What are your earliest memories of Christmas? Is it Santa, a room full of presents or family gatherings? Children in Catholic Charities unaccompanied minor program (UMP) recently got their first taste of Christmas.
These children entered the country without a parent, some as refugees from war-torn countries. They are placed with a foster care family as they learn a new language and customs, while going to school.
Santa Claus doesn’t come to Guatemala
Two of the children in this program are 8- and 9-year-old brothers from Guatemala. The boys come from extreme deprivation and have never celebrated Christmas.
When UMP teacher Nancy Dang asked them about their favorite Christmas carol, they told her they had never sung Christmas songs. Additionally, they never decorated a Christmas tree or received a Christmas present. They also confessed to never hearing of Santa Claus.
One of the children from Guatemala said, “Teacher, Santa Claus doesn’t come to Guatemala.”
To help the children celebrate the season, Dang taught five of the children Christmas carols to form a little choir. The children visited and sang at the Hunger Mercy Living Center, the Refuge Café, Free Arts Arizona and the YMCA.
They sang “Silent Night,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Burrito Habanero” in Spanish, and then finished with “Feliz Navidad” in English and Spanish. The children met a little boy at YMCA celebrating his first birthday, so the children spontaneously sang “Happy Birthday” to him.
The children also passed out small gifts to the crowd. “They loved passing out the little gifts of soft mints in decorated packages. They love being little elves,” said Dang.
Dang says that she wants the children to know they have the ability to give back to others, because it affirms their dignity as human beings. So no matter how poor, or if they are new to a country, they always know they have value and gifts they can share with others.
You can see more of the creative expressions of the UMP children in Phoenix. In celebration of the program’s 30th anniversary, the UMP children created a mural that hangs at the Refuge Café. The mural depicts their idea of a safe place, whether that was in their home country or with their foster families.