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Celebrating Low-Risk Holidays with Family Through Technology

While holidays have come and gone throughout the pandemic, it’s usually Thanksgiving and, in a few weeks, Christmastime, when most families gather like at few other points in the year.

Yet as cases of coronavirus surge throughout California, some are choosing to celebrate apart, not just because of state and local health orders, but for the safety of some family members.

For a pair of extended Calexico and Holtville families, this year will be spent farther apart than ever, but still somewhat close thanks to the reach of technology.

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“I will be Zooming with my brother at a special time of the day. We will be playing virtual games,” said Calexico resident Norma Gerardo-Herrejon, who will use the Internet-based video-conferencing platform to gather members of her family virtually.

“We need to adjust,” she said. “My brother will not be able to come as everybody is taking precautions, just as my family and I have. For the first time, we will not spend it (Thanksgiving) all together.”

The holiday will involve much the same for Holtville resident Karolina Lopez, who Zoomed several of her family members on Friday, Nov. 20, to show just how many people she’s planning to loop in on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26.

A screen shot of a Zoom call between Karolina Lopez of Holtville and multiple members of her family shows how they will communicate with each other on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26, as they separate due to concerns over COVID-19. | COURTESY IMAGE

“My sister decided not to come this year. My brother’s wife is pregnant, and they are hesitant to come over. My other brother hasn’t mentioned anything, but his wife is a nurse,” Lopez said last week. “Everybody is adjusting and being cautious, and I completely understand.”

The Gerardo family of Calexico is big on the holiday traditions, Gerardo-Herrejon said. The 22-year Calexico resident said she would often host her brothers and their families and both of her parents, and they all gather at her home early in the morning.

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“We would start cooking everything from turkey to desserts,” Gerardo-Herrejon said. “The kids would help with the desserts such as cookies, cake, punch, and Jell-O.”

For this family, Christmas and New Year’s holidays are equally well-attended, maybe even more so, where all the members would come together to make tamales, even the kids would take their turns stuffing the masa-wrapped presents.

While Gerardo-Herrejon’s immediate family is in good health, she understands the need for caution. She counts the health of her family members as one of the reasons she is most grateful this holiday season.

“My immediate family is in good health. Both parents are seniors with conditions, but they are in good health. All three brothers and family are good. We all work and haven’t been affected by this (pandemic),” she said during an interview last week.

Karolina Lopez of Holtville, her husband, Peter, and their then-2-year-old son, Emmanuel pose for a Christmas portrait in 2019. Karolina said her large family, which regularly gathers at her home for the holidays, will mostly be apart this year due to COVID-19 precautions. | COURTESY PHOTO

Likewise for Holtville’s Lopez, who said her family is largely healthy as well. She, however, feels for those who have been affected economically by the pandemic and counts her blessings.

“I had some friends who were forced to stop working,” Lopez said. “Fortunately, I feel very blessed and never had to worry about the next paycheck or where my next meal was going to come from.”

Although things will be decidedly different this year, Lopez describes what was often par for the course for her large family.

“This is the time of year where we actually get to be together and enjoy each other’s company. … This is an opportunity to spend time together with family,” she added. “When we get together, it is my husband and his family and three siblings.”

Norma Gerardo-Herrejon (second from left in back row) is shown with her large family in a 2018 Christmas photo. She will Zoom with many of her family members on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, as they intend to celebrate the holiday in separate locations as a precaution due to the rise in COVID cases. | COURTESY PHOTO

While much of the Holtville version of the Lopez family will be gathering via Zoom, Karolina Lopez said she will get to spend the holidays in-person with her immediate family, which includes her husband, Peter, their 3-year-old son, Emmanuel, and her mother, Maria Flores.

“There is no added risk with my mother, as she picks up my son from day care,” Lopez said, and interacts with her family on a regular basis.

“I look forward to cooking with my mother, it’s our bonding time. One day I know she may not be with me and I want to make sure I cook it just the way she does,” Lopez added.