How Can I Keep from Singing?

In her final column of 2019, Jessica Dos Santos takes us through the Venezuelan holiday traditions and what they represent in times of crisis.

A few days ago, as part of a report I did, I went out on the streets to talk to people in Caracas, ask how they felt this holiday season, how they were enjoying the third, fourth or fifth Christmas during this crisis. Who’s keeping count, anyway?

The people I talked to agreed things are screwed up, but… we Venezuelans embrace the Christmas spirit and firmly believe we deserve a joyful holiday season.

We are like like long-distance runners, who for several stretches of the race feel completely hopeless, but all of a sudden set sights on the finish line: 2020. We look around, take stock of those who have always been there, smile, and start shouting, “We made it, dammit!” like crazy while giving out hugs left and right.

In my case, this year I spent my last few bucks buying a tiny Christmas tree. The money did not allow for any decorations. But it didn’t matter. As I was paying, I remembered a meme of a cat dressed up as a Bethlehem star with the caption “when you become what you’ve always despised.”

I immediately recalled that the Jessica from a few years back hated December and bullied everyone for decorating their houses. One way or another, the season seemed to me like an ode to consumerism, full of absolutely unnecessary and unequal squandering, an invention by Coca-Cola wrapped in large doses of social hypocrisy.

And, well, that’s true. So then what happened to me? Have I gone soft? Am I getting old? Because in my case I can’t even argue that I’ve had kids and that has forced me to change my outlook towards the holidays.

No, deep down I still carry the same beliefs, but… this crisis has seen us take so many hard punches to the gut. Why not celebrate every truce or tiny victory? Why not rejoice during a season that fills the air with a weird kind of collective happiness?

A few days ago, I decided to share these thoughts on Instagram, and within minutes I had a stream of direct messages, from friends and strangers alike, offering me Christmas lights in good condition, some glittery decorations, a stuffed reindeer, and a clay-made Nativity scene. How can I keep from singing? When this was a beautiful example of who we are and what we are.

This December, I will toast to those of us who refused to let go of our kindness and joy in spite of the ruthless attacks, from many different fronts, we’ve braced in recent months. “At the end of this journey, those left are the ones who can smile in the face of death, in broad daylight,” as Silvio Rodriguez’s verses go.

I will raise my glass because we are an immense people who never leave anyone behind, because we insist on helping those trapped by their troubles, and offer a helping hand time and again, no matter how many times this hand has been bitten or spit on.

2019 has been very tough. The US blockade has intensified, and the government’s ability to react has not been up to the task so far. I think we’ve all felt something tear up inside us more than once. Some finish the year with their relatives far away (dragged by the migration wave we’ve had), while others struggle with a loved one embroiled in health troubles (and the serious economic challenges we face), but I’m sure we all have at least one recollection of the infinite solidarity we’ve received, and acts of kindness always tend to multiply.

Finally, amidst the rottenness we can also find the compost for our flowers. That’s why we insist on hoisting the flags of joy, even if many don’t understand it and judge us for being a people that “doesn’t take anything seriously.” And I know that one day, sooner or later, we will also pay tribute to what has allowed us to grow.

“Although our consumption levels are lower, Venezuelans have planned, we have organized ourselves, especially those in tight-knit families, have been saving up for our hallacas, pan de jamón, our Christmas sweets (1). And we will get together, there will be music, we will dance, because Venezuelans are like that,” said Desiree Dasa, the last person I talked to in my report.

And yes, we will do all of that. Because Venezuelan Christmas cuisine is divine, while listening and dancing to gaitas [traditional Christmas songs] it tastes even better. So if you know any Venezuelans, don’t hesitate for a second: tag along for their holiday parties. Here, there and everywhere, whatever it takes, we will have them.

Happy holidays and may 2020 be full of victories!


(1) Hallacas are Venezuela’s traditional Christmas food. They are said to have been invented by slaves, consisting of corn dough stuffed with beef/pork stew and other ingredients. Hallacas are then folded in plantain leaves and boiled. Pan de jamón (ham bread) is a more recent holiday tradition, a bread stuffed with ham, raisins and olives.

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.