Josie Navarro's family: Daughter Josephine, 18, Josie, Isabel and Juaniño.
As Christmas lights light up the streets and wreaths decorate front doors at the Ramona Gardens Housing Development on Lancaster Avenue, some residents are feeling nostalgic and missing long gone neighborhood holiday traditions.
Still fresh in the mind of Ruby Parra, 22, is the gaiety of Las Posadas ”“ a recreation of Mary and Joseph’s search to find shelter to give birth to baby Jesus- and how each year during Christmas it would bring together the Mexican-American community.
With many families struggling because of the tough economy, and past residents moving out of the housing development while new ones move in, community celebrations have changed.
“I remember when we would walk around the neighborhood during Christmas time and we would sing in front of the Virgencita and the Nativity and the great parties we would have,” says Parra of the popular nine-day celebration.
“They don’t make those parties anymore,” she adds. “They still do Posadas, but not like it was before, now it’s almost only a walk and they still sing but not the same as before.”
For Parra, who was born and raised in Ramona Gardens, the residents were much closer when she was a small child.
“Back then a lot of people gathered, many residents took the time and shared with others, they all helped each other,” she says.
“But now it looks like people don’t want to celebrate, they don’t want to help. We are not like before when we were a community. People now are very secluded and no longer feel the holidays.”
Parra’s fondest Christmas memory is of spending the day with her parents and siblings opening presents and sharing food and drinks with neighbors.
“One Christmas Day, when my parents were still together, we woke up one morning and had the whole tree full of gifts and we all were so very happy that day, then the neighbors came and we feasted, we threw a great party,” she remembers.
A few blocks away from Parra, Josie Navarro’s face lights up while she recreates her family’s past Christmas celebrations.
“We used to get together and we would have somebody dressed as Santa and then somebody would go outside and throw rocks on the roof because there was no chimney,” she says.
Navarro, who is 48 and has lived in Ramona Gardens since she was 2 years old, remembers how she and her siblings would sit around in the living room drinking hot chocolate and listening to music on the radio.
“And then the radio announcer would say: ‘Oh look outside, Santa is coming! Santa is in Los Angeles!’”
That announcement was usually followed by their parents giving out their presents.
“My mom used to make stockings with oranges, mixed nuts, candy canes, little gifts little toys and put them in the bags with all our names, we all looked forward to that because we all had one with our names,” she recalls.
Now that she has six children of her own, Josie tries to do the same for her family.
“But it’s hard because of the economy,” she explains. “Me and my husband go and get gifts and put them around the tree. We used to invest in dressing as Santa, but now the kids are older and they know, so we give out presents and sit around and in the morning our tradition is to go and get breakfast at McDonald’s.”
Meanwhile her parents, Isabel and Juaniño, remember how kids from richer families in other neighborhoods would pick a name of a family in Ramona Gardens and bring presents for all the kids.
When times got better and her own children became older, Isabel would give them money so they would share with other tenants too. “We would put names in a cup and we had to go buy gifts for that person,” explains Josie.
Isabel says she does not have feelings of nostalgia at Christmas time.
“I’m just happy that it happened and that they remember and try to do something for their kids,” she says.