Mission’s Merry Christmas

The city of Mission and local entrepreneurs have gathered all their resources to ensure the Christmas holiday season is still celebrated safely.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, traditional holiday events have had to make some adjustments. In the last week, the city of Mission has been host to events held with social distancing in mind.

Mission leaders stand outside the Christmas Lane drive-thru display at Leo Peña Placita Park last weekend. Photo courtesy of the city of Mission.

Holiday Lights and Delights
Santa (along with all his helpers) wore a mask for this year’s Tree Lighting Ceremony in Mission.

Usually, the city of Mission’s Tree Lighting Ceremony is an event that draws hundreds to Leo Peña Placita Park for good food, live music and performances, pictures with Santa and sparkling holiday light displays. Due to public restrictions, and a need to keep citizens safe, the event was held virtually this year and streamed online on Dec. 11, 2020.

Deputy City Manager Aida Lerma kicked off the event, and introduced Father Roy Snipes of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for an opening prayer. Father Roy, whose dog wore a Santa suit, said that it was a beautiful night, even though many residents are going through difficult situations.

“The light of the Spirit is even brighter when we’re going through these hard times,” Snipes said. “This terrible pandemic reminds us that life is short and sweet and beautiful, and we have not much time to gladden the hearts of those we share the journey with. Especially at Christmas, we make haste to be kind, and we’re quick to love.”

Mission Mayor Dr. Armando O’caña officially welcomed Santa Claus to the city, as well as the citizens and city employees watching live.

“This has been a very unique year,” O’caña said. “One of the things we’ve had is challenges – not just in the field of city business, but also in public health.”

O’caña said 154 Mission residents have lost their lives this year to COVID-19. The night was dedicated to them, and Lerma prayed the lights reach up to them in Heaven.

“Despite all the challenges, despite COVID-19 and despite all the personal things that have challenged us in life, the baby Jesus Christ will be here on Dec. 25 at midnight,” O’caña said. “We want to open our arms and welcome that with the spirit of having a prosperous 2021.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Jessica Ortega-Ochoa thanked Mission city employees for surpassing expectations with decorating the park.

“As I walked here today, I was so excited because we have a beautiful tree that we’re going to light up,” Ortega-Ochoa said. “A big thank you to our city employees who spent countless hours putting this together. Your work does not go unnoticed.”

Ortega-Ochoa encouraged people to also think of the good things 2020 brought.

“I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time with my children and my family,” Ortega-Ochoa said. “In a positive sense, we have learned to adjust on what is important in our lives and what we can do without. Spending time with our family should always be our number one priority.”

She also asked for those who are more fortunate to think of those struggling this holiday season.

“My only wish is for everyone here to remember those who have maybe lost their jobs, don’t have food to put on their table or money to pay the bills,” Ortega-Ochoa said. “Instead of buying that expensive gift for that someone, think about maybe donating to our Mission Food Pantry, adopting a family – think of someone else that you might want to make happy.”

Mission City Manager Randy Perez also thanked the staff for their continued work through the pandemic, calling them a family.

“We have had a challenging year, as everyone else, and we’ve lost some members of our family,” Perez said. “We pray for each and everyone who has lost a loved one to this pandemic.”

Perez invited everyone to view the “Christmas Corner” decorations at the park.

“I wish everyone to have peace and love and joy in their home this holiday season,” Perez said. “This year is not to get everything you want, but to appreciate everything that you have.”

Mission Parks and Recreation Director Brad Bensten, who led the charge of decorating the park, said he could not take credit for the display at Leo Peña Placita Park.

“The credit belongs to our parks staff – I know they put up with a lot from me when I get nervous,” Bentsen said. “None of this would be possible without the support of the staff and our city managers. We really don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring this Christmas season, however we at Mission Parks and Recreation feel most fortunate to keep the spirit going this year, and to be able to present this small but humble gift for our citizens to enjoy.”

In addition to the Tree Lighting Ceremony, last weekend the park featured a Christmas Lane. Residents from across the Rio Grande Valley could drive through a tunnel of multi-colored lights, inflatable decorations and wire displays.

This year, from the safety of their vehicles, families celebrated the season in a more quiet fashion.

Blanket Drive
In only two weeks, Dr. Esmeralda Adame and Pilar Gonzalez (owner of DipIt by Pilar) gathered everything necessary for a major drive-thru event designed to give back to the community. A blanket and food drive was held at the Mission Event Center, run by Spread the Warmth RGV.

Over 1,000 blankets and 500 bundles of food were distributed to anyone willing to line up outside the event center. Adame said they surpassed their goal because members of the community and local entrepreneurs were willing to work together in the spirit of the season.

“Right now, especially due to the pandemic, we realize that we don’t really need much to be happy, we just need to be healthy,” Adame said. “This Spread the Warmth RGV is something we can show to the community – that there’s people out there who care and are willing to give back.”

Mission Mayor Armando O’caña and Mayor Pro-Tem Jessica Ortega-Ochoa also helped out with the event, leading cars into the drive-thru lane. O’caña was also glad residents had the opportunity to see the Mission Event Center, even from the outside.

“Two-thirds of our citizens are hurting – there’s one-third of us [who are okay], but others are hurting,” O’caña said. “This year, it’s unbelievable to see everyone. We thank them [Spread the Warmth RGV] for organizing this. It’s something from the heart.”

Adame hopes that next year, they are able to double what they distributed this holiday season and give out 2,000 blankets. Fatima Garcia, the Operations Manager of the Mission Event Center, was glad to see so many people organizing this holiday season.

“You realize that everyone is willing to give and help, regardless of the time and circumstances,” Garcia said. “There was no hesitation, everyone was here for it.”

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