Photo by Annika Hom

Santa Matias recently sat her 7-year-old son down to tell him that he should not expect any toys for Christmas this year. She explained, in Spanish, that the family did not have much money, and he should ask for necessities, like clothes, rather than trying to grow his already expansive Lego collection. 

Mission Local asked Chris what he wanted for Christmas as he waited in line at the Mission Food Hub with his mother and nearly two-year-old sister. 

“I want pants and shoes,” the dutiful son said, surprising even his mother. But after a few moments, he added, “But I’d also like some Harry Potter or Pokemon Legos.” 

Chris had one more Christmas wish — to see his grandparents. Unfortunately, this was even less likely than a Lego set. 

“We had been planning to visit his grandparents in Guatemala this Christmas,” Matias said regretfully. 

That won’t happen. Matias has been out of work since March, and has had to remain at home to watch Chris and her nearly two-year-old daughter. As a result, the family is two months behind on rent. And bigger expenses are coming. 

A few months ago, Matias had been experiencing headaches and nausea. She was almost certain she had contracted Covid-19, but her test results were negative. Instead, she learned her body wasn’t hosting a virus, but a baby.

“It’s difficult to have a child during this time,” Matias said, adding that she’s unsure of how they’ll account for the added costs of a baby. 

“We’re worried, but it’s God’s will,” Matias said. “There’s nothing we can do.” 

Rosa Escobedo recently had to have the Christmas conversation with her two daughters. 

Escobedo’s husband, who works in construction, now only gets three half-days a week. 

“People just don’t want him in their home right now. They’re worried about anybody being in their home,” Escobedo said in Spanish. 

So things are tight and getting tighter, and Christmas is looking bleak this year. 

Their eldest daughter, Escobedo said, is infatuated with BTS, the immensely popular Korean pop group. 

“She wants BTS blankets, BTS everything,” Escobedo said with a laugh, admitting that she doesn’t really understand the appeal. 

“They talk to their friends and hear what they’re getting,” Escobedo said, “And they come say, ‘Well, she’s getting this and that, so why can’t I?’”

Escobedo said the girls are also missing out on the other crucial part of the holidays — extended family. 

“My brothers and their families still wanted to get together,” Escobedo said, “But they understood why we didn’t want to.” 

For Maria Vasquez and her two adult daughters, Christmas is essentially cancelled this year. They can’t gather with family, they can’t afford to give each other gifts, and they don’t even have the energy or inclination to make a holiday meal. 

“We’re just going to have dinner like any other night, nothing special at all,” said Vasquez said, who is working only half of the hours she worked before March. And, nowadays, those hours are in construction rather than teaching art and health classes. 

But Vasquez didn’t have to break the news to her daughters, because they’re all in similar situations. 

Only her oldest daughter, who is 28,  is working full time. Pre-pandemic she worked at a restaurant, she’s now at Costco. 

Nowadays, Vasquez fills her days by volunteering a day or two a week with the Latino Task Force. 

“I like that you come and they help you, and then you can help others,” Vasquez said.

For her, giving is the only part of the holidays that remains. 

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Juan Carlos Lara covers business and development in the Mission. Juan Carlos, a San Francisco State alum, is as much a photographer as he is a writer and previously worked as the campus news editor at Golden Gate Xpress, SF State’s student paper.

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  1. Except regardless of wealth few of us are traveling or seeing family in person the health risk / danger is far to great.
    As for a Holiday Feast , there is help there via the Food Bank , and baking supplies for Holiday breads , and cookies are inexpensive especially this time of year.

    As for gifts there are small things one can give , and it’s made easier if small children understand these are challenging times.