My Family Holidays

My Family Holidays

There are some things in this life that are ingrained in us at a young age. In my case, family holidays have always been important to my parents. Coming from a Hispanic upbringing, one of the things we cherish more than our well-seasoned food or creative dance moves, are family reunions on the important days of the year. Holidays in my family are meant to be enjoyed in the company of our relatives, and sometimes, later on, it ends with people enjoying themselves a little too much.

In particular, when I was about 10-years-old, my family of five headed to Bushwick, Brooklyn to celebrate Christmas Eve at our Aunt Reina’s house. Once we stepped foot on the creaky wooden floor of the apartment, I immediately noticed a fire hazard.

How could so many cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends that said they were family, fit in this apartment with two rooms – not including the kitchen, which was where all the tamales, taco dorados, and mole were at. We sat there for a bit, and after two or more plates, my uncle invited us to the “real party.”

Without hesitation, my parents and my siblings walked to the living room where the speaker was playing loud Mexican music. There were about 10 couples dancing their souls away in the middle; a group of aunts near the door in case somebody needed anything from the kitchen; uncles in the back with a few Coronas in their hands – drinking through a whole pack, and the kids were running back and forth from room to room.

This continued on for the whole night, but my brother, sister, and I slept in my cousin’s room to wait for presents the next morning. When we woke up the next day, my cousins and siblings raced to the front door where the 4-foot tree stood. This usually meant the presents would be bigger than the actual tree, but this wasn’t our experience. The presents would always be over-sized clothes wrapped in recycled wrapping, or even worse – just a quick hug that would be considered a gift. This would be the end of our Christmas reunion, and most of the time I left tired or just disappointed with my gifts.

On another type of holiday, Dias de Los Tres Reyes, or “Day of the Three Kings,” the reunion was different. When I first celebrated this day, I was confused.

I asked my mother about our other family members after I heard no one was coming. She just simply told me that we would only invite my Aunt Flor and my cousins because she lived down the block from us, but another reason would be that she was the closest to our family. This holiday isn’t necessarily the type to party and go overboard with the alcohol. This is to prepare for the arrival of the kings and baby Jesus.

We would only want the closest present. To prepare for our gathering, my mom would make Arroz con Leche and buy an oval-shaped Mexican bread that had baby Jesus inside of it. If you cut a piece of bread and the baby was there, you had to buy food or prepare it for another gathering. Once we got together at the table, we each cut a piece and hoped to not get the plastic 1-inch baby Jesus. Once my aunt and cousins came over to my house, we drank our Arroz con Leche and placed the bread onto the table. My aunt took it out of the purple rectangular box and was told by my mother to take the first slice out.

As she did it, we all followed. Surprisingly, I didn’t get the baby Jesus, but my older sister and cousin did. My aunt and mom were to help them cook a Mexican dish. So next time we came together, it would be served. Everything about Dias de Los Tres Reyes seemed interesting and had triggered curiosity in me to learn more about my native culture.

When I was 11-years-old, it had been months after my cousin passed away from cancer. She had fought against it like no one else had, but she didn’t survive. At her funeral, the whole family from my dad’s side made it mandatory for everyone to put up an ofrenda in their own houses.

We had to put her favorite food, drink, items, and picture of her to allow her soul to come back to earth. This would allow her to visit everyone and keep peace in her soul so that she would be remembered even when she was no longer here. Once October came around, I remember the first time we put her ofrenda up. We had framed this giant picture of my cousin that took up most of the table; put her favorite food, which was posole; water for her to drink; a picture of the Jonas Brothers because that was her favorite boy band; and finally, candles to light her way to our house.

My mother didn’t think it was enough light, so she put up white lights that were meant for our tiny Christmas tree. My father stood there in silence while my mother held the candle in her hand and my siblings stared at the picture of her where she was smiling like there was nothing wrong. I was amazed, but more so startled because of how the table looked. We all believed she was present at the moment with us and we wanted to take it all in. Even if she stayed for a moment, that little moment meant a lot.

I was fascinated, and whenever we put her picture up, we always tend to come together to feel the connection.

Ultimately, no matter how over-congested a party is, how many people aren’t invited to a gathering, or if my cousin isn’t actually there with us physically, our family is always together on important days. Of course, my family isn’t perfect, but what I can say is, when it comes to the holidays, we can calm down and be civilized or act like there are no rules to stop us. Family holidays are one thing I keep close in my memories, and whenever we meet again, my mind goes straight to these moments. That is one thing I admire about my family. We are really close and keep a bond between us.