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Some N.H. families prepare to celebrate Nochebuena after selecting gifts from Salvation Army toy drive

Even though she's working, one N.H. mom will continue the tradition that connects Latinos with their families and with their countries.

Kenia Calderon usually celebrates Christmas by video calling with her family in Honduras while watching her half-asleep children open their gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve, as is the tradition in many other Latino homes.

“My parents did it in Honduras, and I do it with my kids here too,” Calderon said.

Calderon says her kids always anticipate the moment when they finally see what is inside their gift-wrapped presents. But in case they fall asleep before midnight, they make their mom promise she’ll wake them up. Sometimes she has to.

Calderon came to the U.S five years ago, but she still has a strong connection to her home country. On Nochebuena, she prepares tamales and sweet bread and invites some friends over. She doesn’t have any family in New Hampshire.

But this Christmas Eve is going to be different because she has to work. She said it's not possible to stay home and celebrate because the restaurant she works at said they need the personnel.

And she said her family’s finances haven’t been particularly strong this year, which is why she went to the Salvation Army toy shop this Sunday to receive free gifts.

Scott McNeil, a Salvation Army spokesman, said 1,100 families in Manchester joined Calderon in choosing gifts. Fernando Martinez, bilingual liaison of the Manchester School district, said at least 300 of those families were Latino.

While a Salvation Army volunteer guided Calderon through the shop, she said it’s a luxury for her to buy a toy right now.

“I have seen a price rise in everything, from food to clothes,” she said.

Calderon picked cars and dolls for the little ones and grabbed some cologne for her teenage son. She said her kids aren’t asking for much, and the excitement of a surprise is enough for them.

Before leaving with a big bag of toys, Calderon said even if she is working on Christmas Eve, her children will be (impatiently) waiting when she finally gets home. The love of her family is what keeps her going.

Calderon will continue with the tradition that connects Latinos deeply with their families and with their countries: opening gifts, half asleep, at midnight.