MONTECITO, Calif. - A popular holiday tradition is back this weekend for the first time in more than a year. It is the 17th Annual Westmont Christmas Festival happening December 3 and 4 at the Granada Theatre.
Two of the musicians are international stand-outs; Roxana and Rosario Montané from Havana, Cuba.
"It was really a journey. It took like two years to get here," said Rosario Montané. "It's worth it though!"
Rosario and her older sister, Roxana, credit their deep faith and their professors back in Cuba for empowering them to forge ahead and branch out with their academic and musical studies.
Red tape, visa delays, and a lack of flights were big challenges both in getting out of Cuba and making the journey to California.
"There was always a signal when we were in a low place and there was always a signal that said to us, 'No, you've got to keep going cuz this is going to happen,'" said Roxana.
Roxana, who is 22-years-old, and Rosario, who is 20-years-old, each started playing the violin at the age of eight. They asked their mother to send childhood pictures from home so they could share their story, locally.
"In that moment (as a child) we couldn't imagine we were going to be here in 10 years," said Roxana.
Heart strings tug at them each and every day.
"The hard part was leaving our family," said Roxana. "It was a really sad moment but we are sure we are going to see them again."
"I had a moment of realization that my life was about to change, drastically," said Rosario.
Indeed, life has changed drastically for these talented violinists, but their family bond remains strong.
"My mom calls us everyday like, every hour," said Rosario.
"Yeah," said Roxana, with a smile.
The first-year students are thrilled to be at Westmont College and grateful to the Christian community that's helped open doors and homes along the way. The Montane sisters also deeply appreciate things many of us take for granted here in the U.S., including the ability to choose what to eat for dinner each night. And, freedom of speech.
"Like in the classes when you can say exactly what you think," said Rosario. "It's really a weird comment, I know, but it really feels ..."
"You feel free to say whatever you're thinking doesn't matter," said Roxana, interjecting. "History, politics, you can just say what you think. That's weird for us because we couldn't do that in Cuba."
And that, too, is music to our ears.