It’s been nearly a year of living our “new normal” under the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then the CNMI has gone through different colors of safety levels, a curfew is still in place, and there is still restrictions on gatherings and trips to public places. While we are still under a public emergency this Christmas, families willingly adjust and alter celebrations and long-time traditions to comply with safety rules. Some use this time to appreciate how far we have gone.
For Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Ind-MP), he and his family have two important Christmas events. “The family share a meal and the home visitation of Baby Jesus. …It’s been so since I was a child. Our immediate family has grown to almost 100 individuals so one can imagine the size of our family gatherings, whether it is held at my parent’s home or at a hotel dining facility. But this is not unique to our family. This is how Christmas Day is celebrated by families throughout the Marianas,” he said. “The pandemic has made it impossible for our family to gather as we customarily do on Christmas. It is necessary to avoid large gatherings so as to remain as safe as possible from contracting or spreading the virus. …So my own family will visit my Mom on Christmas Day, just as my siblings will. …Since the adoration of Baby Jesus is not possible this year, including the visits to homes throughout the Marianas, we will instead individually visit and venerate before our family’s Niño Jesus at my Mom’s home. …We will certainly miss the caroling of the Bodig Family this year.”
Since the COVID-19 vaccines arrived on Saipan last week and with more expected to arrive in early 2021, Sablan said this will give people of the CNMI the opportunity to be vaccinated. “…Only then can we fully open our islands to tourists, allow our businesses to fully open and bring their employees back to work. We will have greater hope to open schools, with fewer worries of contracting the virus. We also still have a long way to recover from the wrath of [Super] Typhoon Yutu,” he said. “I wish everyone who calls the Marianas home a merry Christmas filled with joy, with family and loved ones and with the prospect of good health for 2021.”
Sen. Paul Manglona (D-Rota) said that Christmas time is about enjoying family time, singing songs, eating boneless dagu, and attending novenas. “Unfortunately, this tradition is practically missing or significantly reduced during this holiday season. The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force, and our people have done an incredible job of keeping COVID-19 at bay. In spite of this, the pandemic has severely affected our lives economically and socially,” Manglona said. “My hope for the incoming year is for all our leaders to work collaboratively in dealing with the monumental economic challenges that we are facing today. We must keep in mind our people and the power and duty they have entrusted us with. We must make decisions that are right, honest, and fair, even when it is tough, to set the course for a stronger island community and rebuild our economy back better and stronger than ever.”
TanHoldings lawyer Steve Pixley and his family typically purchase a “live” Christmas tree. “However, this year there were very few live trees shipped to Saipan and I was unable to purchase one. We do have an artificial tree. We are blessed that our entire family will be together next week.”
According to Sen. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota), Christmas with her family will be celebrated with simplicity yet full of meaning and remembrance. “…This pandemic will affect the way we celebrate Christmas, considering the drop in the world’s economy, plus all the health protocols to be observed, called the new normal. Thus, it will be celebrated just within the family and it will not be as extravagant as it used to but according to what we have,” she said. “As we look forward to the coming new year 2021, may we carry with us life’s lessons brought by this pandemic. As most people would say, ‘Experience is the best teacher.’ So as lessons are learned and lived by, we will be assured of a better, more resilient individuals and communities.”
For Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios and her family, they are adjusting their Christmas traditions to continue to be safe. “Every year on Christmas Eve, our entire family would attend the Christmas Eve Mass, then we gather for dinner at our house or a family member’s home. …Gifts are exchanged, especially for the young children, and on Christmas Day, we attend Mass and come home and wait in anticipation for the traditional Niño (Baby Jesus) being brought to visit our homes,” she said. “With this pandemic, we will be adjusting to the new normal and following the guidelines recommended by the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force. We will have just a small gathering after Mass and there will be no Niño (Baby Jesus) going to the homes. The Catholic Church has provided alternatives for the families. This would be the first year as far as I can remember that the Baby Jesus will not be brought into homes. We all understand this is for everyone’s health and safety.”
Palacios said that 2020 has been a real challenge for all, including making adjustments to things that we take for granted. “We are unable to visit families as frequently as we want to via traveling or driving to their homes, to ensure that both our health and safety are not compromised. It has made us even closer as families as we communicate more via phone and social media to help each other cope with not being able to do ‘normal’ things. We try to support each other across the miles, especially during those times of lockdown.”
“For 2021, it is my hope the community and families will continue to be strong and support and help each other. We have done a great job as a community following the COVID-19 Task Force recommendations. With the COVID-19 vaccine now available, there is hope. We can try to have some normalcy without living in so much fear. Overall, it is my hope we can start seeing an uptick in our economy as we all foresee 2021 to be a tough year. I would like to see continued public/private partnerships to work on diversifying our economy while we work on our tourism industry. This, in turn, will allow us to help create more jobs for our people,” she added.
Triple J chair and CEO Robert H. Jones said the Jones family usually goes to Japan or Utah in the mainland for their favorite family pastime: skiing and other winter sports. “All stayed together in a single cabin large enough to house all 20 family members and enjoy the snow, the cold, and one another, cooking family favorites and baking desserts,” he said. “This year we will have individual family celebrations because the focus is on safety and survival, like the rest of the world. I look forward to more opportunities into 2021 and beyond as the world learns how to adjust and overcome COVID-19. …2021 also entails focus on business development in the CNMI, Guam and Micronesia where the family has roots.”
In the household of Carla T. Hocog, public information officer of the CNMI Office of the Attorney General, the Christmas season is centered on the arrival and welcoming of the Niño into their home. “We’re also big on family get-togethers and more so during the holidays where we spend it with extended family. Although the visitation of the Niño into our homes will not happen this year, my family will continue with our annual tradition by praying the nobenan Niño Jesus [novena],” she said. “This Catholic ritual will always be important to carry on despite these challenging times. I’m grateful we are able to keep it going in the safety of our own homes. I’m hopeful for a better and brighter new year!”
Rep. Ivan Banco (R-Saipan) said their family tradition is felt by family here and those off-island. “It starts with attending Christmas Mass and then coming together for a home-cooked meal. We call family who are off-island and wish them a merry Christmas and good health. The fun begins when the kids share their Secret Santa gifts from the money they save throughout the year. …After that, the adults move into the hilarious gag gift portion where each one secretly gives and publicly gets a prank gift. This draws an explosion of laughter from everyone.”
“In a way, this pandemic has prevented several family members from visiting, either due to the lockdowns in Palau and FSM or the required quarantine days to and from Guam. While we understand it is for the safety of everyone, we continue to thank all our first responders and the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force for their due diligence and commitment to keep our islands safe. I share everyone’s hope that the vaccine will be made available to everyone…All in all, it is my hope that we can get back to a sense of renewed normalcy and restart our economy,” he added.
For TanHoldings Corporate Business Development vice president Alex Sablan and his family, their holiday tradition starts with a fresh Christmas tree that gets set up and decorated by everyone in their home. “There are multiple celebrations with our immediate families, extended families, and friends. Our celebrations include homemade seasonal treats, traditional gift exchanges for the kids, and a fun white elephant gift exchange for the adults. On Christmas Day and the subsequent days, we welcome the Niño into our home—a tradition has been a part of our families since before we were born,” he said. “The pandemic has changed pretty much every aspect of our daily lives, including celebrations. We want to ensure the health and safety of all of our loved ones, especially for those with underlying health conditions. Some of our annual celebrations and traditions have been cancelled but we understand why they should be. This year we will have our own family Niño so we can continue this tradition which is very special to us.”