I love Christmas stories. They are magical. Christmas is, after all, a magical time of the year: The time of the year when we do our best to put aside our differences in the name of goodwill towards all.
For the past two weeks, I have been watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. In the majority of these movies, one of the main characters at some point of the story says: “Christmas is about family.” I soak up these stories like a kid who still believes in Santa Claus.
When I speak of family, I am not referring to the nuclear family of father, mother, and children. I am referring to our extended family: our parents, siblings and their spouses, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Over the years following Guyana’s independence in May 1966, thousands of Guyanese left our shores for other lands across the ocean. Among the first to leave in my family were my aunts, uncles, and cousins. (My paternal grandparents were deceased long before I was born; my maternal grandparents had migrated to the USA when my mother was a teenager, leaving her and two of her sisters behind in British Guiana.) Close neighbors, school friends, and later friends at work also joined the exodus. At the same time, one by one, my mother and siblings migrated to Canada and the USA, leaving me and my father behind.
Marriage gifted me with a new extended family. I did my best to fit in with my new family. When I migrated to Brazil with my husband and two sons, I lost my second family. In Brazil, it took four years and a fractured marriage for my neighbors and work colleagues to open their hearts and homes to me and my sons. For the next twelve years, after my husband left Brazil to return to Guyana, the calor humano brasileiro (Brazilian human warmth) sustained us.
My sons and I never had to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone. Together with the families that invited us to join their Christmas celebrations, we shared their family Christmas traditions. We shared with them the Guyanese traditional Christmas black cake: ground mixed dried fruits and nuts soaked in Rum for over a month; caramel gave it the black color.
With time, family took on a new meaning for me. I learned to embrace as family all those individuals who became a part of our daily lives. Each relationship became more meaningful. When people left to pursue other paths, I learned to appreciate every moment spent with others. As often happens in life, some individuals were mere opportunists; others betrayed my trust. But, for the most part, I found people receptive, generous, and full of goodwill.
Christmas is about family. I celebrate being part of our universal family bound together on a tiny planet hurtling through space in an expanding Universe.