Culture

Here’s The History Of The Rivalry Between Coquito and Crème de Vie

All Latinx folks know that the holidays aren’t the holidays without those trademark winter drinks. The Navidad beverage spectrum is definitely extensive—from ponche caliente to champurrado to canelazo—but two of the most beloved holiday beverages are, sin duda, crème de vie and coquito. These two creamy concoctions are super similar (in the US, crème de vie is sometimes called “Cuban eggnog,” while coquito is known as “Puerto Rican eggnog”), but both drinks have their own fascinating (and mysterious) histories, histories that manifest in seemingly infinite variations at holiday fiestas every year.

Crème de Vie and coquito are sometimes compared to “eggnog” in modern US culture because eggnog is a quintessentially American drink (just think about how famously dairylicious the Midwest is). 

Credit: Pinterest

Most historians believe that eggnog is a relative of a medieval drink called “posset”—a British beverage of curdled hot milk mixed with wine, ale, and spices that was brought over during the 18th century. At the time, brandy and wine were heavily taxed, so rum from the Caribbean was often imported in large, less expensive quantities. Rum, then, was popularly paired with the abundant dairy products cultivated by the colonists, and traditional US eggnog was born.

Some iteration of “eggnog”—used here as a loose term to describe cross-culturally creamy, dairy-based alcoholic winter beverages—is present in just about every Central and South American country. Mexico’s “rompope” adds cinnamon, while Peru’s “biblia con pisco” uses—you guessed it!—pisco instead of rum. But we’re here to talk about crème de vie and coquito, so let’s get to it.

Coquito got its name from its primary ingredient: the coconut.

Credit: Pinterest

With coconut milk and coconut cream as a base, coquito is one of the richest, most delectable tonics one could ever put to their lips. It’s made with Puerto Rican rum, sweetened condensed milk, and other spices (usually vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves). It’s definitely sweet (and is typically served after dinner as a chupito), but it’s balanced out by the warming winter spices. Altogether, it is a well-rounded and deeply indulgent chilly day treat.

The origins of coquito are a bit mysterious, though there are two main theories that propel the imagination deep into its delicious past. Many people postulate that coquito is an outcome of colonization, when the Spanish infiltrated the island back in the early 1500s and brought their traditional version of eggnog with them. Others believe that Coquito is the younger cousin of American eggnog, emerging as a clever way for Puerto Ricans to imbibe during Prohibition (the idea is that the coconut fat could somehow disguise the alcohol, though if you’ve ever smelled a strong glass of coquito, that seems pretty dubious). The most likely source of Coquito is simply Puerto Rico’s abundance of its primary ingredients: coconuts and sugar.

Sugar has been cultivated in Puerto Rico since the 16th century, and its production skyrocketed in the 19th century. Although rum was certainly drunk in Puerto Rico before the 1600s, it did not take hold as an industry on the island until sugar did (rum wouldn’t be rum without sugar, after all). Some people hypothesize that the introduction of sweetened and evaporated milk came from American soldiers, who were familiar with these products after consuming them during wartime.

While we may never know the true origins of this incredible tonic, we can continue to savor coquito at holiday parties until the end of time.

And Crème de Vie? First of all: why “crème de vie” and not “crema de vie?” The answer is just as uncertain as the drink’s history. For some reason, “crème de vie” is used more commonly written, though it’s often pronounced “crema de vie” anyway.

No matter how you shake it, the name translates to “Cream of Life,” and if you’ve ever had this luscious winter cocktail, you know how perfect this translation truly is.

Credit: Pinterest

Crème de Vie differs from Coquito in a very important way: it does not contain coconut, but it still carries a Caribbean flare. It’s quite a bit sweeter, with a base of evaporated and sweetened condensed milk, raw egg yolk, and rum (spiced rum tends to be a bit more festive). Like coquito, it’s also garnished with vanilla, cinnamon, and other warming spices, and usually garnished with nutmeg or a full cinnamon stick—but the truth is, it’s different in every family, so your experience might not fit this description exactly!

The history of crème de vie is also unclear, with some people believing it to be borne of either the Spanish conquest or US influence. What we do know is that it is often bottled up and given as a gift for Navidad, and like coquito, it’s generally sipped after dinner as an aperitif.

The history of these drinks may be uncertain, but their popularity in the present is growing rapidly, with competitions like the Coquito Masters drawing national attention to their cultural significance. If your family doesn’t make either one, give it a try this year—you’ll be so glad you did.

Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

Culture

Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

alejandro.munoz.p / Instagram

Remember Día de Reyes when everyone cuts the rosca and hopes to god not to get the little niño Jesus? If you grew up Mexican, you probably know that whoever gets the baby Jesus figurine owes everyone tamales. But when is the tamal party? And most importantly—why? Keep reading to find out what El Día de la Candelaria means, what your abuelitas and tías are actually celebrating and how it originated —spoiler alert: it’s colonization.

