You remember your first time like it was yesterday: gazing on her soft pink skin, smooth and perfectly supple. A full-bodied beauty, she had curves rounding out every square inch of her body. Just as you're about to lay your hands on this stunning creature, you're interrupted from your reverie by the halting shriek of your abuela Mili. "¿Mijo, que te pasa? ¡Salga de aqui!" she screams, as she takes a knife and slices the pig's belly right down the center, displaying its guts and officially ruining Christmas for you, possibly forever.
Every year around Christmastime, Cubans suffer from PTSD instilled in us by the sight of bloody swine carcasses and the advent of receiving some of the ugliest, most inappropriate gifts ever bestowed upon a human. Between the incessant buzzing of your tia's gossip to the smell of a pungent, garlic-laden mojo that stings your nostrils like a cheap perfume, surviving Cuban Christmas is like winning a marathon: nobody expected you to do it, but here you are, crossing the finish line, crippled and nearly dead but vowing to return next year.
So how exactly do Cubans train for Nochebuena? With plenty of intensity, a bit of stonewalling, and a whole lot of alcohol. Here's your guide to surviving Cuban Christmas (celebrated Christmas Eve, of course).
Avoid your grandmother's house for at least a day.
The sight of the fully exposed intestines of a pig is definitely not the stuff that dreams are made of, but that's exactly what you'll find at your abuela's house at least 24 hours before Nochebuena. Your abuela, using literally gallons of mojo she made by squeezing hundreds of tiny oranges
As a matter of fact, avoid your dad too.
It is a Cuban rite of passage to drive out to the finca and handpick your Nochebuena meal, and that tradition is normally left to the patriarch. Watching your dad roam a nice little rancho in Hialeah, petting and fussing over all the cute and cuddly little pigs, only to have him point one out and watch it die might give you a totally different perspective of the value your dad puts on a life. And in some instances, we've even heard of dads who choose to slaughter the thing themselves, because no one takes care of business quite like un macho Cubano. So unless you want your Christmas dinner to play like a scene from Saw 3, do not take your dad up on the offer to spend the day visiting farms in el campo. It may sound like a nature walk, but it's actually just one long walk of shame.
Don't ask why they call it a caja china.
It has never really made sense to you that this giant roasting box (pig sarcophagus) is called a caja china, so you proceeded to ask all the men standing around it why that was, and all hell broke loose. After all, the roasters had been drinking whiskey for hours, placing the men in a condition in which the archetypal Cuban ego knows no bounds. Your uncle said it's because the Chinos brought that shit to Cuba, and his cousin Felix said that was totally wrong, and suddenly the discussion was steered toward who is actually considered the best Cuban baseball player, and you wondered aloud why you ever asked.
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Stand your ground against the electric knife.
All of that crisp, crackling pig skin has been perfectly charred, and there's only one way to get through that well-flavored exterior. The electric knife your mom has had since she got married in 1982 makes its appearance every year to carve the evening's main dish, but it has also been used as a weapon against you and all your rowdy primos since you were kids. Like the time your dad came out wearing a Jason mask and wielding the fully charged knife, buzzing its sawing horror, as if it were some kind of awesome joke. Since you know he's always drunk when he does that, as an adult you've learned to steer clear of the electric knife — you're pretty confident that any day he'll slip and bring the movie to life.
Don't open gifts in front of loved ones.
Is there anything worse than getting one of those perfumes from Navarro that your tia abuela is trying to pass off as the real deal? Has anyone actually worn Cool Water since 1998? Or what about those super-embarrassingly racy underwear — which you would never wear, like not even during your high-school chonga phase — that your mom's best friend thought was totally acceptable to give to you in front of your dad's pervy friend Luis? The only solution to avoid this kind of shame at Nochebuena is by claiming that in the spirit of Santa and your childhood, you'll wait till Christmas Day to open your gifts (and then cross your fingers that these comemierdas had the sense to include the gift receipt).
Get wise about those weird pig parts.
It's a mystery why your abuelo has always reserved the pig's ear or its tail as a special treat for the best-behaved carnivore at the kids' table, but it's a tradition he upholds every year without fail. According to him, it's the best part of the pig, and you fell for that line every year until finally you were the recipient for your truly exceptional behavior. That is when you learned that this coveted pig extremity was merely a ruse, designed to get all the brats at the kids' table to not act like a bunch of jerks during dinner. Sadly, it took you like 12 years to understand his ingenious plan, and by then you had moved onto greener adult table pastures. But at least they finally let you try the coquito!
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