The phone started ringing and the text messages started blinging a few days before Christmas. They popped up on my phone as calls from Florida or South Carolina or Oregon so I was never sure if I should answer "hello" or "hola."
Merry Christmas...may God bless you with a prosperous New Year...may God bless you and your family...we love you...greetings and hugs to the loved ones who surround you...we feel close to you, it doesn't seem like you are in the United States but that we are neighbors...may Baby Jesus enter anew into your hearts...
We exchanged these heartfelt greetings and talked a little bit about what we are doing, what meetings are going on at our churches, the weather. When I mentioned the 10 inches of snow in the yard, the brisk winter breeze, the piles of coats and boots near the doors, the 4 pm sunset, my friends on the other end found these things difficult to imagine. A cold December night in Los Heroes includes temperatures in the 60's and then mothers pull fleece hats onto their children's heads and bundle their babies in multiple blankets.
When I spoke with Estella before Christmas, we agreed to send each other special blessings on la Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). I sent Estella a text with warm wishes and big hugs for her family. A few minutes later the phone rang. "I had saldo (money on her phone)," she said, "so I decided to call you! Merry Christmas! " We chatted for a few minutes. "We are getting ready to go to church," I said.
"We had church on Sunday for the fourth Sunday of Advent," she said. I took that to mean that there would be no Christmas Eve worship. Maybe is not safe for the pastor or the people to come out in the evening. "It was beautiful, but a little sad. You know that your goddaughter's mother passed away."
"Yes." Our goddaughter had sent an urgent message a few days earlier: Godmother, it's me. I'm really sad and I need to talk with you from work. My mom is in agony. Call me. We talked. Her mom had been suffering for a long, long time. Cancer, then surgery, then chemo, and the cancer persisted. We talked as her mom was dying. We talked again before the funeral. "I don't have any words," I said. "We can just cry," she said.
Sadness and joy. Mourning and celebration. In Los Heroes, in our home community, in Bethlehem, this is life. Estella and I honored the mother who is now with Jesus, whose birth we were celebrating on Christmas Eve. "What are you doing now?" I asked.
"Ohhhhhhh, making little pancitas (little breads)," said Estella cheerfully. It would be fun to share Christmas treats, or at least recipes with each other. I wondered how Estella baked her little breads. I had never seen an oven at her home.
This is the first year in which Christmas connections have come by phone and text. A few who have internet access or can go to a cybercafe send greetings and photos via email or Facebook. Amid the photos of families standing near pretty Christmas trees and sweet cartoon drawings of the nativity, one Facebook photo from Pastor Gloria caught my eye. The children in the photo are holding signs which say, "We don't want children burned this Christmas." This was from a pre-Christmas workshop for parents and children, admonishing both to use care and supervision during Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve celebrations. Children all over El Salvador light fireworks during the holidays, and every year there are many sad stories of children who suffer with burns and the loss of fingers. This campaign seems like a very good addition to Christmas preparations...and New Year's preparations too!