When I was a kid, I wrote almost every year asking Baby Jesus for snow. Growing up watching every US-made Christmas movie and special that flooded our December TV programming makes you wishful for that picture-perfect, stockings-hanging-on-the-mantlepiece white Christmas that doesn’t even exist, transculturización be damned.
I never got snow, obviously. But I wasn’t sad, because Christmas was still something special. Sure, I didn’t always get what I wanted —my family insisted I should be more into sports— but overall, Navidad was one of those moments that defined childhood. Don’t get me wrong, I know I make it sound as if Christmas was only about the presents but there’s something magical about looking under a tree and suddenly finding something, anything.
Everyone knows Christmas has been deeply affected by la crisis. Walking around downtown in any major city in Venezuela, you can barely tell it’s the holiday season. Walk into a panadería selling a very expensive pan de jamón and your mind goes back to a time when you would get sick of eating hallacas and listening to gaitas or Billo’s. Now, it’s different. Now it’s all silence.
Except from children, who still wish for things. For them, Christmas becomes a small beacon of hope and comfort in a childhood dominated by hardship and instability. Their parents may not have much around but Baby Jesus and Santa Claus are different! Right? Right?
Last year, the government imported toys and Canadian evergreens and this year they simply cut out the middle-man by seizing toys and then delivering them through CLAPs on Christmas Eve.
Earlier this year, when we asked my young sister what she wanted for her birthday she told us that, of all things, she wanted two litros of strawberry yogurt. I imagine her joy when we took her out for pizza and I gave her a book I had bought months earlier. “I wasn’t expecting anything!” She told us.
But how far can you keep the fantasy alive? Well, on the one hand you have Venezuela’s Number One Winners on Keeping Unrealistic Fantasies Alive: The Chaverment. Last year they imported toys and Canadian evergreens and this year they simply cut out the middle-man by seizing toys and then delivering them through CLAPs on Christmas Eve and thus, saving Christmas for the very same parents they screwed over throughout December by invalidating their cash after asking them to deposit notes in banks en masse.
Of course, nobody points out the contradiction of having a socialist government so obsessed with a religious-turned-commercial holiday. Cuba, just to give an example close to us, banned the holiday from 1968 to 1998 for its capitalist trappings and because it screwed up the sugarcane harvest. Everyone knows, though, that if there’s one thing the Government loves, it’s a populist distraction, and the holidays are a perfect chance to kill two birds with one stone, cash flow problems notwithstanding.
On the other hand, you have people like my mother. Vestiges of Venezuela’s Middle Class. For her, this holiday has especially been tough —as she tells me— un grandísimo dolor de cabeza. Last Christmas, she had to scramble and buy whatever was left in the toy store. She got my sister a Jenga game and my sister cried, thinking El Niño Jesús had made a mistake. This year, she wanted to get everything done early but, as per usual, #TropicalMierda gets in the way. If it wasn’t for a relative who came from abroad to visit his sick father and hitchhiked some imported toys, we wouldn’t have had anything for her to open on Christmas morning.
“This is the worst Christmas I can remember,” my mom told me on December 24th, as we drove around looking for a place that sells a pan de jamón at a reasonable price and is sold in a place that doesn’t have a huge line in front of it. “They waited till December 23rd to give us our Christmas bonuses. How do they expect us to buy anything?”
Mom was still angry from earlier. She had spent the whole morning waiting in a long queue at a department store to buy some earphones as another Christmas gift, only to discover at the cashier that the system was down and none of her cards were working. She tried again in the afternoon, this time as I waited outside, I took a long look at the streets. They were filled with small groups of people carrying bags of bread, vegetables, rum or the discreet Baby Jesus gifts wrapped in black plastic bags.
Two weeks ago, pan de jamón was priced Bs.7,500, now they sell them at Bs.10,000. We drive around for two hours until we found a place that sells them at a more affordable Bs.8,500. We get back home and when we open the front door we find that my sister has put on a CD with aguinaldos, she’s set the table and put up the Christmas drawings she spent the whole afternoon making.
My mom and I smile, this is what makes it all worthwhile.
Up until last year, we would always go to grandma’s and spend the evening with the rest of the family but driving back home at 2 a.m. just isn’t safe anymore. Just a simple evening with mom and sister enjoying a meal with Serenata Guayanesa in the background is good enough for me.
At midnight my sister will open her presents and find a Wii game and some earphones. Her belief that there’s still some magic remains, at least for one more year.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.