In our “native lands” there were many customs taught to us by our parents, and by our parents’ parents, each associated with enjoying time with family and friends as we celebrate the holidays! These are the warmest times of the year, simply because they are filled with a certain magic.
Chances are, if you put a bunch of Latinos together in a house, yard, club or hall and throw on some of our great Latin music, you’re going to have one heck of a party! Our fiestas are beyond comparison – far from boring or mundane. Even on regular occasions you still find plenty of food, drink, music and dancing. But during “Las Navidades” we go ALL OUT! Preparing lots of delicious traditional dishes, decorating the house with all your treasured Christmas decorations and humming those great canciones in preparation of our next fiesta. Hispanos have many similarities…not only our shared language, but also our customs, look, styles, beliefs and traditions. Not all Latinos are celebrating the birth of Jesus during Christmas, but many Christians and Messianic Jews (which our family practices) who celebrate Chanukah (Sefardic) from around the world do.
In this issue of Latin Times Magazine, we shine the spotlight on “Costumbres Navideñas” how it’s done back home, and what makes it all so special.
La Isla Del Encanto!
Por Jose Diaz
El Jorgorio está, El Jorgorio está, bien por la maceta. Vamos a bailar, aja! WEPA! WEPA! WEPA!
¡Ya vienen las Navidades! That’s an expression that is clearly etched in my fondest memories of my boricua upbringing. As a child, I remember visiting El Borinquen during Las Navidades. It seemed like just about every year my parents would visit mis abuelitos in Orocovis for the Holidays. Legen has it (according to my abuelito) Puerto Rican Christmas’ are rumored to be among the longest celebrated in Latin America!
They actually started celebrating Las Navidades in late October and often celebrated up until Passover and further! Supposedly on the night of Passover, they would go so far as to back up the clock so that they could have more time to continue El Jorgorio. This was often called La Media Raja or La Napa.
I still remember the sound of las parrandas, and the chiki que chiki of the guiro. My favorite part of these parrandas was the way they started” A group of us would gather in the batey (front lawn) of someone’s home in the middle of the night, and all you could hear was the combined whispers, the children’s giggles and the loud: Shhhhhhh!”. Then, all of a sudden the music would fill the air with its beats until our friends would wake up, run for the door…still in their pajamas, the lady of the house often wearing rollers. Since it was considered a huge honor to have a parranda at your home, the hosts would immediately prepare a warm meal for the parranderos. Afterward, it was common for the current hosts to become guests at other homes that would be visited that night.
Home-made Ron Pitorro (Ron Caña) lent that extra special feeling to the evening, especially when accompanied by a group of friends/family, a good cuatro termpao, a guiro, a set of maracas, a cow bell, some clapping hands, some pretty good singers, (you get the picture). The aguinaldos made everyone want to dance, and it seemed this went on hasta el amanecer. My tio Sico entertained everyone with his trovas y bombas, sweet decimas of inspirational frenzies. Yeah…those were the days! The jorgorio would go on all night and into the morning.
It was impossible to ignore the aroma of the Arroz con Gandules, the Morcillas and the Guineitos en Escabeche. The freshly made pastels, mmmm boiling in a big black pot, And the desserts! Arroz con Dulce, Majarete, Flan y Budin. The ladies would all gather in the kitchen, talking about losing weight in the coming year, all the while generously consuming un poquito de todo! Una Piña Colada, Coquio, a Bacardi n’Coke, or ¡dame un “chot” de Ron..It’s Noche Buena!
Dia De Los Reyes
The Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes) was without a doubt, my favorite day. (Come to this of it, it was a favorite for every kid in the barrio.) The night before this special and often believed as the most sacred of all the fiestas navideñas, the muchacheria would gather boxes and fill them with yerba Santa Maria. They would then take these boxes and place them under their beds. The next morning the Three Kings would have come and delivered presents in exchange for the yerba Santa Maria. The yerva was to refuel the camels for their long vayage back to the orient. The fiestas navidenas would continue..the singing, eating, dancing to the octavas and octavitas, for many more weeks to come. Meanwhile, the rocio del aurora would mark another year of prosperity and home in the land that our indigenous ancestors call Borinquen. La tierra del gran creador….
