By Bobby Reyes, Contributing Writer, and Diana Martinez, Editor
SFV Sun/El Sol
This Christmas holiday is not what was expected. After more than a year of shutdowns, virtual meetings, and isolation, there was the expectation that by now, life would return to “normal.”
But the recent news of increasing COVID-19 cases, and the Omicron variant rising, has many reconsidering their plans at the last moment, along with the need to — again — socially distance for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Many communities resumed their tree lighting events and holiday parades earlier this month, feeling reassured by the public distribution of vaccination and booster shots. Some businesses even ventured to resume their annual Christmas parties. But all have had to consider if it is feasible to hold a “safe” event.
With the reinstated requirement for participants to wear masks, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Book Store in Sylmar held its 10th annual Winterlandia and Marketplace event on Saturday, Dec. 18. Owners kept the front doors of their storewide open and were mindful of the new mandates in LA County that everyone 2 years of age and older must wear a mask in all indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status.
This event has been a favorite in the community because it gives the public an opportunity to buy directly from local artisans for the holiday. Many families said it was their first in-person community event since the pandemic began.
Children sat wearing face masks, patiently waiting for “Story Time,” and a nature show. Staff held frogs and spiders and taught children about exoskeletons. “Where are your bones?” the kids were asked… “Inside,” the kids enthusiastically responded. “And, where are the spiders?” the kids were asked. “Outside!” shouted the children.
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol asked some of those attending how they would celebrate Christmas this year, given the evolving circumstances. Some recalled a favorite Christmas memory, as they pondered their plans and the continuing pandemic.
“We’re a huge traditional Mexican family, so it was definitely sad last year that we couldn’t celebrate together due to COVID,” said Yesenia Campos, 29.
“I am a little worried about the variant. I think what gives me some peace of mind is that all our family is vaccinated, including the children,” Campos said.
Her fondest Christmas memories, Campos shared, have been when the house was being decorated by all of the kids in her family, and they all gathered to open presents and eat breakfast together.
“Despite all precautions taken last year, I got COVID but had pretty mild symptoms,” said Sylmar artist Israel Marquez, 26.
“Once there was an opportunity to get the vaccine I got it right away and I felt a little less scared,” Marquez said. “More people are getting vaccinated and that made me feel more comfortable going out into the world. At the moment, I don’t feel afraid about the new variant. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is becoming a normal part of our world, but I’m continuing to do my part, wear my mask, and get my booster shot.”
One of his favorite Christmas memories, Marquez shared, “was when I received an aircraft carrier, with my little toy airplanes. Me and my brother got some video games as well and we stayed up until 4 a.m. playing games — it was a good Christmas.”
“My favorite Christmas memory revolves around my grandma who passed away in winter of 2017, so I just have memories of her,” said Rocket Garcia, a San Fernando resident. “She would wear a Santa hat and she’d be comfortable in her chair. Me and my cousins would sit on the floor and open up the gifts she and my aunt bought us.
“All of my memories of my grandma are my favorite memories of Christmas,” Garcia said, adding, “This past year I wasn’t able to see my family and it was devastating for me. This year I will be traveling up north. My family lives in northern California so I’ll be able to spend Christmas, my birthday, and New Year’s with them. I will be able to see all my tias, tios, and my cousins and my mom and that will be really incredible for me.”
Overall, those at Tia Chucha’s said they were concerned for their well-being and the health of their families. They also expressed their disappointment with the possibility of postponing yet another Christmas if the news becomes bleaker.
“Last year we didn’t celebrate the holidays at all, so I’m looking forward to seeing all of our family. Most people are vaccinated so we’re looking forward to getting together with everyone because last year we didn’t and the year before we didn’t either, it’s been a long time coming,” said Salvador Valentin.
“I am very concerned about the new variant of COVID that has come around. A lot of my family struggles with their health. I am worried that it is spreading more again and that it might affect my visit up north because, obviously, I want everyone to be well and that is my main concern,” Garcia said.
On Monday this week, the LA County Health Department, for the fourth day in a row, reported more than 3,000 new COVID-19 infections.
The county reported 3,258 new cases including 60 confirmed Omicron variant cases and seven more deaths. Following last weekend’s Winterlandia event, Tia Chuchas announced it was postponing in-person gatherings and programming until further notice.
Other organizations with planned events did the same. The live audience portion was canceled for the 62nd Annual LA County Holiday Celebration, but the performances will be live-streamed.
For more information about Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, visit tiachucha.org For more information on the live streaming of the LA County Holiday celebration, go to: PBSSocal.org, KCET.org, and holidaycelebration.org.