Christmas was always me, my mom, and my sister. We’d open presents right in the morning, and then we’d go to the movies, and afterwards everyone would make their favorite food: mangoes with chile; posole, which is hominy with broth; guacamole. I didn’t ever really want the big family or holidays; I was always very content with and appreciative of the family I did have, and the traditions we made ourselves.
That being said, my husband’s family is very American, very traditional. They’re very big Christmas people: They all have embroidered stockings with their names on them, and after like, year two of us dating, they had a stocking for me made with my name. This was particularly special for me; growing up, it was so hard to find anything with Ximena on it. When I started getting invited over for the holidays, they would always invite my mom, too.
They have a really funny tradition of doing joke presents each year. There are some that are running jokes, which are presents that they keep regifting over the years. There are the dollar-store presents, the as-seen-on-TV presents, and then just random stuff, like a can of Spam. Or some things will just naturally come up. My uncle-in-law, for example, had made comments about a shared tub of Vaseline at their country club—how disgusting it was, how there were fingerprints in there. And so last year, my mother-in-law gave him a big tub of Vaseline, and when he opened it, it had already had fingers in it: She had scooped some of it out! And then ten minutes later, it turned out someone else—I think it was my sister-in-law—had gotten him the exact same thing.
To me, it’s wild to see how things have changed. I was born in Mexico, I’m an immigrant, and all I’d known for twenty-five years of my life was really just my mom and my sister. My mom, as a single mother, was always very aware of having to be everything for us.
Now, it’s like what you see in the movies: the big Christmas tree, Christmas movies playing the whole time, sports on the TV, drinking and eating all day. We have this big family and we do big meals, and there are fiancés and in-laws and sister-in-laws. I now understand what people mean when they say you put down roots. Now, I don’t think we feel so alone.
Ximena N. Larkin is a writer and publicist who resides in Chicago with her husband and dog.
Interview conducted and edited by Brette Warshaw.
For more stories on our community’s holiday traditions, check out How We Holiday.