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Five Reasons You Should Celebrate Noche Buena This Year

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Ah, Christmas Eve. A quaint day spent by the majority of those who live outside of South Florida doing nothing out of the ordinary. But if you're a Cuban-Miamian, Noche Buena is what's up on the 24th. Noche Buena, which translates to "good night," is more than just a massive family gathering where you get to see all 15 of your aunts and uncles and 27 of your first cousins. It's an overabundance of eating, drinking, and merriment -- it's a feast for all of the senses.

If you've never experienced a Cuban Noche Buena, here are a few things you should be expecting.

Lechon Asado

Noche Buena is not the most vegetarian-friendly of feasts. You see, the

main attraction of any Noche Buena is the lechón asado (roast pork). 

There's an actual science involved in the procurement and preparation of

a properly roasted pork -- a two-day process at that. It all starts on December 23. The hombres go pick up porky at a slaughterhouse, but

this isn't an activity for the faint of heart. No, only the bravest

with a stomach of steel can actually witness their food butchered,

de-haired, gutted, and tied up. Fortunately, this step can be avoided by

ordering your pig from your local Hispanic supermarket (i.e.: Sedano's) a

few days in advance.

Once at home, the pig is then cleaned and marinated overnight in adobo -- a

potent blend of garlic, oregano, cumin, naranja agria (sour orange

juice), and copious amounts of salt. On the venti quarto, the pig is put

to roast, but a caja china is the utmost essential. This

roasting device is an enclosed box that cooks the pork under coal for about four hours. The moment it's ready is usually quite the

spectacle. It's a culmination of hard work, delivery, and anticipation

akin to the birth of a first-born son. Everyone gathers around drooling, eagerly waiting until the scalding lechón is cool enough to rip a

piece off of the crispy skin. Some families may or may not fight over

the pig ear (ahem). It's barbaric-style fun!

Dessert overload

If you're not a diabetic now, you just might be after just one Noche Buena.

Indulging your sweet tooth in an assortment of dessert prepared days in

advance is a given. The usual suspects include dulce de naranja (orange

shells in a heavy syrup) and buñuelos (Cuban doughnuts) made of

boniato (white sweet potato), which is fried and served with syrup.

Gouda cheese is also served with just about every dessert, especially

slices of guava and dulce de coco (ground coconut dessert). Homemade

desserts are usually not enough to stuff your belly. That's when turrón

comes into play. These Spanish confections are pre-packaged, come in

several varieties, and can be purchased anywhere "oye!" is an acceptable

expression. The fan favorite is turrón Alicante -- you can probably chip a

tooth by biting into this nougat candy made of honey, sugar, and

toasted almonds, but it's pretty irresistible.


Noche Buena is more than just a belt-loosening largesse of a day.

Playing un juego de domino is a must. The traditional way to

play is on a dominoes table with domino racks holding up your 11 pieces.

It helps if the table comes with built-in cup holders to keep you from

knocking over your beverage when shuffling the pieces in between rounds.

Vices Galore

Aside from the food and games, there's also cigar smoking -- the men

usually convene at one point in the evening and smoke their finest

Cubans. The music is also a big deal. Salsa, merengue -- anything with

bongos or Celia Cruz that allows you to dance rapidly while

simultaneously hoping you'll burn off some excess calories. Ladies, you

may also partake in the unavoidable family gossiping. Fair warning: Your

aunt may stab you with the ever-so-unwarranted "your biological clock

is ticking" comment, but that's why it's imperative to keep a strong

alcoholic beverage tight in your grip at all times. This leads us to the

drinking. Drinking is like the national sport of Noche Buena. Pure, unadulterated, and unlimited drinking is encouraged at all times.

You drink while policing the pork; you drink while playing dominoes; you

drink while eating; and you pretty much drink whenever you're sitting,

standing, walking, yelling, and dancing. Not drinking is, for all intents

and purposes, prohibited.

Getting to do it all again on Christmas day

Food is something you simply can't avoid in a Cuban household. On

Christmas day, you can gather with the family once again and pretty much

do everything you did the night before. Since abuela will most-likely

cook enough food to feed the entire block, you'll have leftovers for a

solid three days. It's also the one time of year you'll probably never

suffer a hangover thanks to the fatty, starchy foods that are readily

available around-the-clock. If you're lucky, you will have a period of five

days to rest your cholesterol-laden bodies before you have to repeat it

all over on New Years Eve.

-- Vanessa Martin

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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