Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traditions Old and New

I remember at some point in my childhood, we used to open gifts at midnight.  I can't remember if this came before we used to open them on Christmas morning, or after.  When I was about 5-6 years old, I had already begun to suspect that maybe Santa wasn't real.  We were going to visit my Tio Coco in Philadelphia and would be there during Christmas, and I just knew in my heart that Santa wouldn't be coming because Santa was really my mom and dad, and well, they'd be with us in Philadelphia.  I still remember opening the door to the little apartment we lived in and seeing the living room flowing with presents.  That was the moment I knew he was real. 

As I got older, life got more complicated, divorce set in and the holidays became more of a tug of war than something to be merry about.  It's hard for me to silence those demons during these months.  I really love Christmas.  I love the religious aspect of it, and I love the St. Nick aspect of it, too.  I love the colors and lights and the busy-ness and the idea of happy kids on Christmas morning.  And that's why it's so hard.  Because I still want to be one of those happy kids on Christmas morning.  But as you get older, it just isn't the same.  Having kids changed that for me a little, because now I get to create the scene to bring out the perfect look of surprise and glee in them.  It's priceless.  I love the way it makes me feel. 

Anyway, when I got married, that brought a bunch of new traditions to the table, traditions that quickly sandwiched mine because, well, I didn't really have any and my husband does.   

Christmas day is really not that big of a deal for the latins I know (this includes my South American family).  Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, is the really big day of festivities for most hispanics down here.  In the Cuban culture, it's a day of pig roasting and dancing and overindulgence and love and laughter.  And it starts tomorrow.

Christmas Eve Eve (as I used to call the days before Christmas when I was little), my husband and his father go to the butcher's to pick out *the perfect pig*.  It has to be one big enough to feed the expected 40+ people.  For Jonathan's second Christmas, my husband decided it was time to start taking him to the butcher's, too.  Now that Bryan is old enough, he's going to join in on the tradition as well.  As much as it drives me a little batty inside, it makes me really happy to see how much it means to my father-in-law and the hubs. 

*Side note.  This troubles me on so many levels.  First of all, I cannot look at a dead pig.  I love the taste, but really, it grosses me out.  I'm a total woos about it.  Secondly, Jon Jon was 21 months old when he first went, and his favorite books were books about farm animals.  I really could not make the mental leap that he would be ok with going to pick out a dead animal which he would then light on fire and later eat.  Rest assured, he was totally fine. 

The poor pig, which I secretly name in my head (everyone deserves a proper burial, and if his is going to be in our tummies, he must have a proper name), sits on a long table in my in laws' living room thawing out.  It's fucking gross.  And fucking cold.  They put the AC on 40 (ok, not 40, but as cold as it will go) and he just sits there, spread eagle, melting away.  Ew.  

Christmas Eve, the hubs wakes up super duper early (either by choice or because my FIL comes to drag him out bed) and they go over to his house and start seasoning the pig. It sounds so much nicer in cuban talk:  "adobando el cerdo".    A ton of mojo, salt and garlic pepper.  And they build the Caja China early in the morning.  The caja china is this wooden box made specifically for roasting a pig.  It has a metal bottom which is where the charcoal goes, I think.  Or maybe it goes on top?  I don't know.  Remember...there's a dead pig in there, head and all.  I'm not looking much.  Around 3pm, the men start the fire and the pig goes in.  And roasts.  And roasts.  And roasts.  The guys all go over way before and play dominoes and drink beer and eat cheese and salami and chorizo and all kinds of freaking delicious stuff that you can munch on without saying you had a meal. Because you *cannot* have a meal.  You have to be STARVING when the pig is ready to fully appreciate the deliciousness of it.  Don't  you dare think about eating first.  It's forbidden.

Not me, man.  I'm home.  I'm home avoiding the dead pig smell like the plague.  At times, my children need me so I am forced to go over and pick them up.  I think my in laws do it on purpose, I swear.  They can't understand how I can eat my steak bleeding red but can't look at a pig.  I try to explain that if I had to butcher the cow myself, or hang out with his dead fucking body before I ate him, I probably wouldn't be so gung ho about my bloody steak, but they still don't get it.  

Oh, God, I just remembered that last year, Jonathan saw the pig had nipples.  So he asked where his mommy was because he wanted to drink some boobie.  And then he ate him.  No problem.  No mental trauma.  Hahaha- us adults have all the hang ups!

Alright, so about an hour before the pig is done, the vultures start hovering.  Supposedly, the cooked skin is one of the most delicious parts.  So everyone just lingers around like seagulls on a pier, waiting to see when the Chefs are going to tear off a piece of the pellejito or chicharron (which is cooked crispy skin) and give it to them.  Seriously, sometimes they fight for it.  Ew. Ew. Ew.

