by Esther J. Santiago
My grandmother refers to social-distancing as an “act of love.” This way, you protect yourself and others. We try our best to stay healthy these days by staying six-feet apart, wearing masks, washing hands, foregoing hugs, etc. As positive cases for COVID-19 continue to rise, we must take upon ourselves extra safety measures. We all want the global pandemic to end so if you can—as an act of love—please stay home this Christmas.
Christmas is my favorite time of year, and I love that in Puerto Rico, we get to celebrate the holidays for a month and a half. Throughout the Christmas season, we visit friends and family for parrandas or matutinos (Christmas caroling). A few years ago, my family and a few members of our church made a surprise visit to my grandmother’s house to give her a matutino. In the darkness of the night, we waited in front of her house and yelled “asalto!” (which translates to assault or robbery, but I promise it’s not as scary or weird as it sounds), and with that cue, we began singing and playing our instruments. Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, is a bigger celebration than actual Christmas Day. Noche Buena, which translates to “good night” is an occasion to gather around the table, and express our affection to one another through laughter, gratitude, singing, dancing, and delicious gastronomy. On Christmas Day, my family and I wake up at 6:00 am to open presents. After New Year’s Eve comes Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day or Epiphany Day) on January 6th. This holiday commemorates the Biblical narration of the Three Magi who visited Jesus’ birth and brought presents. On Víspera de Reyes (Three Kings Day Eve), the children leave a box filled with grass and a glass of water as they wait for the Three Kings to bring them gifts. The grass and the water are for the camels, of course. Then, we have the octavitas and these celebrations go on concluding with las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián (or las Sanse, for short) during the third week of January.
But as much as I love parrandas and matutinos and reuniting with my loved ones to eat pasteles, lechón (roasted pork) and arroz con gandules (yellow rice with peas), this year, it’s safer to celebrate together via Zoom. While a Zoom call may never measure up to a tight hug or a kiss, a handcrafted poem might send a little more warmth.
On a quick grocery-shopping trip to Target, I bought blank Christmas cards, which are great for crafting personalized cards. Grab your markers, pens, and all your crafty materials, and let the Christmas spirit take over! (If you prefer to save paper, you can craft a digital card using Canva or Procreate, among other apps.)
Craft Christmas postcards with me, the literary equivalent to a nostalgic ugly-christmas sweater. Here are a few ideas.
1. Write erasure poetry, or “black out” poetry, in which by using a black pen or a marker, erase words from a text to create your own poem. I used an article from my local newspaper, the Courant Community, to craft a poem, and it went like this:
time when spirits lift
no crowds to see
one by one
learn how to online
2. This option is more destructive. Cut out words from any text and mold your own lines. I had multiple copies of one of my favorite poetry collections, A Few Microseconds on Earth by Perrin Langda, translated by Pauline Levy-Valensi, and I cut out a few lines to form my own.
gather in slow motion
happy lights light up
a tree that glows
everything except for you
I dream of home
3. Write an acrostic poem with a phrase, a word, or the name of someone special. I chose “Feliz Navidad” (Merry Christmas).
Faith that the pandemic will be over soon.
Enjoying each other’s company, we’ll
Laugh till we cry.
Ignite the Christmas Spirit during our
Nothing is better than home,
And without you here, it doesn’t feel like Christmas.
Valuable are the smallest of things.
I miss you.
Daylight will arrive again,
And hopefully, it’ll be a white Christmas,
Damp and frosty air.