Nochebuena: a time for family, food, and festivities. It's the big party we Latinos enjoy on Christmas Eve. If you’ve been in Miami long enough, you’ve probably already attended a few. Too many of us, especially those from other countries and first-generation kids, it means not only the arrival of Christmas but also the sharing of traditions.
Though every family is different, a great Nochebuena has several necessary ingredients. This list has everything you need and then some to expertly re-create the Nochebuenas of days past.
1. One billion kisses on the cheek while trying to remember who's who
Latinos tend to kiss one another on the cheek upon greeting. And on Nochebuena, that means puckering up for abuelos, tíos, friends of your parents who are like aunts and uncles, your cousins and their dates, plus at least ten wild children. And then there’s trying to remember every name you just heard. It’s a good/bad idea for a drinking game. Speaking of which...
2. Latin booze: coquito, margaritas, rum, and more
Gringos have eggnog. Latinos have coquito, a blend of sweetened condensed, evaporated milk, coconut milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and a whole lotta rum. But the libations don’t stop there. Some of us prefer the pitcher of margaritas one cousin expertly prepared for the night. Others like Tío So-and-So’s sangria or maybe a mojito. And for the rest, rum and Coke or beer is just as nice.
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3. Latin music: a blend of salsa, merengue, villancicos, and Christmas classics
The right kind of music is essential for a successful Nochebuena. You can’t just throw on the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas and be done with it. Instead, you must pay homage to the queen, Celia Cruz. You must listen to Willie Colón, El Gran Combo, maybe some Eydie Gorme, and a few villancicos (Christmas carols) along the way. And it is just isn't Nochebuena until you’ve played “El Burrito Sabanero” at least five times.
4. Lots and lots (and lots) of dancing
You can’t play Cheo Feliciano and expect everyone to stay sitting quietly in their seats. Nochebuena is not complete without a whole lot of feet on the dance floor. There's nowhere to dance at your place, you say? With enough coquito and salsa, folks will find a way to make a dance floor. It might be in the kitchen or in the living room or on the back patio. Hell, they might just make it a block party if your neighbors are cool enough. Maybe in Little Havana, anyway.
5. An omnivore’s Latin feast
What is Nochebuena without food? All Latin American countries serve some form of rice and beans (gallo pinto, arroz con gandules, moros y cristianos, etc.) and there should be at least one or more styles served at your fiesta. Then there’s the lechón, which is especially popular in Miami Nochebuena parties (especially if cooked in a caja china and picked out at a pig farm in Hialeah). Tamales are also popular at Nochebuena feasts, whether they be the Mexican kind or Caribbean style (called pasteles). If there’s room for sweets, buñuelos, arroz con leche, and flan are all common desserts. And if vegans are in attendance, they will be ostracized — but they’ll also be smart enough to bring a field roast or some pasta.
6. An older Catholic relative shaming everyone for forgetting “the reason for the season”
For older generations, Christmas is all about Jesus. OK, maybe for some younger folks too. But some of us just see it as prime time to hang out with friends and family, have a good time, eat a ton of great food, and maybe open a few gifts. You’ll still have a few OGs attending la misa del gallo (midnight mass) at church, and some will try to persuade you to come along. Also, these OGs will eventually ask the younger kids what they want El Niño Dios (AKA Baby Jesus) to bring them for Christmas, completely shattering the illusion of Santa Claus. No, they just don’t give a damn.
7. Second- and third-generation children who don’t seem appreciative (but you know they like it)
At the end of the day, Nochebuena is all about tradition, and traditions don’t get passed down unless kids are around. When I was a youngster, I used to hide for half the night with my cousins watching cartoons, chatting on AOL, or listening to the latest Prodigy album (hey, it was a long time ago) while the adults schmoozed. But I always pictured myself hosting my own Nochebuenas eventually, and now I’m determined to pass down our ways to my son. Always invite kids to Nochebuena. And if they resist, remind them they can open one (or more) presents at midnight, as is tradition.