Christmas memories for a newly arrived refugee family

Blog by LSSNCA volunteers, Harley and Angela

Friends and family gather together on December 24, listening to music and eating tamales as they open gifts and enjoy the time spent together before heading to a local church that emanates a sense of community and welcoming. This is life for Karla in Guatemala City and it’s a time she cherishes very much. 

Things are a bit different this year, as her and her two children arrived in the United States as refugees on September 5. Everything is new and uncertain, so we took the time to ask Karla what Christmas means to her in this new environment.

tamales rojos

It’s clear that tamales are a must – but not just any tamales, they have to be Guatemalan tamales. They are big, about the size of a hand, and while there are many types of Guatemalan tamales, Karla makes ‘tamales rojos’ or red tamales. It’s a tradition that involves the entire family as they make the masa (corn dough), fry the recado (seasoning paste), make the salsa, and cook the meat. To Karla, nothing compares.

Used to a large gathering around this time, the prospect of Christmas in a new country was one that made Karla feel lonely. Her and her daughters would make the most of a small Christmas, thankful for each other and the time spent together, but it wouldn’t be like it was back home. 

Karla sent us a photo of their family Christmas tree this year!

While she’s uncertain of the new traditions she might adopt in the US, it’s clear that family plays a large part in making the holidays special. Christmas means community, and lots of love – a meaning that has not changed despite new surroundings and a deep shift in the day to day lives of Karla and her children. 

However, in November, Karla’s sister and mother arrived in the United States. With this new development, she feels more comfortable and excited about the holidays. While she won’t spend this Christmas and New Year in Guatemala City, Karla will spend this time with those she cares about, ringing in the new year with tamales rojos and giving thought to what life may hold moving forward.  

Through our Amazon Wish Lists, you can support newly arrived refugee and immigrant families by purchasing the items essential for filling their new homes. You can order on Amazon Smile and have items delivered directly to our Maryland and Virginia offices. 

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