My Most Memorable Christmas Was The One I Spent In A Women’s Shelter As A Kid

Christmas can be an absolutely wonderful time of year for many reasons but it can also be a really expensive time of year for many of us. Now that I am an adult and have my own family to take care of (furry kids included), I am starting to realize just how much money my parents must have spent on all of the decorations, excessive food, and toys I got as a kid. I’m very grateful for all of it but, if I were honest, the best Christmas of my life was the one when we had the least amount of money.

When I was 9 years old, I had the best Christmas of my entire life — all while living at a women’s shelter with my mom and younger brother.

The year before, I spent Christmas at Disney World with my entire family: dad, mom and baby brother. Disney World is just as beautiful around the holidays as you can imagine. There were twinkly lights everywhere, Christmas trees all around even though there’s no actual snow in Florida and my favorite cartoon characters were walking around everywhere, smiling, posing for photos and signing my little signature notebook. It was a happy time and yet it wasn’t the fondest holiday memory of my childhood.

At the time, we had only been in the United States of America for eight months. My parents had immigrated our family to the U.S. and my dad had worked hard at his door-to-door salesman job in those first difficult months in America. He must have done well since we were all rewarded with the trip to Disney. But despite the wonder and splendor of the supposed happiest place on Earth, my first Christmas in America was still scary and confusing.

I didn’t have any friends, I was barely getting by in school and I noticed my parents fighting a lot around the holidays.

Despite the trip to Disney, we didn’t have a lot of money. Soon enough, just over a year after we came to the U.S., my parents separated. My mom couldn’t support us on her own, though, so we moved into a women’s shelter. I was nine years old and more frightened than ever.

“Why did my parents bring us here if we were just going to stop being a family?” I remember thinking.

Our time at the women’s shelter was very strange to me at first. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t seeing my dad come home from work every day. Instead, I had to share a small room with a couple of twin beds — all for the three of us. It was terrifying and I didn’t know anything that was going on. My mom wouldn’t talk to us about what had really happened between her and my dad. All I knew is that we didn’t have a choice and had to live there for now.

And then, Christmas came… and the women’s shelter became magical.

It might sound strange to describe the scariest time in my life as also the most magical, but that’s what happened. My family didn’t have any money to provide us with a nice Christmas that year but, somehow, the great people that worked at that Miami women’s shelter and the people that supported the shelter made it into the actual happiest place on Earth that Christmas.

Although it could have easily been the hardest Christmas of my life, it ended up being the best.

I remember walking through the halls of that women’s shelter during the month of December and seeing smiling faces and decorations everywhere. I remember how organization after organization came and donated toys to the shelter — many of which I ended up with. In fact, by the end of December, I had so many new toys that I could cover half of my bed with all of them. As a nine-year-old, it felt like the luckiest Christmas of my life.

What started out as a sad Christmas without my dad became a happy Christmas with lots of toys.

But it didn’t turn into the happiest Christmas of my life because of all the toys. Although, yes, I’ll admit that to my nine-year-old self at the time, all of the toys seemed like heaven. What I really learned that Christmas was that life can be difficult and scary but that you can also find a lot of joy in it, especially around Christmas.

There’s something about this time of year that truly does make people act a little more generously towards their fellow human beings. Sometimes that means companies opening up their hearts and donating money or toys or clothes to women and children in need. Other times it means fellow individual human beings donating their time and money to help others.

That’s why, ever since I became an adult, I’ve tried to give back to others around this time of year just as I had received many kindnesses as a kid this time of year. Throughout the years, I’ve made sure to donate to various women’s rights and Latinx organizations who are doing good for others. Some years I even took the time to volunteer, often at a women’s shelter wrapping donated gifts for little girls and boys just like I was.

But this year, with memories of my happiest Christmas fresh in my mind, I decided to donate toys to my local women’s shelter.

It seems strange and silly now to admit that my happiest Christmas of my entire childhood was spent in a women’s shelter but it’s true. The year after, my parents got back together and are still together today. In fact, they just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary and are happier than ever. Yet still, my happiest Christmas wasn’t spent in our home, gathered around the tree on Noche Buena, wildly opening presents with my little brother. Instead, my happiest Christmas came when I realized that people have an incredible capacity for caring.

The world today makes me forget about those moments sometimes. There’s so much going on these days that it’s easy to forget that but remembering hope and light in the world is what the holidays are ultimately all about. And, you know, helping a little girl get her dream Christmas present and restore her hope in fellow human beings.


Read: My Son Never Met My Abuela, But This Recipe Keeps Her Memory Alive

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