Venezuela’s Ghost of Christmas Past

Chaudary Maria | Contributing Writer

A special season once a year occurs that almost everyone enjoys, Christmas. My childhood Christmas was always ideal, the one that all kids would like to have; full of traditional food, homemade desserts, gifts, and happy faces. When I was a child I used to think Christmas would be the same for years and years.

However, reality knocked at my door and woke me up. That perfect Christmas I enjoyed now exists only in my memory and it changed dramatically in just four years due to an unexpected economic crisis. I wish I could return to my past and tell myself, “Enjoy your present the most that you can because we never know when it will change without any warning sign.”

I remember it like if it was yesterday. My mom was cleaning the entire house the morning before Christmas day with a smile. It was not a cleaning like those on a common day. This cleaning was full of energy. She did it with more anxiety every time an hour passed. Every time an hour passed by, we were closer to the biggest Christmas event in our family, a Christmas Eve dinner.

A few hours before our family came home to dinner, Mom was always organizing a big table in our yard, decorating it with red and green tablecloths. It was so large that she always spent two hours just doing that. Being twelve years old, my sister and I used to hide behind the tables and play around while she was organizing it. I remember my dad putting incense all around the house that made it smell like gardens and smoke at the same time.

In the present time, the day that always seems special looks very similar until dinnertime comes. My mom who always seemed happy, is still that way. She does not have that anxiety that she used to have on that day. It was contagious for everyone, with an amazing expectation of what would happen that night.

Organizing the tables is no longer an entertaining moment. It turned into being an annoying moment that someone had to do. Being seventeen, that large table was no longer a place to play anymore. My dad on the other hand, with the difficult economic situation my country has these days, is no longer able to buy incense. The garden and smoke smell that I enjoyed that day are not around the house any longer so it creates an environment of disappointment and longing.

In the past, food and desserts were the best part of the Christmas Eve dinner for adults and kids. For the dinner, my family used to make different dishes, and everyone had their specialty. One of my aunts always made a big dish of chicken salad that lasted days.

Another aunt lives in a small house above my grandmother’s house. She was the one that made all types of desserts; pineapple cakes and crème caramel were her favorite ones to make. One day before the dinner, I always visit her to help make the desserts.

At the same time, under my aunt’s house was my grandmother’s house. She was always boiling thousands of “hallacas” our traditional Christmas food. You could smell the stew from miles away.

By the end of the day, I returned home to see my dad cooking with enthusiasm. There was a big pork leg that you can almost taste it because of that strong and delicious smell it had. Seeing how my family put all their effort into making good dishes for our family meant the start of Christmas for me.

The day before my seventeenth Christmas Eve dinner was not like those that I remember. Those happy faces that I remember making Pineapple cakes, Crème caramel, hallacas, chicken salad, and pork leg were no longer happy. Instead, they had stressed expressions on their faces. Nothing was happening like years before. I was disappointed; I could not see how amazing the next day would be. On the contrary, I could feel how different that Christmas Eve dinner would be.

When I was young and thought about Christmas, the first thing that came to my mind were gifts. My family was that kind of family that used to exchange expensive and fabulous gifts like phones, dresses, and big toys. My mom has always been the kind of person that liked to give gifts even to people that she did not know. I remember her wrapping thirty gifts, even forty, for my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmother, friends, and even neighbors.

I liked to sit in my mom’s room and watch her wrap, organize, and count gifts with liveliness. In that moment I could see everyone enjoying his or her gifts. I could imagine my cousins playing with whatever brand new toy they received. My aunts and uncles would talk about how amazing their gifts are in the front yard beside our big and wonderful Christmas pine. I was happy when everyone was happy.

My past Christmas did not have those wonderful gifts. My parents could not even afford their children’s gifts. The economic crisis in my country affected the gifts of thousands of children and teenagers. The same thing happened with my aunts, uncle, and my grandmother.

That Christmas Eve I could notice how worried everyone was. They were concerned that what little they could buy was not what their children wanted. The only thing I could do was try to cheer up everyone by saying, “Christmas is not just about gifts, it is also about family.” However, everyone was already used to exchanging wonderful gifts besides the Christmas pine, so that not doing it created an environment of sadness.

I will always remember that old Christmas I enjoyed before my country’s economic crisis. I can still smell that garden and smoke smell around my house, the pineapple cakes in my aunt’s house, and the big pork leg my dad made but is now a poor small one. I hope I can see my mom being happy while wrapping many gifts in her room again. I would just love to go back to that Christmas everyone once enjoyed. For a family who always had the more desired Christmas, we never will know when simple things like food and gifts will become difficult to obtain.