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.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Venezuela.
    A country rich in history, resources and most importantly resilient wonderful people.
    May the coming year bring your country political reform and stability. The end of criminal gangs and the beginnings of a new democracy.
    The world is beginning to take notice of your plight and the humanitarian suffering the government has imposed on all of you.
    Have faith that things will get better.

  2. My first thought was : in my birth country, if you drive around for 2 hours looking for something 15% cheaper, you burn up what you save in gasoline. Food for thought.
    I have hated Christmas since I stopped being a child….it’s a time of enormous pressure for parents, especially those of us here who can barely afford to eat properly anymore. My oldest kid wanted a bicycle, at 120,000 bs, I just didn’t have the cash and felt like a lump of shit for it.

  3. This year, another 6 nieces, 2 nephews and 4 aunts are living in the States. Merry Christmas, Maduro. You are making it easy for young American boys to aspire to the dream of marrying a hot,
    educated Venezuelan.

  4. Nice post.

    I am curious about the origin of the Nino Jesús.
    I got my presents from the Magi or Three Kings on 6 January, just like my parents and their ancestors in the rural areas around Valencia A couple of my cousins also got presents from the Nino Jesús, which puzzled me at the
    time as I thought a baby would not bring presents but the custom came from the other families. As a growup I later heard the Baby-Jesus-instead-of-Magi custom came from Caracas in the XX century and it was some adaptation to Santa on 25-12 instead of 6-1 because of US American influence. I wonder if that is true.

    • I recently had a conversation about Santa Claus, 6-1 and Nino Jesus with a guy from a small town in rural Mexico and he described something in Mexico they call Nino Dios. I had always understood 6-1 as being the big day for Mexican kids, and Santa Claus being a recent adaptation, but there is a third practice here called Nino Dios apparently, like the Venezuelan tradition. This guy suggested it was very widespread. I’ve never heard about it before so I’m a little skeptical.

      • I once asked a friend from Caracas who grew up in a shanty town in El Valle whether he had presents from the Baby Jesus or the Magi. He said: “no, chaaamo, reyes no suben cerro”. For him it was the Baby Jesus.
        He associated the Magi with “hijos de espanoles” or rich but for me it was not like that at all.

        My hypothesis is that among humble Venezuelans not too much into US influence (or Soviet or whatever), the traditional thing was the Magi whereas for equally humble Venezuelans with those new cultures, the trend was the Baby Jesus, just like the first tend to be called Pero and María and the others perhaps Johny and Jessica.

        As with the people who were wealthy for generations: I don’t know. It would be interesting to know what Venezuelans were celebrating in Caracas and Carora in 1900.

        Perhaps I am wrong, I woud love to hear from other people whose families did not come from Caracas-Miranda

        • The word from my spouse on Bruzual in Apure state is that forever, 6-1 and Nino Jesus have been traditions, for everybody, and among the more upscale folks, they also have St Nicolas visit on New Year’s Eve ( so as not to bump Nino Jesus I guess). She said something else about what people from Caracas think but I won’t repeat that…

Leave a Reply to John Vanderwerken Cancel reply