I wake to a knock on my bedroom door. My host dad says, “Son las seis y media, ¡Vamos!” (It´s six thirty, let´s go!) At that moment I am recalling that I promised to help him gather “leña” (firewood) for several elderly neighbors. I was supposed to be up and ready at 6:30 A.M., so I quickly changed from my pajamas into my street clothes and fly from my room. As I dash down the stairs and past the living room, I don´t see the typical Christmas decorations I recall back in the U.S. There are no strings of colorful lights, and a decorated Christmas tree. But, there are a few, cute paper Christmas decorations cut out of paper by my youngest host-sister, Koraima. Even with the lack of decorations, the holiday vibe was evident by the cheery warm attitudes of my host family and made more so by the beautiful, sunny day.
As I get outside, I see my host dad waiting in his old pick-up truck, engine on, and ready to go. I step in and we head to the nearby forest, spending the better part of four hours cutting and gathering wood. We return to the community and deliver the goods at around 10:30, and then head home to eat a late breakfast. After this, I ask the family to gather in the living room to give them their Christmas gifts.
Usually, my host family only gives gifts to the youngest siblings, Andy and Koraima, because of limited financial means. They aren’t extremely poor, it´s just that they only make enough money to get by. I bought gifts for everyone, ranging from chocolates to toys. The looks on their faces as they received their gifts made my day. They were so happy to receive a present for Christmas – something that has almost never happened for the older siblings and parents. I was not worried about not receiving a present myself because I had already received a better gift from them. Just being there and experiencing the moment was all that I needed to ask for.
Later that afternoon, my host family and I went to a neighboring community’s (Batán) soccer field to cheer on both my older host sister’s and dad’s soccer teams play in the championships. Unfortunately, they lost, but both did get second place in their divisions. We returned home after the games and watched movies on the television until dinner was ready.
Dinner was special, indeed, that night. It was the first time my host family ate turkey for Christmas. Many family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) came for the dinner and helped pitch in to buy the turkey. It was a beautiful moment spent with the host family. We did a prayer before eating, thanking God for how lucky we are just to have enough to enjoy a good life and being together as family. We also thanked God for this opportunity, knowing that others don’t have as much, and reminded ourselves to be humble for what we have. When the prayer was finished, we ate the turkey, which was really quite good. It was accompanied with rice, many vegetables and gravy; the especially tasty gravy is called “crema de champiñones” (mushroom cream gravy) in Spanish. I enjoyed this meal in that it reminded me of home and the large gathering we have with family and friends.
I very much enjoyed this Christmas day with my host family. It was the best Christmas I’ve had because my “present” was learning so much more about appreciation and thankfulness for what we already have. All those moments, from the gift giving to the dinner gave me the ability to find happiness and contentment in simple, yet meaningful ways. I didn’t need all the decorations, presents, and commercialism to make it feel like Christmas. The sentiment was there the entire day I spent with my host family.