Christmas may have come and gone, but the Christmastime and the Holidays are still going strong. I’m sure many would agree when I say that this year, more than ever, we need to keep up as much holiday cheer as possible. I grew up in a Dominican household between New York and Puerto Rico, so I’ve experienced several types of holiday celebrations and traditions, most of which I’ve incorporated in my household.
Christmas in New York City was very special. We’d go ice skating in Central Park, visit the tree at Rockefeller Center, and see the store windows on 5th Ave. The best part of the Holidays were the big traditional Dominican parties. The Christmas party was always held at our place. We would have what my memory holds to be be around 50 people at our small Brooklyn apartment. It was the event of the year! Tropical music playing, drinks flowing, and endless food, even my Mom’s special lasagna was a menu must. We’d all dress up and my cousins, my brother and I tried our very best to stay up as late as the party, but we always fell asleep, even with the music blasting. On Christmas morning, I’d wake up not knowing how or when I’d changed into my PJs and gotten to bed, but quickly remembered it was finally Christmas and Santa had made his way into our home via the kitchen fire escape as our parents told us he would. Presents, laughter and breakfast took up most of our morning, then playing all day and leftovers the rest of the day.
When we moved to Puerto Rico, my family reduced to 3 family units, so I definitely missed that huge family and extended family dynamic. My aunt and uncle missed theirs in the Dominican Republic as well, so they made amazing efforts to create an environment for my cousins and us that was festive enough for us to adjust and be happy during the holidays in our new home. Our holidays were small, but so full of love, delicious food and new traditions. My aunt’s and mom’s Christmas trees were so beautiful, though delicate and kind of untouchable. Looking back, there may have been a tiny competition between them, but I’m not mad about that. Our family was growing, so when my younger siblings came in the picture, our celebrations were twice as fun! Just seeing their faces light up on Christmas and on Three King’s Day while opening their gifts made me so happy! As we continued to learn about the culture and Holiday traditions in Puerto Rico, we started to incorporate those as well. In school, I participated in Christmas plays, dance performances and learned about the longest Holiday season in the world. In Puerto Rico, they celebrate from Thanksgiving through February 2nd, with special days like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Epiphany (Three King’s Day). The best part were the parrandas. In this his uniquely Puertorican tradition, a group people would go from house to house, playing super festive music with handheld instruments. Each home would serve some sort of typical food and/or drinks while picking up the people in that new household. Every time the group gets bigger and by the end of the night everyone is pretty lit and they serve a hearty stew “asopao” at the very last house. It’s amazing and incredibly fun! I remember in High School I was invited to one all the way on the west end of the island and it was so amazing I cried with all the beautiful music, laughter and culture.
My husband, being Puertorican, grew up with these beautiful traditions and invited me to his families festivities when we started dating. The big to do with his family has always been New Year’s Eve. We would all go to his uncle’s house on the West end of the island for a huge party with all his cousins and childhood friends. For years, before we moved to Texas, it was my favorite part of the holidays. I even invited my own family one year and they had the time of their lives! Since we moved to Texas, we’ve managed to create a lovely group of friends that feel like family and have had some of my family members move to San Antonio, so we’ve had some lovely low-key holidays during the past few years. For New Year’s Eve, hubby and I have created a new tradition of dining out at a beautiful restaurant in a hotel and ring in the New Year at the Pearl Brewery. We’ve celebrated there alone, with friends, and even some visiting family.
This year, with the Pandemic probably at it’s peak in the U.S., we decided to keep it very low-key and not have friends or family over, or attend any parties. My husband had a goal of preparing our patio before the holidays so we could have a new ambiance. Since late Summer, we’ve been working very hard to get the patio ready for the season. We got the floors done with new tile installed, had a custom pergola built and patio furniture we’ve been dreaming of for years. We decorated with all the Christmas decor right after Thanksgiving and I’ve been preparing our favorite traditional Puertorican and Dominican Holiday meals and drinks. We drank hot chocolate bombs, making s’mores on the fire pit and attended Zoom parties with our families. We created new traditions and made the best of this situation and I have to say, it’s been very nice.
These Holidays may have looked a little different, but while we stayed home for our safety and that of our loved ones during this Global Pandemic, we still kept it pretty festive. We do miss our families, but we remained connected thanks to the power of the internet and technology. We did our best to make it very special, even receiving a beautiful livestream parranda song from our family in Puerto Rico, keeping our spirits high during this season. I’m looking forward to the day when we can all be reunited and celebrate together in person again. In the meantime, I hope you all had a beautiful Holiday Season at Home, “Navidades en la Sala”!