Some say Puerto Rico has the longest Christmas in the World. For us, Christmas starts after Thanksgiving, continues through Christmas Day, and extends beyond Three Kings Day, on January 6, with the “octavitas” – an eight-day street party that concludes in the “Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian” in Old San Juan in mid-January. That has always been the tradition in my country.
But this year everything is different. In September, hurricanes Irma and Maria both battered Puerto Rico, killing a lot of people and destroying much of the island. Still today, there’s a lot of places still don’t have power or water. But we don’t lose the Christmas spirit!
On a night like tonight we do Nochebuena which is a special dinner party done on Christmas Eve. We love chicken and pork so that always is going to be part of the main dish, baked or roasted, accompanied by “arroz con gandules”, “pasteles”, “guineitos en escabeche” y “ensalada de papa”…. yummy! The more festive Puerto Rican food is the lechón asado, or barbecued pig, which is usually cooked for a party of 12 or 15. It is traditional for picnics and parties.
Some of the food appetizers generally includes with sizzling-hot appetizers such as bacalaitos, crunchy cod fritters; surullitos, sweet plump cornmeal fingers; and empanadillas, crescent-shaped turnovers filled with lobster, crab, conch, or beef. What about drinks? The delicious coquito and the pitorro to keep your vocal chords warm for the “Aguinaldos”.
Ahhh don’t forget about desserts, we do “arroz con dulce” (rice cooked with spices, sugar, milk, and coconut milk) and “tembleque” (a custard made with cornstarch, sugar, and coconut milk). They taste better cool down or cold, when its consistency becomes more solid. Our Christmas is different as we have a special “pava” (traditional straw-hat) to be worn just for Christmas. We do our own version of Christmas caroling which its called “parrandas” -that is a group of folks gathers to surprise another folk and we bring our musical instruments like either guitarras, tamboriles, güiro, maracas, or palitos in which they will play the traditional “Aguinaldos”.
Even though Mother Nature hit us hard on this year, we are a strong race and WE WILL STAND UP STRONGER AGAIN!