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The Importance of Noche Buena for the Latinx Community

The earliest memory of Noche Buena (Good/Holy Night), I can recount, is of my grandmother and I attending Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass) at Annunciation Church in Harlem, New York. 

However, the fun began early in the day, as my mom prepared our traditional dinner of rice and pigeon peas, pink potato salad, pasteles en hoja, and roast pork. The feast of champions we all looked forward to having as a family was accompanied by drinks, laughs, and fun conversation. 

The soundtrack for the festive and happy day consisted of Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, Tito Rojas, and Jose Feliciano. The music lifted everyone’s spirit leaving a trail of happy moments to help get through difficult times we may have endured during the rest of the year. 

The 24th of December is much more than Christmas Eve for Latinx communities; it is a celebration of culture, tradition, and love.

Noche Buena is celebrated differently depending on where you live and how your family chooses to mark the day. The celebrations are also filled with food, like many others, but the main dishes may vary greatly depending on the country. 

In Colombia, the sweet dessert, bunuelos (fried dough and cinnamon sugar), is a favorite, as it is in Mexico. Mexicans enjoy tamales and bacalao (cod) along with their meal. The seafood and soup with turron honey, sweet, delightful cake that Spaniards indulge in is a must on the table the night before Christmas. The drink coquito is a favorite at Latinx holiday parties. The spiced eggnog makes for a great after-dinner dessert. The dishes vary from home to home, but every preparation has an essential element, a heavy dose of love.

The night before Christmas brings reflection; often, prayer is exercised in beautiful ways.

Posadas and Misa del Gallo are well-known Catholic traditions used to honor the religious aspect of this time of year. Posadas are held in Latin American countries and other Latinx communities in Spain, Cuba, and the United States. People pray the last nine days before Christmas, between December 16 and December 24, in addition to a re-enactment of the pilgrimage made by Mary and Joseph. La Misa del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster) is held at midnight on Christmas Day. It is a gathering of the crowds to commemorate Jesus’ birth. The tradition brings family and neighbors together in a celebratory moment of prayer.

As a young girl, I spent a Christmas season in Puerto Rico. My fondest memory during the holiday was the Parrandas. Carolers would gather at one house and sing holiday tunes, once they sing their hearts out with instruments in hand. 

The aguinaldos (traditional holiday songs) are accompanied by maracas, guitars, and tambourines to create lively jam sessions. The holidays’ joy and spirit are felt by neighbors knocking from house to house until the crowd increasingly grows with every carol.

One other unique feature you may be familiar with is the Nativity scene that many store in the old boxes in the attic. Each season, we take it out to add under the tree as part of our Christmas display. My mother passed hers on to me when I got older. It is a small wooden barn with hay glued to it, with the figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the Three Kings: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The set even had a small dim bulb that lit up to emulate the stars’ weak brilliance the night Jesus was born. It has been one of the most treasured keepsakes of all the ones collected over the years.

Parts of our traditions have been lost to assimilating into American society. It has remained important to our community to keep up with the customs that come with la Cena de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve’s Holy Night Dinner) and events of this special night. Even if we are not religious or practice Catholicism, we love our food, music, and celebration. Festivities are much more about the joy of spending time with loved ones to share in this beautiful celebration. 

The Latinx population has always been recognized for its energy and zest for life. Maintaining a grasp on our identity includes holding on to the traditions in order to pass them on to generations that come after. 

I continue to celebrate Noche Buena with my daughter, as my mom did with us. She looks forward to the cooking and other festivities that take place in our home each year. I’ve found myself combining Latinx and American traditions to give her the best of both worlds. 

We don’t have to deprive ourselves or our children of some of the beautiful events that happen each season. Combining these can offer a wider variety of activities and open up the possibilities. Showing them they do not have to give up their identity to fit in while enjoying the American ones is a beautiful way to demonstrate the ability to be flexible and accepting of different cultures.

Therefore, continue to carry on the celebrations to enjoy for years to come! Feliz Noche Buena!

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