Feliz Navidad

This year I am Joseph. No, I am not really Joseph, I am Mauricio Arenas. My wife really is Mary. Well, she’s Maria but that is close enough. Our daughter, Esperanza, gets to play the role of Jesus. Although, that doesn’t really make sense. Here I am, walking down the street like a pied piper with close to a hundred children trailing me holding candles and singing Christmas songs. We are supposed to be acting out Joseph with Mary coming into Bethlehem and looking for an inn so that Maria can give birth to baby Jesus. In the Bible story, Mary is still pregnant, but here my precious Maria is, holding our three-month-old baby. We aren’t quite the ideal couple to be leading this procession.

That said, I do know why we were chosen. I can understand how Joseph must have felt when he had no place to go. You see, back in June, my house was destroyed. Right outside our front window, clashes between the protestors and the police grew violent. I don’t know exactly how it happened. We could hear the fighting, the shouts, and the gunshots but I had shepherded my pregnant wife to the back of the house. We heard glass shattering and more gunshots that were very close, and then the center of that storm seemed to move further on down the street. That was when I smelled the smoke. We tried to save what we could, but that fire spread quickly in that old house. Less than two hours later, I was still on our small patch of lawn, wondering what I was supposed to do now while my poor wife cried in the neighbor’s arms. Three other houses were damaged, but mine was the only one to become nothing but ash.

It took us less than a week to hitchhike to Reynosa, Mexico. It then took us another month to find a way for me and my pregnant wife to cross the Rio Grande. Once I did get across, I was able to find a loving community that was willing to help us and take us in. I still have a long way to go before I will be a legal citizen, but my baby girl, Hope, was born here. She already is a citizen. Now, this is our first Christmas in America. We can all celebrate with joy because we have hope for a better future.

I have arrived at our destination and it is now time for me to sing:

In the name of heaven
I ask you for shelter,
for my beloved wife
can go no farther.

Tears come to my eyes as I hear the host sing out his response:

This is not an inn
Get on with you,
I can not open the door,
you might be a rogue.

I respond with my part:

Do not be inhuman,
Show some charity,
God in heaven
will reward you.

Back and forth we sing our parts until finally, the host opens up his doors. I sing my final line:

May the Lord reward you
for your charity,
and may the sky be filled
with happiness.

He responds with his final stanza but already the impatient kids who were trailing me start flooding into the house. The adults and older children wait as we all sing the final chorus to this Posada tradition. Soon there will be pinatas to hit, food to eat, and lots of fun and fellowship with my new community and friends. This will be a Merry Christmas celebration.

No, things are not all OK. We do not have a place of our own but instead rent a room in someone else’s already crowded house. Our immigration was not exactly legal so we are always looking over our shoulder. I don’t have steady work but do whatever day-to-day odd jobs I can find. It is barely enough to put food on the table. Esperanza has not yet learned the fine art of sleeping through the night and the lack of sleep adds tension to our already stressful life.

But we have hope. We have a community of others from here, and from Mexico and from many other countries who have embraced us. We have a church that has quickly become a family. We have confidence that next year will be better than this. And until then, for tonight, we have a Christmas party to join. Without a doubt, this will definitely be a Feliz Navidad.

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