February 2nd may be Groundhog Day in the United States, but in Mexico, and for many Latinos outside of Mexico, there is a completely different celebration on this date.

The religious holiday is known as Día de la Candelaria (or Candlemas in English). And on this day of the year, people get together with family and friends to eat tamales, as a continuation of the festivities of Three Kings’ Day on January 6. 

This is why your abuelita dresses up her niño Jesús in extravagant outfits.

For Día de la Candelaria it’s customary for celebrants to dress up figures of the Christ Child in special outfits and take them to the church to be blessed. Día de la Candelaria is traditionally a religious and family celebration, but in some places, such as Tlacotalpan, in the state of Veracruz, it is a major fiesta with fairs and parades.

February 2nd is exactly forty days after Christmas and is celebrated by the Catholic church as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin.

Alternatively, this day also counts as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The origin of this religious feast day comes from ancient Jewish tradition. According to Jewish law, a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, and it was customary to bring a baby to the temple after that period of time had passed. So the idea is that Mary and Joseph would have taken Jesus to the temple to be blessed on February second, forty days after his birth on December 25.

The tradition goes back to around the 11th Century in Europe.

People typically took candles to the church to be blessed as part of the celebration. This tradition was based on the biblical passage of Luke 2:22-39 which recounts how when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a particularly devout man named Simeon embraced the child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” The reference to the light inspired the celebration of the blessing of the candles.

In Mexico Día de la Candelaria is a follow-up to the festivities of Three Kings Day on January 6th.

On Día De Reyes, when children receive gifts, families and friends gather together to eat Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with figurines of a baby (representing the Child Jesus) hidden inside. The person (or people) who received the figurines on Three Kings Day are supposed to host the party on Candlemas Day. Tamales are the food of choice.

This tradition also carries Pre-Hispanic roots.

After the Spanish conquistadors introduced the Catholic religion and masked indigenous traditions with their own, to help spread evangelization, many villagers picked up the tradition of taking their corn to the church in order to get their crops blessed after planting their seeds for the new agricultural cycle that was starting. They did this on February 2, which was the eleventh day of the first month on the Aztec calendar —which coincidentally fell on the same day as the Candelaria celebration. It’s believed that this is why, to this day, the celebratory feast on February 2 is all corn-based —atole and tamales.

This date is special for other reasons too… 

February 2, marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which aligns with the pagan holiday of Imbolc. Since ancient times, this date was thought to be a marker or predictor of the weather to come, which is why it is also celebrated as Groundhog Day in the United States. There was an old English saying that went “if Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.” In many places, this is traditionally seen as the best time to prepare the earth for spring planting.

In Perú the Fiesta de la Candelaria is a festival in honor of the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of the city of Puno and it is one of the biggest festivals of culture, music, and dancing in the country.

The huge festival brings together the Catholic faith and Andean religion in homage to the Virgin of Candelaria. The Virgin represents fertility and purity. She is the patron saint of the city and is strongly associated with the Andean deity of ‘Pachamama’ (‘mother earth’). It is this common factor of both religions that brings them together for the festival. In 2014, UNESCO declared the festival an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The main dates of ‘Fiesta de la Candelaria’ are February 2nd – 12th.

Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

Culture

Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

bolilloscafe /Instagram

For many who regularly take part in the holiday season, Christmas traditions are strongly tied to religious beliefs and practices. The ways in which the customs around the holiday season are carried out often deeply rooted in cultural rituals and they often vary from family to family. For my Puerto Rican family, the holiday season is drawn out well past the first of January when radio stations reel back on the jingles and Mariah Carey classics. For us, the Twelve Days Of Christmas sales or songs we know of don’t relate to the days leading up to December 25, but rather the twelve days in between Christmas Day and January 6 The Epiphany, a biblical day that marks the final leg of the  Three Wise Men’s journey to deliver gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus Christ.

Día De Los Reyes has always been an especially important day for my family. The fact that “reyes” is my mother’s maiden name has only made the day a little sweeter.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

A more popular holiday back on the island, my abuela and abuelo Reyes brought their traditions to the mainland with them in the 1950s.

On the evening of January 5, each member of my family from grandfather to my youngest sobrino pull out cardboard shoe and clothing boxes (all marked with our names, drawn on and decorated over the years with crayons, markers, and glitter pens) to take part in a tradition that we hold dear in our hearts. After we’ve filled the boxes with snacks like carrots, lettuce, and sometimes grass for the Three Kings’ camels to munch on as they pass through our town we stick the boxes under our beds. Finally, just as we would with Santa Claus, we write the Three Kings–Los Reyes–a handwritten note wishing them safe travels as the journey to see the baby Jesus hoping that as they did with him on that first Epiphany, they’ll leave a small gift or token of some sort under our boxes.

