Last Monday I spoke on the phone with my friend Milagros, a Dominican naturalized American, who a year ago moved from Miami to Barcelona for love.
This is the second time Milagros celebrates Christmas in Spain. And although in Spain she has some good friends, a part from his boyfriend, she admits it’s not the same. "In Miami we would eat a whole lechón asado (a suckling pig) roasted in a wood fire, while in Barcelona, as we are only 8 at the table, we will just cook a pig leg in the oven," she said. Her voice sounded melancholic.
For Milagros, as for most Latino immigrants scattered throughout the world, Christmas Eve is one of the happiest nights of the year. A night of family dining, which allows reconnecting with the roots, with childhood, with the memory of our grandparents, and of all those beloved ones who are no longer there.
"Christmas Eve in Barcelona will be quieter, but the spirit will be the same. We will be calling the family in Miami, in the Dominican Republic... while they begin to eat, we will be already dancing ..." added Milagros, sounding happier.
For Latinos, Christmas Eve is one of the happiest nights of the year. A night of family dining, which allows reconnecting with the roots, with childhood, with the memory of our grandparents, and of all those beloved ones who are no longer there.
In Miami, Milagros used to spend the Nochebuena at his brother house, who has a tambora and likes to play it while the family sings the traditional aguinaldos. “Christmas Eve for my Dominican family means big party, we dance and drink until dawn”, my friend said.
Next December 24th, only eight people will sit at Milagros table for dinner. Each of them will bring a traditional Dominican dish: pork leg, sancocho, “ensaladilla rusa” (A potato salad with mayonnaise and beetroot), moro ( black beans with rice) and “leaf cakes”. The only contribution from Spain cuisine will be turrones and wine. Although turrones and wine don’t exist in Milagros' childhood memories of Nochebuena, but now symbolize their host country. Christmas dinner is the best moment of the year to travel back to the past, to our origins; but also understand who we are and where we go.
Every Christmas Eve, I remember my grandmother dunking a barquillo ( a roller wafer) inside her glass of cava. I see myself as a child, stood on top of a stool, reciting Christmas poems in front of the adults, with my mouth dirty of chocolate turrón; I remember my grandfather sitting at the head of the table, raising a spoon full of Christmas soup with his trembling hand, looking at us all with pride.
In a more and more globalized world, where traditions and folklore mix and we no longer know what used to be traditional or not, it is nice to hold on to little rituals, so we continue to understand who we are.
I remember my grandfather sitting at the head of the table, raising a spoon full of Christmas soup with his trembling hand, looking at us all with pride.
In the city I grew up, kids had to wait until January 6th to get their gifts from the Magic Kings: today, gifts are brought by Santa Claus; we put on costumes for Carnival, now we also dress up for Halloween; we waited anxiously to go shopping after Christmas holidays, when the Big Sales began; now we can go for sales on Black Friday. Many Latino children probably no longer want to climb on a stool to sing carols, but to imitate their favourite Pop singers. However, they will keep sitting around a Christmas table to feed their memories with moments that won’t come back.