It’s December. I don’t know how we got here so quickly, but here we are. It’s time to celebrate our traditions and embrace some of the Cuban crazy that is ours alone this Christmas season. It’s not just the food that’s fantastic (and it totally is!) – it’s all the fun, idiomatic things we have that make the holidays special. I always like to say that while I love Christmas, what I love most about it is being Cuban at Christmas. I think you’ll agree.
1) Créme de Vie.
You can keep your bland, tasteless grocery store egg nog. Créme de Vie is egg nog’s fabulous, richer, more dynamic older sister. That one that turns heads and makes everyone go, “WOW.” Or in our case, “GUAO.” You can find that recipe right here. There’s no better way to toast the Christmas season.
2) We Cook A Pig.
A pig, people. We pull out all the stops for our Christmas meal. Turkey is nice, but we Cubans make Lechón Asado (Roast Pig). We bust out the Caja China and the intoxicating smell of the delicious pork makes our house THE place to be on Christmas Eve.
Okay, so sometimes we just cook the legs, or a pork roast. And sometimes we just cheat and throw it in a crockpot. But still. You’ve never tasted anything better or more addicting. Makes you wish you were Cuban all year long. (Oh, wait.)
Yema? Alicante? Jijona? Marzapan? Coco? (I explain Turrones in this post.) Everyone has their favorite. Everyone who actually knows what they are, that is. And we are so loyal to our preferred flavor that we will not tolerate anyone dissing our choice of turrón. In which case you should brace yourself for the Great Turrón Wars. Turrónes are serious Cuban Christmas Business.
Also, Team Yema ALL THE WAY!
4) There’s Room For Everyone At The Table.
It’s Nochebuena! It’s the biggest party of the year. And we have family. And extended family. And friends of family. Come on, it’s Nochebuena. It’s a party. Our food is the greatest. There will be music and possibly dancing. Did I mention we cook a pig? Seriously. Everyone’s invited. Cubans practically invented the phrase ‘the more, the merrier.’
5) EVERYONE Brings Us Presents.
We give and receive gifts on Nochebuena, December 24th from our extended family. Then, on December 25th, Christmas Day, Santi Clo – that’s Santa Claus to those uninitiated in Cuban speak – brings us presents. Then, because that’s obviously just not enough, on January 6th – The 12th Day of Christmas, or the Feast of the Epiphany – Los Tres Reyes Magos (The 3 Kings) also bring us gifts. At least they did when we were children. Some of us continue this tradition, which I love. Here’s my story explaining El Dia de Los Reyes.
How cool is this? 1-Family and friends. 2-Santi Clo. 3-Los Reyes. That’s presents for days, people. We Cubans are the luckiest.
Buñuelos are fried, sweet dough. From the Churro family, but made with yuca and malanga flours, twisted into figure 8s, and served with an impossibly sweet syrup made from sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and vanilla. They’re time consuming to make, but oh, so worth it. Buñuelos are a must for Nochebuena. They’re just hard to explain to people outside of Latin culture. But everyone is happy they exist.
7) The House is Cuban Clean®.
Cuban Clean® is not like regular clean. I’m sooo registering this as a trademark, because Cuban Clean® is a real thing. Cuban Clean® is when every square inch of the house is spotless. I’m so not kidding about this. Every. Square. Inch. Not like clean for company, but clean for God himself. Floors, walls, carpets, furniture, bathrooms, kitchens are all scrubbed within an inch of their lives. And then cleaned again. Seriously. You could perform surgery on my grandmother’s kitchen floor. Because Cuban Clean®.
Full disclosure: I don’t do the entire old school Cuban Clean®. I know. Don’t judge. Here’s the cheater way: I pour some PineSol down in the drains and sprinkle the sheets with Royal Violets and call it good. You’re welcome. Just don’t tell my mom, please. (I’m reaching for my azabache now, por si las moscas.)
See Number 2 above. The one about The Pig. Your pig has skin. And if you cooked that pig as God intended, the skin will be crunchy with the most amazing, indescribably delicious taste and texture. Again, hard to explain to someone who’s never had that pleasure. But fresh chicharrones are basically delivered from heaven on the wings of angels. It’s one of the highlights of a Cuban Christmas. Believe it.
Imagine apple cider. But with a bit of a bite. Sidra is a hard cider from Spain. Spanish cider is one of the 7 Wonders of the Spanish World. It is fermented naturally without any added sugar or sweeteners. Sidra does not sparkle.
The sidra only came out at our house for the 12 Days of Christmas. It was a treat for us kids to get to drink the sidra with the grownups. It’s soooo not Martinelli’s.
10) All the Love.
We Cubans are huggers, touchers, kissers. And at Christmas, this is found in abundance. We are happy to see everyone. And we love you SO MUCH! We do. There is the beautiful nostalgia of having the entire range of family members from the oldest abuela (My mom is 101!) to the youngest cousin, all dressed up and perfumed and on their best behavior.
Maybe it’s the sidra, or the turrónes, or the fragrance of The Pig that when mingled together create a potent Cuban Love Potion. The Christmas Season in a Cuban household is the happiest, most magical time of the year. I said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing better than being Cuban at Christmas. We are the luckiest.
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the Cuban cook in your life, check out my Cuban Food Poster. I bet your Tia Cuca would really love this for Christmas.