From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Feliz Navidad

After eating pernil, arroz con gandules, pasteles, and desserts like flan and cake, Feliz Navidad and other Christmas songs resonated in the living room as my tíos and tías sat around singing while my cousins and I opened our gifts from under the tree. Around this time, my tía Magaly would disappear into her room and come back wearing her old clothes and accessories from the ’70s, and she would put on a little show. She would dance and make us laugh with her songs and her jokes because seeing a smile on all of our faces was what she loved the most. It was her smile that brought us the most joy because we all knew that she was quietly suffering inside.

My tía was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 and had her left breast removed. She recovered and regained her strength only to be told in 1997 that the cancer had returned and spread to her spinal cord. Again, my family and I watched her recover from her endless surgeries and nauseating chemotherapy treatments, all the while maintaining that beautiful smile on her face.

My family celebrated her health every day thereafter. For every holiday, birthday, graduation or any small celebration, we gathered at her house to celebrate and feast as if it were Christmas every day. She would decorate her house and prepare everything with love because seeing our family united was what kept her strong. She had left the Dominican Republic with nothing but hopes and dreams to create a better life for her family in the United States. She studied accounting at night school and came to run a successful, small cake business in her own home. Her delicious “Dominican” cakes became famous in our neighborhood for their incredibly unique decorations.

Tía Magaly was an inspiration for my family as we watched her continue to work hard even though her body was weak. Her health began deteriorating in 2001, and we all worried that the cancer was attacking her body again. I was to turn sixteen in December, and there had been plans to throw a sweet sixteen party for me, but my mom and my other aunts didn’t want to because my tía was constantly in and out of the hospital. I spoke to Tía Magaly, and she made it clear that she wanted us to have the party. In fact, she told me that she was looking forward to making decorations and baking the cake. Tía Magaly had spoken, so it had to be done! A month before my birthday, she and I planned the party. She made the decorations, went shopping with me for my dress and made the most amazing cake I have ever seen. I watched in awe at how this family event gave her the strength and courage to get up every day and do what she loved most—supporting and celebrating her family. At my party, she danced and laughed like someone who had never been sick a day in her life.

A year later, on December 21, 2002, I embraced that memory of her as I watched her leave this world behind. The cancer had spread to her brain, and the tumors made surgery impossible. My cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmother all held each other as she passed away peacefully in her hospital bed. Christmas was only four days away, and we knew things would never be the same without her. Instead of preparing for our annual Christmas celebration, we made preparations for her funeral service. We spent Christmas Eve in the cemetery saying good-bye to Tía Magaly for the last time.

On Christmas day, we still gathered at her house, but there was no singing. There was no laughter, no dancing, no eating. Just tears and pain.

Her son could not bear to see our family like this, so he started singing, slowly at first, “Feliz Navidad.” Then, pushing back the tears and with more energy he sang, “Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Prospero Año y Felicidad!”

He told us that we had to stop crying and to start celebrating. He said we had to celebrate not because it was Christmas, but to celebrate my tía’s life, who she was and what she meant to our family. So we sang this song and many more because we realized that although she wasn’t there in physical form, she was still there celebrating with us. Tía Magaly was still with us that Christmas day, in our hearts, in our souls, in our songs and, most important, in our family unity.

Adriana Rosales

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