By Vanessa Herrera
Crackling, crack, creek.
It was this sound that was heard across the streets of the small village hidden somewhere in Mexico. The crackling sound was produced from a bonfire, around which could be seen a family surrounding the fire for a glimpse of warmth. Among the group was nine year old me. I didn’t know it then, but this Christmas would become the most memorable Christmas I would ever celebrate.
As children we never realize how precious time is. But maybe that’s what makes it so special; we create golden memories without realizing how much we will cherish them for the rest of our lives. Everything was so simple in youth, the smallest things filling us with wonder and dreams. It seems like it was yesterday when I was nine and stared at the fire, thinking that Christmas would always be celebrated in the same manner as that year.
Before I go into detail, I ought to give you a little insight into my family’s background. My mother is one out of nine children and my father is one of five; you can already imagine that their wedding was very similar to that of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Luckily both of my parents come from the same small village, so visiting family in Mexico has never been a problem.
It has been, however, a struggle to see everyone else who resides all over the U.S. It has been so difficult that my own mother had not seen most of her siblings for years and I myself hadn’t met them. But the Christmas of 2002 marked the time I would finally come to meet the rest of the family and celebrate the special holiday together. Little did I know it would be the last.
I remember the celebration with such clarity, playing it back like an old Christmas movie. My family is known to love road trips, so on a cold winter morning we departed from Chicago with a trunk full of gifts and souls filled with glee. After a day and half of driving we were greeted by a wave of heat and the warmth of opened arms. But a cry of joy was heard throughout my grandmother’s house when my uncles and aunts arrived from the States as a surprise. It was the first time in years that my grandmother had a full house, which called for a grand feast on Christmas Eve.
For my family, Christmas Eve is the day we have a vast celebration whereas Christmas day is calmer. So on Christmas Eve we began the holiday traditions that would be treasured forever. The morning air was filled with various aromas coming from the kitchen, where you would find tamales being made. Tamales are a delicacy which involves the use of corn leaves to wrap masa (a dough usually made out of corn) and its filling, which generally consists of meat.
The sun finally set over the mountains and the stars began to shine, a signal that it was time to celebrate. My uncles began the fire on the street in front of the house as my aunts set out chairs. The older cousins set the tables and food as the young children ran around, letting their laughter bounce off of the walls of the houses. And so we return to the beginning, everyone surrounding the fire. But in the midst, one of the oldest cousins begins to play the guitar. He hits the strings, bringing them alive with each elegant stroke. He plays the most beautiful melody as if knowing it would be the last. The family then joins together to sing classics while the children continue to play in the background. I remember being “it” in a game of tag and when I stopped to catch my breath, my eyes gazed at the scenery before me: family singing around the bonfire with smiles almost to their ears, younger cousins with cheeks rosy from running and a fire that wasn’t as warm as all the souls gathered that night.
This was the last Christmas we celebrated as a whole family. The guitarist who made the strings tell their own story passed his passion on to my brother as he left this world. Other loved ones’ lives have been claimed as well, leaving empty chairs at the bonfire’s circle.
But this isn’t a sad story.
This is a happy memory. We should never take anything for granted because in a blink of an eye, it could be gone. This memory doesn’t sadden me, but rather brings me joy to think I actually lived it. So during the holidays cherish every moment, for one day they will be golden.