Here’s Why Everyone Should Celebrate Nochebuena At Least Once With Their Latino Friends
While many families around the world will be setting out cookies and milk for Santa and promptly sending the kids off to bed to wait until Christmas morning to open their presents, Latino families will be gathering with their tíos, tías, abuelos, and primos for one of the biggest parties of the year; Nochebuena —and it definitely outshines Thanksgiving, New Years, and Christmas Day, combined.
For Latinos, Christmas Eve is even better than the actual day.
Nochebuena literally means ‘good night’ or ‘holy night’, and it’s a time for family, friends, food, presents and chisme, of course, We all know that there’s always chisme.
Nochebuena parties usually happen at the reigning matriarch’s home.
Every Christmas Eve, entire families flock from every part of the city —sometimes different countries— all the way to Grandma or Grandpa’s house, to meet the entire family. It’s the one time of year when you get to see your long lost primos or that tío you can’t stand; all to celebrate the birth of Jesus —And to open presents tbh.
Everyone dresses up to sit in grandma’s house and eat up a feast.
Nochebuena is a time to serve up a fashion clinic for everyone present. Tías turn up looking extra af, los tíos are sometimes forced to wear ties, and all the primos and primas are selfie-ready as soon as the clock hits midnight.
Depending on your family’s nationality or background, your Nochebuena experience might vary.
From the menu to the ancient traditions to the religious aspects, everything may be different depending on your family’s nationality. For example, if you attend a Cuban or Puerto Rican Nochebuena, you’ll find yourself face to face with a lechón, which is a deliciously large roast pig with face, feet, and everything else intact. Traditionally, the lechón is prepared inside something called a caja China and some times buried underground.
If you’re attending Nochebuena in a Mexican household, you might find yourself enjoying homemade tamales and pozole.
The menu might also include flan or buñelos for dessert, and maybe even a little tequila. Colombian Nochebuena dinners might include ajiaco Bogotano, a type of potato soup, and natilla, a dessert made from cornstarch and milk that’s way more delicious than it sounds; while Venezuelans enjoy pernil (pork leg) and panettone (a sweet bread loaf) as their traditional Nochebuena treats.
Get ready for ‘el intercambio.’
Just as the clock strikes midnight, everyone gets ready to eat their traditional dishes. Once the food gets eaten and the cafecito has been drunk, it’s time to gather around the Christmas tree and Nativity scene to hand out regalos. The ‘intercambio’ which literally translates to “exchange” is a Secret Santa of sorts, but it involves your whole family. Everyone gets a present and some families use the occasion to pick at each other by gifting ‘prank’ presents as well as real, meaningful ones.
Nochebuena is even celebrated in the Philipines.
The Phillipines was also a colony of Spain. The Spanish influence on Filipino culture is still pretty much present, and so Nochebuena is still celebrated on the islands. Over there folks indulge in everything from hamonado, a pineapple juice-infused chicken or pork, to sotanghon soup, a type of hot noodle soup, and tsokolate (hot chocolate) to end the meal.
If the family celebrating Nochebuena is Catholic, there will be more events lined up on the night before Christmas.
For many Catholics of various nationalities, dinner is often either preceded by or followed by a trip to church for la Misa de Gallo, or the midnight mass. In many Latin American cultures, there’s a baby Jesus tribute that takes place before exchanging presents or eating dinner. Days, and sometimes weeks, before Christmas eve, when the tree gets set up, so does the family’s nativity scene. Every piece and character gets set up as part of the Nativity scene, everything except baby Jesus. This key character joins the rest of the crew at midnight on Dec. 24, right after his birth.
After eating, exchanging gifts, catching up on the latest family gossip —and putting baby Jesus to sleep, many families make their own traditions.
In many Latin American countries, playing dominos, lighting fireworks, and releasing paper lanterns into the sky are also fun traditions for the evening. And once the coquito, tequila, or Aguardiente gets flowing, you’ll probably end up dancing along to “Mi Burrito Sabanero” or Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” just some of the many songs you’re bound to hear at least once at a Noche buena party.