Dia De Los Reyes functions similarly to Christmas Eve in my family. We all wake up and check under our boxes to see if we were good enough this year to receive any gifts. We’d go to mass together, where as kids we’d hope that maybe Los Reyes stayed in town with their camels long enough that day to be at the church community center to pose for photos. We would visit family and eat pernil and arroz con gandules, dishes reserved for celebrations and holidays.

As I got older I went to mass only sometimes and stopped looking to get my photos with Los Reyes.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

I never stopped checking my box for gifts though, or remembering each rey by the names older relatives taught me to write in my letters: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. As an adult I focused on new ways to celebrate “being a king,” as my family would say, and took on the role of expert coquito maker.

When I started dating and began wanting to bring boyfriends home for the holidays, part of my new role during the holiday season also unintentionally became one of both gatekeeper and teacher of my Puerto Rican culture. As a sophomore in college, I brought my then boyfriend home for December for the first time. In my household, Noche Buena, Christmas Day, New Years Day, New Year’s Eve, and Dia De Los Reyes were all days set aside for family, exclusively. I knew not to ask for exceptions, and in the past had willfully or grudgingly passed up holiday and New Years parties to honor the expectation of being en familia.

But in my twenties I badly started to yearn for my first New Years kiss and wanted, even more, to share part of my twelve days of Christmas with somebody who mattered to me.

My parents, on the other hand, were hesitant. Dia De Los Reyes was about Los Reyes, as in my family.

My boyfriend was someone they saw a few times a year and knew of only from phone calls, letters, texts, and video chats. Someone so unfamiliar certainly wasn’t considered family, and moreover someone who wasn’t Latino couldn’t possibly understand the sanctity of the day we’d honored so lovingly all our lives.

Most concerning of all, Dia De Los Reyes is also known among some circles as “the poor man’s Christmas,” my grandparents’ explanation being that back in the days of Jesus, being a king didn’t mean wealth like it means today. It meant that the giftschildren and observers receive in their boxes today are small, like a $10 gift card, socks, some mittens, or maybe candy. The last thing my family needed was for some guy they didn’t know to reach into an old shoebox of all things, pull out socks, and think we were cheap. With some convincing and a little grumbling, my family allowed me to write my boyfriend’s name on a box, fill it with lettuce and put it under my bed on January 5.

That night as I lay in bed, I did feel nervous knowing that I was bringing somebody into such a special part of my life that no one had ever seen before outside of my parents. Earlier in the day, I made sure to explain to him how seriously my family took our family only traditions, and how it wasn’t just about the religious holiday but the namesake that ties us to one another. I felt silly as I highlighted decorating beat-up boxes as one of my favorite traditions, something I hadn’t ever admitted out loud. Quiet and reserved, he listened to my stories but didn’t ask any questions.

In the morning, I still had my family only morning mass and our opening of gifts, but later that day my boyfriend was invited over for pasteles, coquito, and the checking of his first and only Three Kings Day box.

My parents observed with critical eyes as he went through the motions of our traditions, seeming charmed by the gifts of a hat and gloves left resting on top of torn up shreds of lettuce, proof that Los Reyes had come through our house. As he followed our lead I sat hoping that by participating in the events himself, he might better understand where my love for my culture comes from, or maybe even briefly feel the same sense of childhood joy I do on that day each year. Admittedly, it was an awkward day for everyone involved and not filled with all the magic I had hoped for. Nonetheless, I still felt proud of myself for being able to break down a barrier that had long existed between myself and not only romantic connections but a friend, too.

I wanted the opportunity to show those outside of my family the part of my identity that I hadn’t always made transparent in my daily life, even if that meant that they didn’t understand or wouldn’t “get it” at first.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Even though the person who got to take the test run of my family only traditions and I aren’t together anymore, a few years ago he broke the mold for being able to bring others into a part of my life I was using to shutting so many close to me out of.n Maybe he did think that of us, our gifts, or the day we celebrate as cheap, but after the fact I, didn’t care. In the years that have followed, what has mattered most to me has been that I could start sharing Reyes, this name that laid down the foundation to who I am before I was ever born, and all the nuances that come with it with those I want to know me better.

This Dia De Los Reyes will be one of a few Reyes family festivities that my current boyfriend will be participating in, and another year where my family pulls out his box and welcomes his extra cheer into our holidays. While he’s still learning about my roots, I’m still learning that I can take these moments and use them to bring myself closer to my culture and my loved ones.


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