My Big Fat Puerto Rican Christmas

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It’s a bit of a challenge to celebrate your childhood holiday traditions that are meant to take place in the warmth of the Caribbean, when you are living in arctic-like conditions and are no longer anywhere near that sunny oasis (why have I not moved back yet?) Not only is the weather a factor but it is difficult to find all the delicious typical fried and fattening foods that make the holidays what they are. I have such fond memories of Christmases in Puerto Rico.  I lived there until I was nine when my parents we decided to move to the Northeast, to freeze to death.  As you might have guessed, I haven’t recovered from the move yet.

First of all, almost everyday from December 1st to January 15th in Puerto Rico, is a holiday!  Nothing is open and you can’t get anything done( I’m exaggerating just a tad.)  This leaves you no choice but to party like an animal and eat like one too. Although I enjoy  traditional Christmas carols, frankly, they tend to put me to sleep.  They are not exactly get-down type of tunes, unless there are moves to “Come all ye Shepherds” I don’t know about.  Many of the Puerto Rican aguidaldos (Christmas songs) are great party songs.  It is not possible to stay still while listening.  The beat and rhythm of the songs take over your body and ignite the, Elaine from Seinfeld in all of us. Take a listen to this medley (really do click on it before reading on, I promise you will enjoy.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=jJAPPPWIfLY

If you are not dancing around your office or kitchen right now (after listening) then you must be dead.  The music just perks me up and makes me feel like I can do anything (sometimes I vacuüm to it).  Fortunately, living in “Iceland” has not impeded my ability to continue this tradition.

This next tradition is a bit tougher to sustain.  Because the music is so festive and makes you want to drink and eat more, it’s only natural that you would want to share in the celebration with your friends and family.  So you go on a Parranda.  

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images-110

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Parranda is a gathering of a group of people with fun instruments like maracas & guiros that go from house to house singing together.  Except for, it is not soft angelic music and you don’thave hot chocolate afterwards.  You “surprise” (asaltar) a suspecting or non-suspecting friend or family member in the middle of the night by showing up at their front door, singing at the top of your lungs and begging them to let you in to give you drinks and food.  Then, you kidnap that person and take them along to the next house.

 Yea, no.  My parents tried doing a parranda one year in our quaint little New England college town but the neighbors called the police – cutting short the festivities.  We were just a group of people keeping with our traditions.  Had we been in Puerto Rico, all the neighbors would have joined us.  Sigh.

Lucky for my kids, this has never stopped me from doing a parranda indoors in the comfort of my living room.  All visitors that walk in get an instrument handed to them and are forced  encouraged to join in.  I admit that I too hated it when I was a teen but now, it’s a big part of their tradition.

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“Before” picture
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I know it looks gross but this is one tradition I really miss! Navidad is not Navidad  without charred swine to munch on.  Deliciousness and juicy fat dripping in your mouth (oh, sorry).  Seriously, you slowly “rotisserize” the pig right in your back yard (or front yard it you want to make your neighbors jealous) for hours until it is just perfect.  Then you serve it (pernil) with arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and some sweet plantain. Ay, ay, ay!

"After" picture foodspotting.com

“After” picture
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That tradition, my father managed to sneak through in the privacy of our backyard (probably in the snow and sleet) a year or two without a visit from the police.    

Other foods I miss and love are, pasteles made with a masa dough combining yuca & plantain stuffed with pork, beef or chicken and boiled in a plantain leaf.

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Pasteles
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These are hard to come by in this bone-chilling area but every once in a while my mom brings them with her from Puerto Rico when she visits for Christmas.  Deliciosos.

My kids immediately took to celebrating, Epiphany or Three Kings Day,  (the 12th day after Christmas when the Magi arrived bearing gifts for baby Jesus) on January 6th, after figuring out that they would get even MORE presents.  Since they were little, the eve of Epiphany, we take a shoe box for each child (yes, they still like to do this), we fill it with grass (if we can find any under 5 feet of snow) and carrots and leave it under their beds for the night.  While they innocently sleep, the Three Kings and their camels trek through the snow (the poor things are used to the desert or tropics and now have to endure the winters in search of children who moved away), and put small presents in the shoe boxes.  At 20 & 17, my kids still love this tradition unlike Mr. Brickhouse who reminds me that we are not Magi and don’t have extra gold and frankincense lying around the house after Christmas, to give to the children.

The truth is that I cherish these traditions and enjoy passing them down to my kids in hopes that they appreciate them and continue to celebrate them with their own families.

*You can take the girl away from her culture,  but you can’t take the culture away from the girl.

  I will leave you with the recipe to a must have beverage when celebrating a Puerto Rican Christmas or any Christmas.

Coquito

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(Similar to Egg Nog but with Bacardi Rum)
30 ounces coconut milk
14 ounces condensed milk (you can use light condensed milk if you prefer)
1 cup Bacardi rum
½ cup water
pinch of salt
½ tsp. cinnamon

Mix all ingredients in the blender. Taste and add *more rum if you like it stronger. You need to add the water because it will get thicker later in the fridge. Pour into a bottle and refrigerate well. Make ahead for richer flavor. Serve in small glassware.

Salud & Feliz Navidad! 

26 thoughts on “My Big Fat Puerto Rican Christmas

  1. Coquito!! My neighborhood in Brooklyn introduced me to the delightful treat and I have never been the same since. My New England family always makes a giant batch of traditional egg nog at the holidays, but maybe this year I’ll whip some of this up to bring a taste of the tropics with me.

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  2. Woooooo!!! Great music!!! So festive!!! It definitely makes me want to dance.
    Oh, Maria. Thanks for sharing this celebration. I’m sure you miss it. Love the pictures.
    We had a pig roast for a friend’s graduation one year. So much fun. But we were eating that pig for months afterward. The pig even had a name: Suzette. I refused to call the pig that, since I don’t like to name my food. The same friends wanted to roast a pig for me when I finished grad school. But I vetoed the suggestion, though I love me some roast pork.

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  3. I think your traditions for the holidays sound wonderful. BUTTTT I cannot get on board with a warm Christmas!!! It must be my growing up in the US, but Christmas for me MUST be cold!

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  4. LOTS of fun & great stuff here Maria! Thanks for sharing. I definately prefer the ‘after’ pic of the parranda to the ‘before’! Lets eat! I have to imagine there is a lot of creativity that goes into replicating a Christmas from Puerto Rico in New England. If any one can do it it is you! What time is dinner then? I’ll bring the Coquito!

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  5. I did write a novel didn’t I? I had so much to cover. There are markets nearby and sometimes you can find people who make the dishes on order. I have had several dishes made but they have not been very good. It takes a real goooood cook to do some of these. I love it when my mom is around because she is good at it, we just don’t always find the ingredients. I will attempt to make some of these this year, we will see how it turns out. The coquito is easy as pie! 🙂

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  6. Uh…I’m dancing in my kitchen with my laptop and wanting to make this little concoction. Mmmmm!!
    My mom’s family is Mexican…lots of food traditions around the holidays!! I love it!!

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      1. LOL! The Windex…too funny! I love when they start feeding the groom’s parents shots. That’s it, I’m buying the movie this weekend, now I’m dying to see it again! If you have time tomorrow, shot me an e-mail when you get the report. xo

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