By- Angela Padrón
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through la casa . . . this may be the beginning of a poem heard on La Noche Buena (Nochebuena), or Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve, tradition rules in Latino homes around the world, with lots of food, music, and time with family.
In many Latin American countries, a huge feast takes place. Depending on where you are, the type of food eaten will differ. In some Caribbean countries, the night’s feast revolves around lechón asado, or roast pork. This is often cooked in a Caja China box, with the entire pig roasting over hot coals. The food is served with rice and beans, vegetables, salad, and other delicious side dishes. In Mexico, tamales, atole, or bacalao is typically eaten with buñuelos, or small donuts, for dessert. In Spain, you may find people feasting on seafood and soup, with turrón for dessert—a type of cake made of honey, sugar, egg whites, and roasted almonds or nuts. For some, the meal is accompanied by Coquito, an alcoholic drink similar to eggnog made with condensed and coconut milks and white rum.
Among the festivities, the idea is not lost that Nochebuena exists to celebrate the night of Jesus Christ’s birth. In some countries, las Posadas begins nine days prior to Nochebuena. This is also known as the “nine nights of prayer,” culminating on Christmas Eve. Some people will even re-enact the night that Mary and Joseph were seeking shelter for Mary to give birth. Two people will dress up like Joseph and Mary while others designate their house as the posada, or inn. A procession of people walk door to door, holding candles and singing carols called villancicos. Finally, when they’ve reached the “inn,” people enter to pray around the nativity scene. This repeats for eight additional nights. In certain South American countries, a similar tradition of praying for nine nights is called la novena de Aguinaldo.
After dinner on Nochebuena, people will go to a Misa de Gallo, or midnight mass, at their church. It’s called Misa de Gallo because some believed that a rooster, or gallo, crowed the night that Jesus was born. There at the church, and in homes, people may see poinsettias, the beautiful red flower that has come to symbolize the winter holiday. In addition, people will also put out nativity scenes to represent the religious event. Some may even cover up the statue of the baby Jesus until Christmas morning as to not “spoil the surprise!”
On Nochebuena, there will be a lot of food and conversation, maybe even a game of dominos in Caribbean countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic. Most importantly, Nochebuena means spending time with friends and family during the holiday season. As years go on, the tradition is continuously passed down to the next generations. Since the Latino culture is historically known for maintaining tradition, the celebration of Nochebuena seems to be one that will last forever.