As a little girl I couldn’t wait for the arrival of Christmas. What an overwhelming sense of joy and sheer excitement to get up on Christmas morning and find our valuable treasures! Like the year my sister got her typewriter and I got my “Baby That a Way”; a doll dressed in a pink onesie who crawled around the house to my utter delight. These are heartwarming memories that I will always treasure.
Christmas has always been a magical time for me, especially if spent in my native Puerto Rico. Although I spent most of my childhood away from the island, I grew to love the times when we celebrated Christmas as a family among the cool evening breeze and the lit palm trees. I can close my eyes and see, hear, and most of all, smell Christmas in Puerto Rico. There are fragrant smells of arroz con gandules, pasteles, and lechón asao, mingled with cinnamon and coconut for arroz con dulce.
Christmas 2017 will be a different Christmas for all of us. My family lives in Cayey, Puerto Rico. Cayey is an imposing mountain municipality on the central mountain range of the island. In the winter time it can get quite cold; down to fifty-five degrees at night! Islanders bundle up in sweaters and jackets and some even believe the folktales that snow from the north will come down on us.
No, this year will be different. Hurricane Maria has left a lasting and traumatic effect for generations to come. As of December 22nd, Cayey has been without power for 92 days. Life on the island has changed completely. Daily priorities now include finding water, food, ice, gas, and other essentials. Communication with family and loved ones in Cayey is still sporadic. Internet connections are completely unreliable.
Amidst this troubling landscape, we are reminded of what truly matters during this holiday season. While it might seem trite to some, for me there is nothing more important than family and the time I spend with them. I am in the middle of packing my suitcases to head home. This year I have packed batteries, solar lights, a water heater, candles, lots of chocolate, and Santa’s cookies bought at a local bakery (no power means no homemade cookies this year!).
I am headed home to be with my family and experience, even if only for a couple of days, what they have endured for over three months. I am headed home to once again revel in the cool breeze and warmth of family. I leave with a traditional Puerto Rican song in my heart.
Cuanto me alegro de haber nacido
en este nido en este edén
porque estas fiestas que adoro tanto
son el encanto de Borinquen.
How happy I am to have been born
In this nest in this Eden
Because these festivities that I so adore
Are the enchantment of Borinquen.