‘Tis the Season for Tradiciones

Whenever a holiday brings la familia together, Latinos are there to celebrate it. Christmas festivities are no exception. Not only is it the holy time to celebrate El Niño Divino, but it’s also an opportunity to get dressed up, eat good food, cantar las novenas, forgive past grudges, buy good gifts and, yes, dance into the wee hours. And it’s not just family we celebrate with. We’re known to invite friends, co-workers and acquaintances with nowhere else to go. Though the family traditions may vary from country to country or state to state, the common thread is a festive spirit. Here are three Latinas who share their favorite holiday traditions.

“It's not about gifts, it's about having the house packed with relatives.” – Ivette Manners

Our main priority is spending all of Christmas Day together. Everyone comes over early, and we open small gifts together. We play music all day, tells stories -- Cubans love to tell stories -- and eat. In fact, we graze all day long, until my mom prepares a huge dinner. My mom makes Pernil, which is our version of American Turkey and what we have for every celebration, including birthdays and Easter. After dinner, we make the rounds to neighbors’ homes to wish each other a Merry Christmas. It’s a family tradition that my parents brought over from Cuba, where they were born, but we carry on today.

“I’m making sure that we keep the old recipes and old rituals going.” – Robyn Moreno

My Swedish husband and I started our own "new/hybrid" family tradition where we host a Glögg and tamale Christmas party. To celebrate his Swedish side, we make spiced mulled wine and gingerbread cookies. And to honor my Mexican-American background, we serve savory tamales. We discovered that the foods actually all go together quite well. It’s a great way to both honor and blend our heritage, especially for our new "Swexican" daughter! I also make luminarias every year and place them in the driveway. It’s a beautiful Christmas tradition that reminds me of growing up in the southwest.

For me, the holidays are way more about familia than regalos. Spending time with family cooking, relaxing, laughing and dancing always brings back the feeling of being home. I vividly remember running around with my primos, the smell of my abuela‘s kitchen making champurrado and laughing at my Dad badly dressed up as Santa, than I do any presents that I ever received.

“I make it a point to serve those less fortunate on Christmas.” – Marlene Robles

When I was growing up in Colombia in the 1960s, no one ever bought expensive gifts for Christmas. All the kids received were candies, and that was enough for us. The aunt who raised me taught her seven children and me to think of others during Christmas. Was there a neighbor who didn’t have enough money for el pavo asado? Was there someone sickly who needed compañia? She taught me to see the abundance in our lives and how lucky we were to have each other.

Today, I volunteer with my local church on Christmas, and make visits to the elderly and homebound who would otherwise be alone during the holiday. With all of the joy and peace that they give me, I draw more Christmas Spirit from them than from anything else.

The holidays are a special time to spend with family and those in need, and the rich family traditions that these three women carry on year after year reflect their holiday spirit and heritage in a wonderfully festive way.

Having the familia over for the holidays? Here are a few quick tips on getting tu casa ready for holiday guests.