A New Meaning for La Navidad | Winter Holiday Story Series

Trees towering tall, colorful lights shining brightly, snow falling gracefully, songs singing cheerfully. It was that dreadful time of year again. On the outside, the world was merry and bright, but on the inside of this tiny, cramped, old, New York City apartment, life was quite the opposite. One of Perla’s least favorite times of the year was quickly approaching; it was Christmas.

Money was scarce for the Pérez family.  Her parents immigrated from Venezuela eight years ago when Perla was just a baby, and two years later, they brought her Abuela to the United States as well. Together, Perla, her mother, her father, her Abuela, and her two little brothers lived in a small, cramped, 900 square foot New York City apartment. Her father worked for a textile factory in the heart of the city, and her mother worked as a maid for several other homes. Together, they brought home just enough money for the family to live, but there was never enough money for Christmas presents.

Perla longed to have a Christmas like all of the other children at school. Christmas was a nightmare for Perla when her classmates ranted of all the gifts they received: beautiful dolls, cuddly stuffed animals, expensive toy cars, big televisions, and more. Perla could never brag about all the fun and expensive toys she got because the truth of the matter was that she never got any gifts. Perla never begged her parents for gifts because she knew they couldn’t afford them, but she could never rid herself of the deep-down, sad feeling inside when Christmas time approached.

This Christmas was no exception. As soon as Perla saw Christmas trees being put up, the lights being strung, and all the presents being displayed in store windows, her deep-down, sad feeling returned, just as it did every year. She instantly began to dread the stories she would hear at school about all the toys and gadgets her classmates received. Somehow, it never got easier for her to have to hear these stories.

To make things even worse, Perla’s daily walk home from school required her to pass by Schwarz, the largest and most fun toy store in New York City. One afternoon on her walk home from school, Perla passed by the window of Schwarz, just as she did every afternoon. However, this afternoon was different. When Perla passed by the window, something caught her eye. There in the window sat the most beautiful doll Perla had ever seen. Perfectly curled blonde hair, a big pink bow, a pink ruffled dress, and the cutest pink boots. Perla couldn’t take her eyes off of the doll. She was entirely captivated by how beautiful the doll was. She pictured opening the doll on Christmas morning, she pictured rocking the doll to sleep, she pictured feeding the doll bottles, she pictured..

“BEEP BEEP!” The sound of a taxi speeding past her snapped Perla back into reality. She brought herself back down to earth and made herself walk away from the window because she knew having that doll as her own was completely out of the question.

She arrived home to the smell of tamales and empanadas being placed on the table in the kitchen, the sound of her Abuela singing, and the craziness of her two little brothers running around playing.  As the family sat down for dinner, all Perla could still think about was the doll in the window.

“Nieta, how was your day?” said Abuela. No response.

“Nieta?” repeated Abuela. Perla snapped back into reality as she tore her mind away from the doll.

“Oh, oh, bien,” responded Perla. Abuela stared at Perla because she knew there was something on her mind.

“Nieta, tell me what you are really thinking about,” said Abuela.

Perla hesitated, but then she flew into a vivid description of the beautiful doll. She described her perfect blonde curls. She described the plump, pink bow in her hair. She raved about the frilly pink ruffles that fell perfectly on her pink dress. She drooled over the tiny flowers all over the adorable pink boots. The expression on Perla’s face showed the extreme obsession Perla had with this doll.

But, Perla’s description of the doll was brushed to the side, as her little brothers decided to dump their dinner in the floor.

“A Dios mio! Perla, help me clean up this mess!” exclaimed Perla’s mother.

Perla was a bit disheartened that her obvious love for this doll was not really received by her family, but nevertheless, she helped her mother clean up the mess. The doll was not discussed any more that night.

The next day on Perla’s walk home from school, she was so excited to get to the Schwarz window to see the doll again. She stood there for so long gazing into the window and daydreaming of that doll being her own. She longed to hold the doll and play with it.

Each day was a repeat of this same exercise. Perla would excitedly leave school each day, hurry to the Schwarz window, gaze at the doll, and daydream of her. Then she’d be abruptly snapped back into reality, and she would hurry home. The doll was on her mind constantly; she dreamed of the doll at night. It consumed every ounce of her thinking. However, it always left a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach because she knew it could never be hers.

One day on her walk home from school, Perla encountered a bit of a different situation. As she was standing at the Schwarz window like she did every day, a small, homely-looking little girl walked up beside her. The girl’s clothes were dirty and torn, her hair was matted, and her face was sad and despaired. Perla could tell that the girl was homeless and lived on the streets of New York City. Perla was absolutely stunned to see how impoverished the little girl was.

At least I am not living on the streets as poor as this little girl..” thought Perla.

The little girl, too, was gazing in the window, and Perla could tell that the little girl also was gazing at the doll.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” said Perla.

The little girl nodded quietly.

After this encounter, Perla not only couldn’t get the doll out of her mind, but she also couldn’t get the image of the little homeless girl out of her head. She couldn’t stop thinking about the longing in her face and the sadness in her eyes.

The next day when Perla stopped by Schwarz, she decided to step inside the store. While she was gazing at the doll, this time from the inside of the store, the storeowner, a big, round man with a long white beard, approached her.

“Do you like that doll, young lady?” said the storeowner.

Perla nodded fiercely.

“How would you like to hold it?” asked the storeowner.

Perla nodded even more fiercely this time.

