Photo: News Thump, retrieved.
I’ve always regretted that there’s no Venezuelan Christmas Carol, no It’s a Wonderful Life, besides gaitas, there’s not one piece of media that can make us feel like Christmas in Venezuela. Instead, I watched Home Alone on Venevisión, A Christmas Vacation on RCTV and the classic Simpsons holiday episodes on cable.
As a goddamn millennial who grew up watching at least seven hours of TV a day, that’s something that has to change. Particularly now in times of crisis and diaspora where the joys of the season seem like a distant memory.
So, after convincing the good folks of Caracas Chronicles, here’s a small holiday treat: a translated and updated adaptation of Un Cuento de Navidad, by Francisco Herrera Luque, a short story that beautifully captures the joys of nostalgia and the pains of migration many feel during this holiday. Enjoy:
Chucho was a man from La Pastora, whom I met in my youth. His name was bound to his joy and misfortune, and his birthday too. He was born on December 24 and, at midnight, he was named after the Messiah, thus getting the nickname Chucho.
Back in the days, it was a different country. People still called Santa Claus San Nicolás or Papá Noel and aguinaldos, gaitas and Billo’s Caracas Boys could be heard in every radio station. Families and friends visited each other and stuffed themselves with hallacas, pan de jamón, panettone brought by the Italians, along with wine, rum, or ponche crema.
The best nativity scene in Caracas, and maybe in all of Venezuela, could be found on the porch of his home in La Pastora.
On some occasions, real live nativity scenes would be organized on the street, and they would have an infant take the place of the Christ Child, in the middle of wholesome cheers by the parishioners and the laughter of children playing with fireworks, or roller-skating their way around the neighborhood.
Since Chucho was a short, round baby, he played this part for many years, to the point he grew up thinking Christmas was only his and of his namesake.
As time went on he became a well-off business owner, with Christmas decorations as his specialty. Since mid-November one could find in his store tiny plastic sheep, stars of Bethlehem to plug in, small plaster shepherds, endless paper sheets, everything you needed to put on a great nativity.
But the best nativity scene in Caracas, and maybe in all of Venezuela, could be found on the porch of his home in La Pastora. Neighbors came to admire the hills built out of shoeboxes, the lakes and rivers of aluminum foil and the tiny cardboard houses covered in glitter while Eufrasia, Chucho’s wife, offered them small bits of turrón and pasta seca.
One could say Chucho lived his life thoroughly from December 17, to January 6, and spent the rest of the year planning his next nativity scene. Though Chucho always seemed to me as a rational, no nonsense man, I’m almost sure he talked to Baby Jesus when no one was watching.
But times changed. People became less kind and more distrustful of each other. Politics, which was reserved to be paid attention once every five years, was in everyone’s minds and lips at every moment. Entire families were divided, old friendships dissolved. There was a moment of great, drunken wealth—a seemingly eternal red and green Christmas, if you will—followed by a sudden, almost overnight misery.
A few years ago, I passed by his store. Eufrasia had passed away, and it was harder and harder for Chucho to keep the business running. He couldn’t pay employees anymore or maintain a regular stock, so he stood all alone surrounded by dusty shelves. Every now and then, a representative of an obscure entity dropped by and made him go through dozens of documents. A couple of times, he complied and let them take whatever they wanted of his dwindling merchandise.
If he had at least two cents to rub together, he would have taken the first flight to Maiquetía but now he was just a poor old man with no place to call home.
Eventually, he closed the shop for good and moved with his son to the United States, to a mysterious, faraway place called Ohio. His son lived in a house in a gated community where all the houses looked alike, had children that spoke English and watched football, and married a gringa who tried, and failed, to speak Spanish and integrate Chucho to the family, while he called her behind her back “la loca esa”.
“Maybe he would be happier someplace warmer, with people his own age,” she ventured to say, one night she didn’t know Chucho was listening. Chucho sighed and thought of his store and La Pastora. If he had at least two cents to rub together, he would have taken the first flight to Maiquetía but now he was just a poor old man with no place to call home.
Autumn season came around and it was worse for him. He couldn’t stand the cold and the snow, the Christmas music and even the food, which was appetizing and even included some hallacas, seemed to be missing something. His daughter-in-law, trying to include him in the festivities, offered him to be Santa in the family Christmas party. With some reluctance he accepted the role.
It was Christmas Eve and Chucho saw himself in the mirror. Wearing a fake beard and clad in red, he couldn’t help but feel ridiculous. The house was filled with cheerful songs that were so different from gaitas and aguinaldos. He closed his eyes, filled with tears, and thought of other, happier times…
“Don’t be afraid and come with me,” said a little child’s voice and Chucho smiled. His son and his daughter-in-law knocked on his bedroom’s door, worried. But it was of no avail. Chucho had already left to wherever shining stars and memories go.