As a Dominican American, I participate in a lot of traditions that are unique to Dominican and Latin American/Caribbean culture. Even though my immediate family and most of my extended family live here full time, preserving the culture of the country that was once home to them is essential to us. For Latinxs, the real celebrating happens on Christmas Eve, a holiday known in Spanish as Nochebuena. Nochebuena proceedings often vary by culture and by household.
Usually, the house is decorated for Christmas by Thanksgiving. A Christmas tree with an intricate Nativity set underneath is part of my household during the later months of the year. Strings upon strings of lights are strewn across the bushes on my front lawn, and a giant animatronic Santa peers out of the front window. Since Halloween and Thanksgiving don’t exist in the Dominican Republic, there’s no reason not to start the Christmas festivities as early as possible. So, my mom takes full advantage of the extra time to go all-out with the decorations.
When Nochebuena comes, we’re up as early as my mother can force us out of bed. Food preparation is much like it is on Thanksgiving. We eat pretty much the same dishes, with some variations so as not to get bored with the selection. Pernil, another word for pork shoulder, is commonly found on Dominican tables during this day. It is often served with sides such as moro, a bean and rice dish, potato salad, fried plantains, and whatever else we’re in the mood for that year. Throughout the cooking process, Dominican Christmas music blasts from every speaker in the house.
Once the food is prepared and we’re all dressed for the occasion, we sit down to eat Christmas dinner and then head over to my grandmother’s house for the rest of the night. When I was younger, all of the kids would go to midnight Mass, and some of the adults would stay behind, claiming they were tired from having eaten so much at dinner. When we got back, there would be presents waiting for us underneath the Christmas tree. Somehow, Santa had managed to bring us all gifts in the hour we were gone.Find More Stories