Alegre vengo de la montaña
de mi cabaña que alegre está
y a mis amigos les traigo flores
de las mejores de mi rosal.
Y a mis amigos les traigo flores
de las mejores de mi rosal.
This song plays in loop in my head all Christmas season long. I learned it in third grade and it takes me back to a very small apartment, in a very Italian neighborhood, where I was a little girl very attached to her Abuela. She lived with us and was then, as she still remains now even long after her passing, an incredible influence in my life. She came from a small town in Puerto Rico called Orocovis. If you ever wanted to visit, pick the center most spot on the Puerto Rican map and there amongst the gorgeous verdant mountains, full of lush vegetation, banana trees thick with fruit, and sugar cane ready to chop and eat, is this little town. The nights are pitch dark and the stars are clear in view. And of course the chorus of coquís fills your ears and lulls you to sleep in such a glorious manner.
As the season would draw near, the anticipation for the foods she would prepare became greater. Even as I aged out of the excitement over Santa’s coming visit, I never lost my fever for my Abuela’s arroz con dulce. When I saw that she had bought the coconut, there was nothing else I could think of. And when she brought out the hammer to get into it, I was right there to witness it. She always drained the coconut water into a cup first and gave it to me. And with delight I would drink it up as she watched and laughed with love. Then I would watch her strong hands break the coconut open and tear the flesh out. Next she would take out the good ol’ standing hand grater and grate the coconut by hand. Soon she’d go into the kitchen and by then it was my bed time. The next morning I would see the plate of perfectly milk white arroz con dulce dotted with raisins and always whine that she didn’t make enough.
Her hand grater spent a good amount of time in use during the Christmas season, for she hand grated all the vegetable for the pasteles as well. If you have ever handled a raw yucca or yautía, you can probably appreciate what a feat that was. She would let mix the masa, pour the milk and salt it to taste. And then when it came time, I would help in the wrapping of the actual pasteles. Being in the pasteles production line with my mother and Abuela was such a special thing to me. It was what made the season not only important, but real to me. I don’t remember what I got every year for Christmas, but I remember the sights, sounds, smells and joys of the Christmas foods and traditions my Abuela passed down to me.
My Christmas traditions come directly from my beloved Abuela. And while I have updated the equipment, trading in the hand grater for a cuisine art, the foods and traditions are the same. I still buy a coconut to break open and divide the water amongst my children, but instead of making one plate full of arroz con dulce, I make two trays. My children are now getting to be old enough to learn to make pasteles, and so perhaps this year they will join the assembly process. The pernil will be in the oven, the arroz con gandules on the stove top and for my daughter, I will make the sancocho she has been asking for since early November. My children never met my Abuela, but through the foods and traditions I pass down to them from her, they remain strongly linked to her, as I have always been.
Si me dan pasteles,
que pasteles fríos empachan la gente Si me dan arroz
no me den cuchara,
que mamá me dijo
que se lo llevara.
Melissa is a mother of four children. In the tradition of many Hispanic families, her maternal grandmother lived with them. Melissa´s drive to raise her children in as many of the traditions as she was raised in, is the best way she could come up with to keep her Abuela close to her. You can get close to Melissa through her blog, Mis Hijos También.
Is there a place or person that binds you to your heritage and traditions?
Your Bicultural Holiday Traditions continues tomorrow with a story from Adriana, My Bilingual Boys, who shares with us how she´s keeping in touch with her Mexican heritage through the holiday traditions. Make sure you’re subscribed to our feed either by RSS or email so you don’t miss a beat.