With Christmas approaching, city leaders from across western Hidalgo County shared how they spend the holiday.
For all of them, faith, family and building new memories were the cornerstone of the holiday. Sullivan City Mayor Leonel “Leo” Garcia did not respond as of press time.
For Mayor Salvador Vela, Christmas dinner is as important as church.
“It’s the essence of church because we’re getting together with the family like we do every Sunday,” Vela explained. “All my three kids and 13 grandchildren are there and the way I see it, God is in the mix even at home. We just don’t see it.”
Traditions include having the family gathered around the Christmas tree that has been in the family for 30 years as Vela’s wife, Sylvia, dresses up as Santa Clause to deliver the presents.
“And we’re videotaping the kids reacting to the presents, capturing those moments we’ll look back on fondly,” Vela said. “It’s a season of giving that’s part of the church and sometimes, people can forget that because they’re caught up in the holiday rush. We shouldn’t forget the true meaning of it.”
For newly elected Mayor Isidro Casanova, spending time with family is the reason for the season.
“I’m a firm believer in family coming first and Christmas is the one holiday that exemplifies that.” Casanova said. “Every year we get together at my house for a BBQ, cook turkey, exchange presents, anything to spend time together. It’s a holiday that brings families together as a unit. As long as people make the time to spend the holidays together, then they’re making it special.”
Christmas means continuing a tradition that Mission Mayor Armando O’caña has been doing with his family for nearly 30 years.
“When my wife worked at JC Penny around the holidays, she’d be back home at around 4 a.m. at Christmas Eve,” O’caña explained. “To pass the time, my kids and I would clean out the freezer, thaw out all the meat and poultry we had there and cook it up on Christmas Eve and make it into tacos. We’d have so much that we began sharing it with our neighbors. Now when people see we have the BBQ pit on, they know they are welcome to grab a taco before they take off for their Christmas Eve traditions.”
This act of sharing-which O’caña and his family call “Tacos for Christ”-is one that has grown to where as many as 60 people show up to his home on north Schuerbach Road.
“It prepares us for the rest of the day where we go to mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and do regular stuff with the family,” O’caña said. “I have 9 grandchildren and I want them to continue this tradition for generations to come. It’s a nice way to teach them to be neighborly.”
Christmas this year will be different for Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro J. Rodriguez Jr. as he is going to spend the holidays here at home for the first time in years.
“My son is a doctor in Austin and we usually go up there to spend the holidays with him,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “This year, he’s coming down to us because he’s spending New Year’s in Philadelphia to meet his girlfriend’s parents.”
This holiday season, Rodriguez Jr. will celebrate Christmas at a relative’s house and enjoy a dinner of tamales and a game of loteria as relatives watch the children unwrap their presents.
“It’s a time for us to get together, enjoy the meals and make memories,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “We get to catch up on those we haven’t seen in the past. A lot of us are at that age where we don’t care about the gift, only about spending time together. Our time here together is limited so we just want more memories as a gift.”
For Palmview Mayor Ricardo “Ricky” Villarreal, Christmas means getting out the guitar and performing carols with his family.
“It’s a celebration of the greatest gift we’ve ever received and every year, I grow to understand that more and more.” Villarreal said. “It’s a time of reflection, learning from the good and bad, sharing good moments and looking forward to making the next year better.”
Villarreal and his family get together with an assortment of food that includes barbacoa, soup and pan dulce and enjoy each other’s company, he said.
“It’s a time for taking into consideration all the good things we are blessed with in our life and make good memories,” Villarreal said. “It’s all we’ll have in the end and we try to hold on to that good cheer for as long as we can.”
As a city leader, Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez believes that Christmas is a time to spread joy to everyone.
“It’s a time to celebrate Jesus and to do what God wants us to do: spend time with family, reminisce on our good time together and love each other,” Lopez said. “As city leaders, that extends to the community. We have to share that spirit of giving we dedicate to our family to our citizens as well. We owe it to our community to serve them.”
Lopez said this Wednesday during the city’s annual toy drive, which he said was an example of the city giving back to the community.
“We do this with acts such as giving time to meet with the community to hear their needs, ” Lopez said. “It’s also about setting new goals for the New Year and building on what you have. It’s a day of getting together with our loved ones and spending all day with them and build on the traditions and memories we have.”
This article originally appeared in the Friday Dec. 20, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.