People yearn to connect across borders amid pandemic holiday

A young boy, part of several asylum seeking families participating in a Las Posadas event at the U.S.-Mexico border wall, peers into the U.S. from Agua Prieta, Mexico Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, seen from Douglas, Ariz. People on each side of the border celebrate Las Posadas as they have done for decades, a centuries-old tradition practiced in Mexico re-enacts Mary and Joseph's search for refuge in Bethlehem through songs, with several of the families attending stuck south of the border, their lives in limbo with U.S. proceedings suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Newlyweds Drew MacPherson, a U.S. citizen from Bellingham, Wash., left, and Faith Dancey, a Canadian from White Rock, B.C., stroll through an otherwise deserted portion of the Peace Arch Historical State Park in the U.S. where it abuts Canada, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The couple married earlier there after Dancey walked across the border nearby where Canadians have routinely been crossing the ditch to meet with sweethearts, friends and family in the U.S. She planned to return to Canada by day's end, while he would stay in the United States. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

To slow the spread of COVID-19, the United States, Canada and Mexico agreed in March to close their shared borders to nonessential travel.

Nine months later, it’s Christmas. Families across the world are disconnected, but perhaps none more than those trapped on opposite sides of an international border. Some legally can’t cross, and others can’t afford to endure quarantines if they do.

Yet, the holiday spirit survives. Along both borders, AP photographers found families connecting in smaller, more intimate ways, overcoming unusual obstacles for shared celebrations.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, most years bring festive Las Posadas celebrations; the centuries-old tradition practiced in Mexico reenacts through song Mary and Joseph’s search for refuge in Bethlehem.

Not this year. In addition to virus-related restrictions, people face another barrier: President Donald Trump’s border wall that stretches hundreds of miles and is still under construction.

A little girl in Arizona recently stuck her arm through giant steel slats of the border wall, wrangling a baby doll as she looked to the sky. A little boy reached through the wall for a hug, looking tired and serious.

Contrast that with the scenes 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometres) away on the U.S.-Canada border.

A short strip of yellow police tape is the only thing dividing Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec.

On a recent day, the mood outside the majestic, Victorian-style library where people from both countries come to congregate was festive and lighthearted.

A family unfolded chairs in the snow, bundled in winter coats on both sides of the border. They cheerfully exchanged Christmas cards across the police tape, chatting amiably as if there were no barrier.

A Canadian border policeman came by but only to make someone move their car.

The motivations for meeting this way vary: Dr. Tamsin Durand, a physician at a Vermont hospital, visited with her Canadian parents across the yellow tape, unwilling to enter Canada because it would trigger a two-week quarantine. So she, her husband and 3-year-old son, come to visit.

Travel 2,800 miles (4,506 kilometres) west, to Peace Arch Historical State Park in Blaine, Washington, where Canadians walked from a street parallel to the border across a rain-soaked ditch separating the two countries, many carrying tents, sleeping bags, food and other belongings for a visit with Americans.

To enter the U.S., they navigated a short but slippery downhill. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers checked identification documents of Canadians as they returned. A sign that read “Leaving United States Border” reminded them of the international divide.

Couples romanced in the park; children played. Faith Dancey of White Rock, British Columbia, was all smiles with her bridal gown blowing in the wind as she walked across neatly groomed grass with her new husband. Drew MacPherson of Bellingham, Washington, gave her a joyful piggyback ride before her return to Canada. He stayed in the United States.

It’s not so simple at the Mexico border. In Calexico, California, a planned cross-border celebration happened only in the U.S. because a construction site blocked access to participants in Mexicali, Mexico, a sprawling industrial city of 1 million people.

About a dozen mask-wearing people waited in Calexico to celebrate with Mexicans on Dec. 12, the day of Mexico’s patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Americans gathered on the other side, too far to see or speak to their loved ones, and rallied for open borders.

They left behind flowers and candles. They touched the wall before departing.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusHolidays

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan Bay tennis player Grace Haugen takes part in an exhibition at the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club in 2019, which also included Canadian legends Frank Dancevic and Daniel Nestor. Haugen has committed to further her career at the University of Montana starting next fall. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Bay tennis player prepares for next step in her journey

Grace Haugen commits to University of Montana

Police and fire crews at work at a fire scene at Mount Prevost School (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Classes cancelled for Mount Prevost students today

Second school fire in five days for North Cowichan schools

New well in Youbou expected to meet community;s drinking water needs for years. (File photo)
New well provides fresh water in Youbou

Well expected to meet community’s needs for years

Smaller egg farmers find themselves in a David and Goliath situation when it comes to major producers and chain-grocery store shelf space. (Citizen file)
Name on the egg carton not what it seems, cautions Cowichan producer

“Island” eggs may come from Manitoba, Woike says

The Kerry Park Islanders and Peninsula Panthers battle during a Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League game in November 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League hasn’t given up on season

Games can’t resume until at least February, but league brass still hopeful

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
Police seek public’s help after ‘tire slashing spree’ in central Nanaimo

Ten reports of slashed tires in the last three days, say Nanaimo RCMP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Most Read