By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.
The holiday season is upon us. Consider this as a time to give thanks to our friends, and family, and to be grateful for what we have. There are numerous opportunities we can take to share with those important in our lives as well as to those that have been less fortunate and going through difficult times. At times we may forget to be grateful to those who help us through their service that include the delivery of mail, the managing of the city and county that we live, protecting our neighborhoods, cleaning our streets, and the numerous favors we receive through our social networks. At AGUILAS, my nonprofit organization located in the LGBT Center serving the Latinx LGBT community, we take the time in November through a Thanksgiving social event scheduled for Thursday evening, November 18, to recognize and to give thanks to those who have helped the agency and its participants by volunteering as well as to the staff for their dedicated work throughout the year.
In Latin America various countries start the holiday season right after November 2 which is All Souls Day or Día de los Muertos as highly recognized in Mexico. Each country has their way of starting the holiday season with preparing of gifts, obtaining of the holiday seasonal foods, and having gatherings. December 12 is the day to recognize and celebrate la Virgin de Guadalupe or la Virgen Morena (the Brown Virgin) who is now known as the blessed virgin of the Americas as declared by Pope John Paul II in 1994. Although many countries have an image of the Virgen Mary that they uniquely identify, the Roman Catholic Church has only recognized three appearances or apparitions of the Blessed Virgen. These recognized apparitions are known as Our Lady of Fátima who appeared at the Cova de Iria in Fátima, Portugal, Our Lady of Lourdes who appeared at the grotto of Massabielle just outside of Lourdes, France, and La Virgen de Guadalupe or la Virgen Morena who appeared on a hill called Tepeyac in Mexico City, Mexico.
Many towns and cities throughout Latin America have patron saints and celebrate their respective saints with Las Fiestas Patronales. These fiestas in honor of their respective patron saints can occur over a week’s time throughout the year with celebrations of fairs that include parades, rides, venders at various booths, music, and wide range of foods for people to enjoy and celebrate.
These celebrations combined with the recognition of La Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12 enhances the year-end holiday season. For many Latin American countries, the year-end holiday season starts on November 3 and continues until January 6 which is the day of the Epiphany or Día de los Reyes. This day of January 6 recognizes the visitation of the three wise men, or some refer to as the three kings to the holy family. It is on January 6 where Latinx families give various holiday gifts to their children. After January 6 these Latin American countries start preparing for the Carnival celebrations in each of their towns.
Some Ways to Give Thanks
In this season of giving thanks here are some helpful tips to engage, to be grateful, and to give thanks. An important start is to focus on oneself and treat oneself in some manner. This process of starting with oneself helps to engage with others. Some may think this is selfish or self-indulging, however starting with oneself can make you feel satisfied and more able to interact and engage with others in a meaningful way. People sense the joy within yourself as you share and partake in the season of giving thanks.
Start with Treating Yourself Well
• Spend time doing things that you enjoy doing and treat yourself well. Once a day try to have a sit-down meal using the plates and glassware you reserve for guest. This is a simple way to treat yourself and enjoy your meal.
• Do some activities that you enjoy doing such as going to the movies, theater, museums, visiting friends and other activities you enjoy doing.
• Invite persons to your home for a visit and to enjoy their company.
• Do exercising either at home or at a gym. This will help with elevating your mood and keep you healthy.
• Take out time for yourself to enjoy your life and take advantage of resources available to you.
Start Doing Things with Others
• There are numerous organizations you can volunteer and assist them in serving those in-need. You can check the internet for various organizations that welcome and are in need of volunteers during this holiday season.
• Re-engage with persons you have enjoyed their company and do things together.
• Keep in touch with your family members that you have enjoyed engaging with them.
Try New Things and Explore Other Cultural Customs
• Explore how persons of other cultures give thanks during this season.
• Re-engage with your own traditions and customs.
• If you decide to travel, consider Puerto Rico. As of September 30, 2021 Puerto Rico is among the three jurisdictions in the United States with the highest doses of vaccines administered against COVID-19. Among the U.S. states it has vaccinated the largest share of its eligible population against COVID-19 and has America’s lowest rate of new coronavirus tests (https://news.yahoo.com/why-puerto-rico-is-doing-so-much-better-against-covid-19-than-the-rest-of-the-us-090034088.html). Not only is masking and social distancing is required as well as being vaccinated or having a negative Covid test, 81.1% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 78.3% are fully vaccinated. As a territory of U.S. a visa and passport is not needed, people are friendly, the food is very flavorful, they have great music, and the activities are festive. Spanish and English are spoken throughout the Island since the school system for decades has been bilingual. They have natural reserves to visit, beaches, museums and theaters, and Old San Juan is a favorite spot to see. Upon returning from the island Puerto Rico is excluded from CDC requirement and you do not need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to return to the mainland (https://www.discoverpuertorico.com/info/travel-guidelines).