Although Christmas is said to be celebrated on just one day a year, whoever said it had never been to Cozumel. Yes, the parties are going, the libations are flowing, but, between you and me, it’s the smiles of the children that really make this season memorable. And that’s what I got to see yesterday, a whole lot of kids, who don’t normally have a lot to be happy about, spend their afternoon first eating and then smiling and then laughing with joy. It was a lot of fun and I thought I’d share some moments with you.
Kelley’s Sports Bar and Grille, on calle 10, isn’t normally a place for the kiddies to hang out, but yesterday was certainly an exception. A friend of mine had suggested we go down and watch folks hand out gifts to the underprivileged and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day. I was told that this is the eighth year that these folks have done this. As far as how it works, well, I only have a bit of information, but let me share what I do know. It seems that names of island families that are impoverished are gathered from a variety of sources. Then the children of those families are asked what they’d like for Christmas. They get to pick one thing and then that list is given to the supporters of this cause, often patrons of Kelley’s, and the gifts are purchased. Somewhere along the line it was suggested to keep the cost down to around 250 pesos, but I don’t think anyone listened to that suggestion. Oh, and the host of this gig, Gene Kelley himself, can be seen in the pic on the right. Kudos to you, Gene, for giving the kids, and their families, a nice meal and a day they won’t soon forget.
Santa was there, of course, as was his Cozumel side-kick, Candy Cane Corki. Both are expats on the island and they give their all every Christmas by traveling around, distributing gifts and candy canes, and making children happy. Once everyone had finished eating, Santa and Corki sat in front of the Christmas tree and the list of names was called out one by one. As the child’s name was called, he, or she, would come up, sit in Santa’s lap, receive some candy and their gift, and then everyone applauded. Then the next child was called. Considering the amount of children and requested gifts, it was remarkably well organized in spite of the happy chaos that ensued.
This expat was playing with a new camera (thanks to a sweet friend who agreed to let me purchase it and still eat, think payments), so I was just about as happy as most of the kiddies. In fact, there was so much to photograph that I went through an entire 4 gig memory card in less than an hour. How do you not take a picture of every single one as they sat, happily, most of the time, on Santa’s lap and received the very present they’d asked for? The looks on their faces were priceless and I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day. And, to point out a bit of a difference in cultures, although the children were flying everywhere, their parents remained remarkably calm at all times. This was not the kind of party I’ve photographed in the past, let me assure you of that.
As I’d mentioned, one by one they came up, with their mom, or dad, waiting patiently on the sidelines. Candy Cane Corki would hand them some candy, Santa would pose for a pic for their family, and then one of the many volunteers would go and get their gifts. Oh, almost forgot to mention, they all received a new pair of shoes as well. And, yes, that was a necessary gift for these kids and was often appreciated as much as the barbie, or tricycle, or dollhouse. The children would climb back down clutching their packages and grinning ear to ear. What a way to remember the holiday. Something else I noticed, although I didn’t take pictures of that, was that many of the volunteers would tear up during the exchange. We’ve all seen how many of these families live and it is heartbreaking. To see the joy on their faces was quite emotional for all involved.
For well over an hour the kids kept getting closer and closer to the front as they waited for their name to be called. All around there were kids opening and playing with their toys, showing them to others, or patiently waiting in the group of empty chairs up front. Kids were riding tricycles, dressing barbies, trying on shoes, it was a happy chaos. And, yes, I find myself using that word “chaos” frequently as I write this, but, believe me, it fits, although in a very good way. Due to that ongoing energy I don’t think any of them had problems getting to sleep last night. They had to be exhausted, but happily so. Well fed, a day out, a prized toy. Yes, I think they all slept just fine.
A bit later I heard Gene, the host, tell a story. He’d been riding his moped around on the pathways through the jungle, one day, and he’d noticed a ramshackle house with a blanket being used as a door. Outside the house kids were playing in rags and bare feet. He’d stopped his moped and waited until the mother would come out of the house. It took a while, but when she did he spoke with her. He invited her and her family to join him for some festivities. The family has come back every year since and now each of the kids just wants to give him a hug whenever they see him. I could see the emotion in his face as well, and that story helped me see why he continues to throw this special party.
After a few hours, though, families had left, and it was time for us to go as well. My friend, Nelda, a participant since the beginning of this tradition, asked for her annual pic with Santa. I obliged, of course. After that I took a pic of Gene, his wife, Alma, and Santa. It was a great way to end the afternoon. We walked out to the parking lot, still smiling, and headed back to Corpus Christi. It was a day I won’t soon forget either and was a wonderful way to remember the spirit of giving, especially to those who really need it. After all, Christmas should be about two things, the birth of Jesus Christ, and the smiles of little children. It may not be Christmas Day just yet, but I’m certainly in the spirit. Salud!
p.s. I will be going out and about for pics of the Christmas lights at night, stay tuned to see how Cozumel does it up for the holiday season! Happy Holidays!