Welcome to Cultural Tidbits Monday! Today I’m sharing a post about Puerto Rican Christmas traditions by Sara Moyano, co-proprietor of Hacienda Moyano. I’ve talked about our Christmas traditions in the past, including our famous parrandas, but Sara goes a little deeper. Enjoy! 🙂
Puerto Rican Christmas traditions
In the northern hemisphere the leaves have changed to their short lived majestic autumn colors, the air is crisper and Halloween is just round the corner. It is hard to believe 2013 is almost over. But before we think about the New Year, let’s talk about where you are going to spend your holidays. Some people like to stay close to home and spend time with loved ones. Some people like to go to places where the winter weather makes it look and feel like those beautiful snowy scenes on old Christmas cards. And a few lucky ones will choose to come to Hacienda Moyano in Naguabo, Puerto Rico!
Nobody celebrates the holiday season like the people of Puerto Rico. From the food to the music, everything about Puerto Rican Christmas is special. The holiday season lasts from Thanksgiving until January 6, the day of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. It is important to note that it is also the beginning of carnival season in many cultures. At Hacienda Moyano, we always find a reason to celebrate and Christmas is the best reason of all.
The cooks are already putting their orders in for the “viandas” (vegetables) that they will need to make “pasteles”. Pasteles are a staple of the Puerto Rican holiday menu, a very labor intensive dish that is a must on every table. They are made with a masa of green bananas and plantains, “yucca” (taro), and calabazas (pumpkin) and wrapped in a scorched banana leaf. The combinations of flavors can include: chickpeas, raisins, olives, capers, beef, chicken, pork, fish or “jueyes” (land crabs), and are as endless as the family recipes that have been passed down for generations.
“Arroz con gandules” (rice and pigeon peas) is another staple of the holiday menu. There is usually a smoked meat imparting its woodsy flavor, but the “sofrito” is the star of this simple dish. And I say that with the outmost respect. Cooking good rice is really an art and not as easy as it sounds.
The star of the Puerto Rican Christmas table, however, is the “lechon” or pork. Usually it is a “pernil” or fresh ham. Again the recipes are as varied as the tastes and the origin of the family. Most cooks use “adobo mojado” or wet seasoning that consists of salt, pepper, oregano, vinegar and olive oil. Some families splurge and cook “lechon a la varita” or a pig roast on a homemade spit. No matter what recipe you use it is usually the best thing on the table.
The day we roast a pig at Hacienda Moyano is a day to celebrate. Everyone is up early, the “carbon” (coal) is started, the “ron caña” (Puerto Rican moonshine) is flowing early. The Medallas are cold. The pig has been seasoned at least the night before and it is rested and ready for its day view. There is nothing that smells like Christmas in Puerto Rico than the smell of pork fat dripping on the smoldering charcoal.
And wait until you taste the “postres” (desserts). “Arroz con dulce” (rice pudding with spices and raisins), tembleque (a cold coconut custard with cinnamon), “dulce de papaya” (spiced candied papaya usually served with white cheese). These are just a few, there are so many more delicious sweet treats to enjoy during the Christmas holidays.
Oh, and how about the drinks, the “coquito” (coconut eggnog), is a tradition. After a dinner of arroz con gandules, lechon, pasteles, postre y coquito, all you need is a “hamaca” (hammock) in the shade to take a “siesta”. Or go to El Yunque for a hike. The choice is yours because Puerto Rico does it better! Feliz Navidad from Hacienda Moyano! (even though it’s October — celebrate early! 😉 )
Have you experienced Puerto Rican Christmas traditions and food?