Christmas in my native Puerto Rico is an extended party. It starts around Thanksgiving week and ends after the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. Of all the countries I’ve visited, only France has more work holidays than Puerto Rico.
In-between there are a lot of parties, and an endless array of delicious foods, most of which would be banned by Mike Bloomberg for their fat, sugar, and salt content.
First, the drink of choice for the entire season is coquito, the “very yummy creamy tropical coconut eggnog made with spices and white rum.” While all the men drink their rum straight, ladies disguise it in coquito. Salud!
Most people celebrate Christmas Eve with a huge dinner: lechón asado (roast pig) or pernil (pork shoulder), which must be marinated at least 24 hours in advance; arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), red beans, tostones (fried plaintains), and pasteles.
Oh, pasteles! Delicious, but such hard work that my mom once commandeered my sister and me for a full day of preparation (which included peeling and grinding yuca, a thankless task if ever there was one), wrapping the pasteles in plantain leaves, cooking, and clean-up (you must wash down the whole kitchen afterwards because of the lingering odor). It was such hard work, mom bought them from an acquaintance for many years after. “Lesson learned!” mom said.
Some may also include bacalao, salted cod fish with tubers.
All these foods are served at the same time, and washed down with rum, beer, wine, or soda.
A couple of hours later, it’s time for dessert: The table is cleared, and out come arroz con dulce (rice pudding – I like mine with raisins), flan, plátanos en almibar (ripe plantains in syrup), tembleque, majarete, and pineapple upside-down cake, which must have a perfect maraschino cherry in the center of each pineapple. Someone always brings cookies and pies, too.
Of course, high-octane fully caffeinated Puerto Rican coffee goes with the dessert, served in expresso cups.
By then it’s midnight Mass (if you go to church), and after that, you open your presents.