“Navidad” Colombian Style!
By William Bolivar
There is something absolutely magical about Christmas, particularly if you come from a Latin Country for our culture is unique in celebrating the holiday season. Typically, we combine praying with food and dance. Very appropriate! We all have many reasons to celebrate, the birth of Christ, the good times and the bad times, for they make us stronger. The special moments we have shared with our loved ones, (some of whom may no longer be with us) many times brings us back to an equally warm and nostalgic past, la música parrandera, Villancico Christmas melodies, a natural Christmas tree and the traditional food, are some of the reasons why Christmas Colombian style is particularly unique. Although, there is a special day commemorating the arrival of the wise men (January 6th), people still like to share presents on Christmas day, December 25th.
Colombia, a country of 40 million people, officially begins its Fiesta Decembrina with The Candle Light Day or Dia De Las Velitas, on December 7th and 8th, which honors La Virgen Maria, in which all the neighborhoods throughout the country light candles placing them on walkways and on the edges of the streets. Also, la Música Parrandera breaks the season, Novenas and Villancicos are an official part of the celebrations too. Each region has its own traditions, the northern part of Colombia “La Costa” which comprises cities such as Cartagena, Barranguilla and Santa Marta, celebrate with música Vellencata. A holiday Turkey dinner, Lechon, Tamales de Arroz, Ayacas the popular Caribanolas and Butifarras meat pies complete a delicious food array.
In Barranquilla on new years eve, people always wait for the incredible giant whistle sound of Cerveceria Aguila, to mark the beginning of the new year. The rather cold Capitol City of Bogota, gets its warmest time of the season and celebrates with lots of Pollo and Lechon, Tamales and for dessert, a gift from the Sweet Cauca Valley State “El Manjar Blanco”. Speaking of the Cauca Valley State its capital city Cali, called “Heaven’s Branch City” and other surrounding towns such as Palmira and Buga, are known for its “Sugarish” celebrations. Famous for their beautiful women (a true fact) and its liking for the Salsa Rhythms, (Grupo Niche and Guayacan are from Cali). El Calle del Cauca enjoys great Tamales make with Lechon, Dulce de Brevas (Desamargado) Arequipe and Arroz de Leche.
Another popular region, famous for its gorgeous flowers and rich land, is Medillin, Capitol of Antioquia State, also called “City of the Eternal Spring” and birthplace of Colombia’s parrandera music. Its people are unique characters called “Paisas” known for their creativity and hard work. In Paisa country the King and Queen of Navidad were also born:
El Bunuela Y La Natilla” which is enjoyed by Colombians from all over. The Sancocho de Gellina (Hen Stew) with corn cakes and avocados (Arepas y Aguacates) with a cup of Mazamorra and Guava Bocadillos or Sugar Cane Panela are a real treat! The Pasteles de Gloria are heavenly and the popular alcoholic Chicha drink, made of fermented sugar corn will get anyone in the right mood. The typical parranda drink is the Aguardiente Blaanco and if you are in Bogota, you will probably drink Aguardiente Nectar, in Manizales you will drink Aguardiente Cristal, but according to the Colombian Department of Commerce, the most popular Aguardiente in the country is the Arguardiente Antioqueño, “the real thing”…some say!
Christmas and New Years Celebrations are a little different in Colombia, than in other countries, for it is not the time for spiritual relaxing, but for cheering, dancing and rejoicing. We pray to the Almighty for Colombians and othe Latinos to enjoy a Christmas full of peace and love, not only in our country, but in the entire world.
Feliz Navidad para todos y que sus sueños se hagan realidad con la llega del Nuevo Año!