And then the moment of truth.  The pig is READY!!  There's a loooooooong table set up which sits 20 on each side and we all sit down to eat together.  My MIL and SIL make all the other sides -- yucca with garlic mojo, black beans, rice, salad, bread and all kinds of different desserts like flan, arroz con leche, tres leches, and some key lime pie. Hahahaha.   I mean really, we are in the USA. :-P

And for all my "ewing" and gagging, the pig is fucking delicious.  The meat is perfectly cooked and just melts in your mouth.  I get to watch my boys run around with their cousins and they are so excited that Santa is coming soon.  

We leave around 11pm, although the party has been known to go on til the wee hours of the morning.  There was one year that my sister went and they stayed up karaoke-ing until 2am.  But the later the Munchkins stay up, the lighter they sleep, and I can't have them getting a peek at Santa.  Santa doesn't come if he thinks he's been seen...

Christmas day, the boys wake up at the crack of dawn and see that Santa really did come!  He ate the cookies we baked and he found a way in regardless of us not having a chimney.  He gave the carrots to his reindeer and all those questions about why he doesn't exercise aren't really important when he's come and brought all the gifts.  I make a regal breakfast fit for my King and make sure the four of us are napping by noon.  At around 6, we go to my sister-in-law's house where they have fresh cuban bread and chopped onions waiting for the whole family to get together again, but this time to eat "pan con lechon" (pork sandwiches).  It's divine.


This year, I'm throwing a wrench in the plan by making a turkey on Christmas day.  Hopefully, I can also throw a wrench in the plan by enjoying the day, and understanding the importance of family and tradition, instead of feeling threatened by it.   Logically, this experience sounds magical for my 3 boys, but emotionally, it's hard for me to deal, it's hard for me to share, it's hard for me to not be in control--  of myself and my emotions, or others.   

But, here I am, on Christmas Eve Eve, hoping to surprise myself. Hey, stranger things have a fat man with flying reindeer getting through a chimney and making it around the world in just one night... ;-)


AmyBean said...

Oh man, I would totally puke. I've had a dead pig laid out on my family's table before when I was a kid -- actually, it was HALF a dead pig, sliced nose to tail, which might actually be worse. It was delicious, but oh man, that was so disgusting. Ugh. *shudder*

But it's nice to have traditions. I prefer traditions that don't make me gag though. :-P

I don't know what to say about you enjoying Christmas, other than just to make up your mind to enjoy it. And if you don't enjoy it, think about how you can make it better for yourself. If it's just bad memories clouding the day, those things are past. You can't change them now. You're making new memories, and that's way better. Live vicariously through your kids, and look at Christmas for what it really is: magic, giving, and love.

Valkyrie said...

Oh god, the pig thing is so freakin' disgusting! But I am sure that it tastes divine when it is done. I'm also sure that the crispy cooked skin is indeed the best part. But in order for me to eat it, I would have to NOT see it in its whole animal form. The only reason I can eat animals is because by the time I get hold of the meat, it doesn't *look* like an animal.

My tradition is a nice Christmas Eve dinner too--and it's usually ham. :-)

I really love Christmas--every bit of it. Well, maybe not the mess after all the presents are unwrapped. Holy god, why do we put so much packaging on everything?!

Christmas *is* magic. I love that I have been able to make my own traditions, and I am so comforted by them. My family had no real traditions, so I had to make my own. Christmas is not a big deal to Daniel because it is not a big deal in Argentina. They do the big dinner with family and go to mass. Christmas is religious. It was the 6th of January that is the big deal. The children put grass in their shoes for the camels. And I'm thinking this is why you leave carrots for the reindeer. I don't know any American who leaves anything for the reindeer. I'll bet you picked that up by osmosis because little kids in South America always leave something for the kings' camels.

Little Miss Me said...

Valk, I would totally tell you why Ray says we put so much packing on everything, but it is not PC. HAHAHAHA!

Wait?! Really?! The reindeer don't get carrots?! So only the fat guy gets to eat? I smell Chinese labor laws...

Jonathan said he wants Santa to eat carrots, too, because he's too fat. So he's putting out cookies and carrots. He's really concerned with Santa's weight.

Los Reyes Magos...that's the 6th. It's a big deal to my ILs, too. I have been here too long to think anything other than by then, I should have gotten rid of the tree. :-/

Ames, those pictures are from last Christmas where a bunch of people canceled last minute so they sliced the pig just like you said. Gaggity gag gag gag!!!!!

I promise I'll post more pics. I demand you to share in my pig misery. :-P

My FIL dragged Ray out of bed this morning. It made me laugh. :)