The holidays are quickly approaching, and for many families it means splurging on expensive gifts. But not all families can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on their loved ones. According to city data, the average income for a family in the Bronx is $33,000. However, almost 30 percent of the Bronx population lives below the poverty line.
Zolia Prenza, 26-year-old mother of two and the matriarch of the family, does not let hard times deter the holiday spirit. “We make sure that the bills are good,” she said. “But we also try to make sure that kids have a good holiday. We want them to understand that it’s not just about the presents.”
Prenza added, “When I first came here I lived with four cousins, my brother and mother in the apartment in Patterson, N.J.” After leaving the Dominican Republic at the age of 4 she spent 10 years of her life in humble conditions. Even though times were hard, the holidays always have been family time for Prenza. “When you are having a good time you don’t care about gifts,” she said.
For the Prenza family, Christmas is celebrated Dec. 24, and it is a day of family, good food and fun. “Everyone comes over and brings a plate or dishes we only eat during the holidays,” Preza explained. The menu includes pasteles en oja (a savory dish wrapped in a banana leaf), coquito (Spanish egg nog), morro de guandules, flan, stewed chicken, pernil (pork shoulder) and potato salad.
Even 10-year-old Marie takes after her mom. Although most kids would love to receive a cellphone as a gift, Marie was neutral. A very active kid, she prefers dancing, gymnastics and spending time with her family. “My daughter understood from a young age that we can’t always buy gifts and she’s more focused on things such as her school activities,” Prenza said.
Evan, 11 months old, is content with any gift he gets. “He opens all his presents,” said Prenza. “He does not care as long it makes noise. He’s happy.”
Roy, the 35-year-old patriarch, would rather spoil his kids, even if that means cutting down on expenses or paying a bill late. “While I am more strict about certain things, my husband says, ‘No, I am spoiling my kids for Christmas,’” Prenza said.
For Christmas, she says she wants what most moms would want: Evan to take his first steps. “I want him to be fully walking,” she said.