have chosen to make this practice a tradition in my own home. My daughter and I had the same conversation about Christmas that my mom had with me many years ago. I talked with my daughter about the importance of understanding that gifts are not synonymous with Christmas.
For the past few years, my daughter and I have chosen to adopt a family with What’s Important Now New Mexico. Needless to say, my mom also joins us. My daughter and I pick out gifts for a family in need, and we attend a wrapping party together. There is laughter, fun, and yes, magic.
There is no shame in getting your child a gift they will love on Christmas. And there is nothing wrong with watching their faces light up and their smiles glow. I can promise you that the joy and magic of those moments are still present when your child is given the opportunity to give. Christmas isn’t about the gifts. However, it is about giving.