Christmas is, by far, my favorite holiday. I love the feeling of the end of the year, the lights, decorations, the music, and I love gathering with my family. I love celebrating the birth of our Savior and remembering the significance of his coming to Earth. Usually, this time of year is hectic. There are Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, Christmas parades, shows, end of the year parties, gift exchanges, potlucks, Ugly-Sweater parties, and so much more. And living in Orlando, there are Christmas activities everywhere, from the theme parks to different activities from different communities and schools. A LOT is going on this time of year. Although this year the holiday season will be different, I am still very excited about Christmas.
There are different Christmas traditions worldwide, but each family can have their own twists on how they like to celebrate Christmas. I have spent a few Christmases in the Dominican Republic, where my family is from, and I find that Christmas on the island is much more fun than in the United States. Today I want to talk about my families’ Christmas traditions, and I’d LOVE to hear about yours.
First, we celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, which we call Noche Buena, which translates to “Good Night.” The celebration consists of a family feast, Christmas music, drinks, and laughter. We always dress up very nice, like your typical “Sunday’s Best,” and take lots of pictures. Fireworks usually fill up the sky, which, when I spent Christmas back in the Dominican Republic, caught me off guard because I’m only used to fireworks in July, LOL. Last year for Noche Buena, we did a Christmas PJ theme to try to change it up since we ALWAYS dress up, but only part of the family participated.
The Food, Desserts, and Drinks
Our family eats Baked Ham with Pineapple (my favorite), Pernil, which is a slow-roasted marinated pork leg or shoulder, rice with either pigeon peas, or we make Arroz Navideño (Christmas Rice), which is rice mixed with bacon, raisins, green onions, cranberries, cilantro, and bell peppers. Baked Turkey, potato salad also known as Russian Salad, Pasteles en Hoja – which is banana leaves filled with a Plantain base mixed with either ground beef or chicken. They look very similar to the Mexican Tamales. For deserts, we usually make cheesecake, Dominican cake, or upside-down pineapple cake. Our traditional Christmas drink is called “Ponche,” which some make with Rum or virgin, but it is our “Eggnog.”
Spending Christmas with my stepmom’s side of the family, they do a gift exchange like Secret Santa. They call it Angelitos/Diablitos (Little Angels, Little Devils). So, the concept is the same as Secret Santa, you pick someone’s name, and you have to buy them two gifts. One is their actual Christmas gift, and the other is like a prank gift. The gift exchange happens on Christmas Eve, but the prank can be done before that, or you can wait until the 24th. It is amusing to see how creative people get with their Christmas pranks.
Another tradition in the Dominican Republic is do an Aguinaldo; think of it as Christmas caroling. It’s when people go around in the neighborhood singing Christmas songs, or it can be done like a parade. Neighbors come out of their homes to provide drinks or join the Aguinaldo or come out to dance for a bit.
When we spent Christmas in DR back in 2009, I had NO IDEA this was a thing for Christmas. I remember being up late one night with my cousin, and suddenly, my dad arrives and tells me to get ready. Super confused, I ask to get ready for what? He said, don’t worry about it, get ready. So, then I wondered, where are we going? He yells at me excitingly TO THE STREETS! I looked at my cousin, and she said, well, let’s get ready!
About 12 to 15 cars were lined up behind my dad’s friend’s Jeep, which had loudspeakers in the trunk when I got outside. The trunk was open, and the music was blasting. We went around the neighborhood blasting Christmas music; people came out to see, dance, and cheer us on. The Aguinaldo finished around 4 am, and I had never seen my father have so much fun! Honestly, I had a blast, and it’s one of my favorite memories from DR.
Three Kings Day
Spending Christmas in DR when you’re younger, you don’t usually get gifts on Christmas day, and the Angelitos/Diablitos participants are generally the adults, so the children receive their gifts on the Dia de Los Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day. This is on January 6th – which pretty much is the end of the holiday season.
I only remember one year participating in Three Kings Day when I was younger, which was with my biological mom. We set out the grass for the camels the night before, some families leave cookies for the Wisemen, and I made a list of gifts I wanted to receive. The next day my mom made me look under the bed for my gifts, and they were there! The tradition of Three Kings Day comes from after Jesus was born the three Wisemen went to where baby Jesus was to provide gifts.
Speaking of the birth of Jesus, one thing that is very common in the Christmas decorations is the Nacimento or nativity – which is the pieces with the Three Wisemen, baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the angel, a donkey, a cow, and sheep.
What are some Christmas traditions that your family does? Do we have any similar traditions? I would love to hear all about them. Also, what is your favorite holiday, and why?
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my families’ Christmas traditions!
With Love, Heidy
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