Standing in front of a brilliantly lighted 12-foot pine tree at her son’s home in Bowie, Gladys Boluda was all smiles, singing and dancing in step with her grandchildren to ’N Sync’s “Merry Christmas Happy Holidays.”
With three days left before Christmas, the Boludas were putting the finishing touches on their annual Christmas video, a tradition that began with a family concert about a decade ago and has become a holiday essential, along with black beans and rice, yucca and other traditional Cuban fare.
Instead of just gathering and exchanging gifts when they meet again on Christmas morning, the 10 Boluda grandchildren will present the video to their parents and grandmother and savor the joy of being together.
“We have always been a close-knit family, and Christmas is really an extension of what we do throughout the year,” said Jose, 56, the eldest of Gladys Boluda’s four children, who hosted the gathering. “Our children see the importance of family, and that has been passed on from generation to generation.”
This year, the family’s homemade production was bittersweet.
Last Christmas, 80-year-old Miguel Boluda made a cameo, singing and dancing with his grandchildren in the video. But in May, he received a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer. He died July 1.
It was Miguel Boluda’s sacrifice in 1962 that helped his family make it to the United States. Forced to stay behind in Cuba and serve in the military, he put his wife, Gladys, and three young children on the last refugee flight after Fidel Castro’s forces overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Two years later, he rejoined his family. They purchased a home in Bowie, had another child and began a new life.
“My husband and I realized that our children would not have freedom in a communist country,” said Gladys, who lives less than 15 minutes from her four children — three of whom also live in Bowie.
When she and her husband moved to this country, they had nothing, she said. Her husband got a job refinishing furniture for Sears, Roebuck and Co., where he worked for more than 25 years. In 1968, Miguel became a U.S. citizen, and the next year Gladys and three other children became citizens.
“This is really the American dream,” said Jose, a retired Air Force colonel. “We worked hard. We went to Catholic schools, universities and got good jobs.”
His brother, Miguel, is chief executive of a federal credit union, and their sister, Gladys, is an assistant chief of protocol for the State Department. Another sister, Delia, is an associate chief for procurement at NASA headquarters.
“One of the reasons I serve in the U.S. government is because of the strong work ethic my father instilled in all of us,” said daughter Gladys. “My dad got so much joy knowing that I could give back to a country that took us in.”
Delia Robey, the only child of Gladys and Miguel born in the United States, said she and her siblings were motivated to excel by “watching how our parents sacrificed for us.”
Even though many of the Boluda grandchildren are scattered from California to Virginia in universities and professional schools, they started arriving in Bowie on Sunday to begin making the video. Jessica Boluda, a law student at the University of Virginia, drove straight to her grandmother’s house after traveling from Charlottesville.
The grandchildren — from Jessica, 24, the oldest, to Alexandra Curry, 11, the youngest — spent a couple of days shooting their upbeat dance video at spots throughout Bowie.
They danced on the tables at Allen Pond Park, lip-synced in front of the Belair Stable, and marched and danced single file across a major thoroughfare. No venue was off-limits. And this year, their matriarch made a cameo.
“What makes Christmas special is how we have been able to incorporate our grandparents into the video,” said Miguel Boluda, 19, an international relations major at Stanford University.
The family tradition began a decade ago with a musical program that involved all of the family singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. They began making the video five years ago. The entire clan shares the same passion and commitment to family, family members said.
The other grandchildren include Amy Boluda, 22; Christine Boluda, 22; Sarah Boluda, 20; Alaina Robey, 19; Megan Robey, 17; Emily Boluda, 16; and Andrew Robey, 13.
“The video is a gift to our parents and grandparents,” Jessica said. “They had to leave a lot of things behind to come here. But what they brought were values and the love of family, and that is what we celebrate during Christmas.”