The storeowner reached into the window and took out the beautiful doll and handed it to Perla. As Perla held the doll in her arms, she felt what it would feel like to have the doll as her own. She was giddy with happiness. As she gazed down at the price tag, she quickly handed the doll back to the storeowner and hurried home. That night, not only did she dream of the beautiful doll, but she was haunted and terribly disheartened by the $120 price tag too.

Every afternoon after this, Perla did not stop at the Schwarz window. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the doll anymore. Every last ounce of possible hope that she could one day have the doll for herself had left her body when she saw the $120 price tag.

Christmas morning came, and Perla’s whole family sat down for their annual Navidad morning breakfast: churros and chocolate. After breakfast, Perla started to help her mother clean the dishes when suddenly, her Abuela came out of the other room with a box and handed it to Perla.

Perla’s stomach dropped, and that hopefulness started creeping back into her mind. Her family had never given gifts on Christmas, never ever. Was it the doll? No, of course not. There was no way. Her family most definitely could not afford something of that price. Perla nervously and gingerly opened the box.

And there she was. A dream come true. The impossible doll. How had she known? How could she afford it?

“Abuela, it’s perfect. How did you..?” said Perla

But before Perla could even finish her question, her Abuela answered.

“You deserve it, Nieta,” said Abuela, with the biggest smile on her face.

That night, Perla could not take her eyes off of the doll. But, she didn’t quite feel exactly how she thought she would. She wasn’t as happy as she had imagined she would be if she ever had the doll as hers. Instead, she had a bit of a pit feeling in her stomach, and she couldn’t figure out why.

Perla spent lots of time playing with her new doll. She had decided to name the doll Lucy. The next week, Perla took Lucy with her to school. She planned to show her off and rant and rave over the perfect gift she had received. However, as she showed her doll off to others, it didn’t give her the satisfaction she expected it to. Again, she had that pit feeling in her stomach, and she couldn’t figure out why.

That afternoon on her walk home, all Perla could think about was the doll. She couldn’t figure out why it did not make her as happy as she had expected. It was all she had ever wanted to be able to brag with the other children at school about amazing Christmas gifts. Instead, she couldn’t seem to shake the pit feeling in the bottom of her stomach. As Perla approached Schwarz, she saw the little, homeless girl gazing into the store window. In that instant, Perla knew why she had that feeling in her stomach. She knew what she had to do.

As Perla approached the homeless girl at the Schwarz front store window, the little girl looked up at her and immediately, her eyes went to the doll in Perla’s arms.

“Would you like to hold her?” asked Perla.

The little girl nodded fiercely. Perla handed the doll to the little girl, and she watched the girl’s eyes and face light up. The little girl instantly looked overjoyed, and suddenly, the deep-down pit feeling in Perla’s stomach was gone.

“How would you like to have her?” asked Perla to the little girl.

The little girl hesitantly looked up at Perla, as if she was wondering if Perla really meant what she said.

“It’s ok. I really want you to have her,” said Perla.

Perla didn’t know the little girl’s face could light up any more than it had already, but it sure did. The little girl was overcome with happiness, so much so that she finally spoke.

“Thank you. I…I..I’ve never had a doll before. I’ve never had any present actually,” uttered the little girl quietly.

Perla knew how it felt to never receive a gift, but somehow, giving a gift made her feel better than she felt when she had received one.

“What’s your name?” asked Perla.

“L.L..Lucy,” stammered the little girl.

Perla was completely caught off guard. It was as if fate had led her here.

“Really? That’s what I named her too,” said Perla.

The little girl’s face lit up with the most joy Perla had ever seen before.

On Perla’s walk home, the pit feeling she had been feeling in her stomach was gone, and it was replaced with the utmost joy and happiness.

When Perla returned home without her doll, her Abuela noticed.

“Nieta, where is your doll?” asked Abuela.

Perla turned red with embarrassment. She did not want to make her Abuela upset that she had given the doll away.

“Uh…well..I actually gave her to my new friend Lucy. She’s homeless, and she really loved the doll. She had never, ever gotten a present, and I knew she really wanted one. I hope you aren’t upset, Abuela,” said Perla.

“Nieta, of course I am not upset. I am proud of you for learning the most important lesson of Navidad,” said Abuela.

“The most important lesson? What do you mean?” asked Perla.

“Nieta, the Navidad season is all about giving. It is our job to give to those who aren’t as fortunate as we are,” said Abuela.

For the first time in her life, Perla understood this. Perla had always felt sorry for herself and her family because they weren’t rich, and they couldn’t afford to buy expensive presents. Now, after meeting the little, homeless girl, Perla realized how lucky she was to have a home, a family, and food to eat. Having all of that made Perla realize she didn’t need expensive presents. As much as Perla had wanted that doll as her own, the feeling of seeing the little girl light up when Perla gave her the doll was much more satisfying and brought much more joy to Perla. She had learned the true meaning of Navidad. Suddenly, Navidad didn’t seem as dreadful to Perla. And in the years after this special Navidad, Perla actually looked forward to the holiday season. After all, she had a new Navidad tradition, picking out something to donate to the homeless shelter. This act of giving every year made Perla happier than any receiving of gifts ever could. Navidad now had a new meaning for Perla, and she now had a story to tell the children at school. She told them a story of giving. After all, this is the true meaning of the season of Navidad.

Amy E. Edwards is a senior from New Bern, and is doing a Psychology and Spanish double major.