I know I haven’t written a blog in a while, but seriously Christmastime at Ahouse has been crazy. Ever since Thanksgiving I have been drowning with work due to all the increased donations and trying to sort that clothing in, being part of the committee to plan Shopping Day, having a pretty full house, and the normal expected and unexpected things to do around the house. It also doesn’t help that for pretty much all of November and December I was sick with one illness after another. All that to say, Christmastime was amazing and I feel so fortunate to have been part of it…
First came the planning and implementation of Shopping Day. For the last 5 years it has been organized by the same person, Taylor, now a former volunteer and despite the overwhelming logistics of it all, she has it all down to a science.
The basic idea is that we want our guests who have children in the house to be able to have a Christmas and shopping experience of dignity. Therefore, we host a “Shopping Day” for all of the mothers to come to a hall to personally pick out and wrap the presents for their own children. For the weeks leading up to shopping day we made public our request for NEW toys and gifts for kids and teens that the parents would be able to choose from. Throughout the year the families must rely on used donations, which while certainly very valuable and appreciated, are never the same as opening the package or toy for oneself. Then we decided approximate values on a scale of 1 to 5 for the gifts, making sure that 5’s were really great toys like remote control cars for kids or mp3 players for teens.
On the actual shopping day the moms can in a few at a time and we had volunteers who helped be “personal shopper assistant” to help the moms figure out what to pick out for their kids, how many presents they could get, and then help with wrapping all of the gifts. Each child received approximately between 8 and 13 gifts, depending on what the parent picked out. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful, because while generally the consumerism of Christmastime annoys me, here the gifts were representations of gifts of love from the community, gifts of dignity for the families, and gifts of joy for the children who generally have not had access to these kinds of new, nice toys in a while. The actual “shopping” was done a mere 2 days before Christmas.
Then came Christmas Eve, which to me usually meant lots of excitement for the next day and maybe a nice dinner with my family after attending a Christmas Eve service at church. I was very quickly proven wrong.
Apparently in Mexico Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, is the big day of celebration. If it weren’t for us requiring the presents to be opened the morning of the 25th, the guests definitely would have opened them the 24th. Many women spent hours that day cooking delicious, wonderful tameles (that they even made with some only having cheese so I could actually eat them instead of loading them all with chiles). Then we had the posada.
Typically in Mexico a “posada,” from what I’ve gathered, is a communal way of acting out Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay until someone, like the inn keeper, finally says yes and invites everyone in for a big party (with varying levels of actual religiosity). But of course Annunciation House, being the awesome place that it is, had its own very special version of the posada. We sang the following song as we went to three (pre-arranged) locations before showing up at Ahouse to sing the last two stanzas (the English translation is a rough one done by me in parenthesis). The first, third, fifth, and eighth stanzas were sung by the guests and the others were sung by the people in the respective houses in response to the request for posada, then the last part was sung together by all:
Posada del Barrio (Adaption R.M. Zarate)
En nombre de la justicia (In the name of justice)
Pido apoyo solidario (I ask for support and solidarity)
Cruce la linea de noche (I crossed the line this evening)
Vengo de indocumentado (I come undocumented)
No vengas con tu miseria (Don’t come here with your misery)
Ni vengas a molestar (And don’t come here bothering me)
Te voy a echar la migra (I’m going to send immigration to get you)
Pa que te mande a volar (So that they will send you back)
Paisana/o soy de tu tierra (We are of the same land)
Como tu vine a buscar (Like you, I came in search)
Con mi familia un trabajo (With my family for a job)
Mira mi necesidad (Look at my needs)
No me interesa quien sea (I don’t care who you are)
Deja ya de mendigar (Stop begging)
Yo ya soy cuidadano/a (I’m already a citizen)
Y te puedo reporter (And I can report you)
Ya va a nacer mi criatura (My baby will be born soon)
No tengo a donde llegar ( And I don’t have anywhere to go)
Al brincar la muralla (After jumping the wall)
Mi esposa quedo muy mal (My wife is left in a very bad condition)
Si me sigues molestando (If you keep bothering me)
La migra te voy a echar (I will send immigration after you)
Vete mojado a tu tierra (Go back to your country wetback)
Aqui no tienes lugar (You don’t have a place here)
Peregrinos de mi tierra (Migrants of my land)
Venga a la comunidad (Come to the community)
Aqui nos organizamos (Here we organize ourselves)
Por justicia y dignidad (For justice and dignity)
Gracias les damos hermanos (We give you thanks)
Dios en ustedes esta (God is with you)
Gracias por darnos posada (Thank you for giving us hospitality)
Mil bendiciones tendran (You will have a thousand blessings)
Vamos juntos como Pueblo, como hermanos, como hermanas a sembrar
La justicia que en el barrio, que en el barrio, como estrella brillara
(Let’s all go together as a one people, as brothers, as sisters, to sew
The justice that in the community, in the community, like a star will shine)
There was something immensely profound about singing that song, and acting out the search for posada with homeless immigrants. As they entered Annunciation House as the song ended, the powerfulness and truth could not be ignored. Here are people who, like Joseph and Mary, were forced from the place that they knew to search desperately for someone, anyone, who would let them in. These people, as individuals and as a group, have suffered much persecution and there are many people who if they asked for help would get a similar response to the one that the song states. But instead, Annunciation House really does say “Welcome. Come stay in our house, as our guests” (the language we use on a daily basis) because we value your human dignity and we want to together work for justice. What a more powerful meaning for the Christmastime than presents.
But of course after the posada, and the mass we had at Ahouse, and the wonderful dinner, and the baile in our sala until almost 1 AM, it was finally time for the presents. We, the volunteers, put out the presents at 7 AM under the Christmas tree (so as to not tempt the kids with them early) and went around the house at 8 to wake everyone up and have them all come out together. It was a wonderful experience seeing the kids open so many presents (and the adults open the presents that we picked out for them from what was left), but I will fully admit that it was also hard. I literally didn’t have any presents that morning. I only gave and did not receive. In my family my sister and I are still considered the children, so it was weird to not be the center of the gift receiving (although I did give the extra stockings that we had to the other volunteers and myself, so I did get a few candies and other small things). But it was also humbling. It was the only day of the year when the guests had more, materially speaking, than I did. And I think it was very important to experience even just a few seconds of what it feels like to be the one with less.
But after Christmas morning finished up my parents’ flight landed in El Paso and they got to shadow my shift that afternoon and night, as I was the one in charge of the house that day. They got to meet the guests and see the house, and most importantly, we got to be together for Christmas (something much more important than anything I could have unwrapped that morning). Alyssa, my sister, joyfully joined us the next day. We spent the time catching up, eating too much, and just generally enjoying each other’s company while exchanging a few gifts. It was by far the smallest Christmas I’ve ever had in terms of presents, but being together was much more valuable.
After all this, and my week off, I thought the Christmas season was over. We celebrated New Year’s through dancing, games, and lots of hugs at midnight. I thought things were finally going back to normal. But I had one more surprise: yesterday was Epiphany, the day representing when the three kings, or the magi, went to take gifts to the Baby Jesus. I can’t remember ever doing anything more than singing “We Three Kings” at church to celebrate before, but today I got to see a small part of the way they celebrate it in Mexico. We had a rosco bread, a bread in the shape of a crown that had 3 baby Jesus’s baked into it. The tradition is that whoever gets the Baby Jesus is responsible for hosting a party (traditionally also making tamales) for February 2nd, 40 days after Jesus was born. And of course I found one in mine. Guess I still have a bit more to learn and do before the Christmas celebrations are officially over…