Hispanic Holiday Cooking: How to Celebrate the Holiday Season
The holidays are all about celebrating with family and friends, and it’s not an overstatement to say that Latin Culture celebrates together better than anyone.
While there are differences in the types of celebrations and the significance of the various holidays, what’s important to know is that Latinos spend much more time and have a lot more holiday celebrations than perhaps just about anyone when it comes to celebrating the holiday season.
Culturally, historically, and traditionally, celebrations center around family and food. This is true regardless of whether you’re from South America, Central America, or mainland Mexico.
From attending traditional midnight Mass, Noche Buena, and Dia de Los Reyes Magos on January 6th, Hispanic culture has about a month of activities, holidays, and celebrations.
Celebrations vary from region to region and even within different households. That said, there are the five common pillars in Hispanic culture: family, food, fiesta, faith, and futbol.
As food is the centerpiece of holidays in Hispanic culture, spending some time with family and young ones is a great way to educate the importance and history of the foods selected, the significance of the foods to the holiday, and just having some time to bond together.
Taking time to teach your family the importance of traditional Hispanic cuisine is a great way to celebrate the holiday season.
Celebrating the holidays by cooking with your kids while teaching them the importance of food in Hispanic culture is the best way to enjoy family, food, fiesta, faith, and you can always find a great game of futbol.
Hispanic Holiday Cooking With Kids
Spending time over the holidays with your kids is a transformative experience for both of you. By taking the time to bond with your kids, you’re teaching them valuable skills and traditions, especially with celebrations around food and holidays.
There are five key celebrations and traditions to share with your child, and each will reinforce the bonds between you both and teach some crucial history about what it means to be Hispanic.
The following list of foods is typical throughout Hispanic cultures, though variances do occur.
Beginning December 16th, this nine-day celebration honors the period that Mary and Joseph sought shelter before the birth of Jesus. Participants gather together before separating into two groups, the peregrinos (travelers - symbolizing Joseph and Mary) and the innkeepers.
The peregrinos dress up in various garb, some carry mini-statuettes of the Virgin Mary, and children play a vital role in the procession, dressing up as the Madonna and leading the group toward the innkeepers. One plays the innkeepers that turn away Joseph and Mary, while another group accepts the peregrinos.
When the innkeepers finally accept the peregrinos, the couple is welcomed into the home, where a colossal fiesta begins. Every country and region has specific foods that are used to honor the guests. An example is in Mexico, where the fiesta begins with a bunch of singing and dancing before eating traditional Mexican foods. Tamales, bunuelos, ponche (a traditional Mexican fruit drink), and more.
In parts of Latin America, the celebration known as the Novena lasts for nine nights and is celebrated with a series of prayers and songs in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, and after prayers, it’s traditional to sing Villancicos.
Throughout the holidays, Villancicos are the Hispanic version of traditional Christmas carols. Some are familiar throughout the Americas, such as Noche de Paz (or Silent Night). In contrast, others are more rooted in 15th-century Spanish histories, such as Compana Sobre Compana (Bell over Bell) and Mi Burrito Sabanero (The Donkey of Bethlehem).
Another tradition of the holidays is in some parts of Latin America, parranderos gather to sing for family, friends, and other loved ones. The difference between carolers and parranderos, is that parranderos gather much later at night to surprise their sleeping friends with songs and music. Typically, those being caroled invite their friends in for a quick refreshment before they head back out to surprise another sleeping loved one.
While most Americans celebrate Christmas Eve by putting cookies and milk out for Santa Claus, in Hispanic culture, Nochebuena is a significant event of family, fiesta, and afterward, in faith. During Nochebuena, families get together for an enormous feast, often exchanging gifts before heading out to midnight Mass, an event known as Misa del Gallo.
La Misa del Gallo
The midnight Mass celebrated throughout Latin America is La Misa del Gallo or the Rooster’s Mass. The history behind midnight Mass is that the church set up a Mass to accommodate the schedules of rural farmers that would need to tend their farms early morning on Christmas Day. Over time, the midnight Mass has adapted to include messages for young people and adults. In some parts of Latin America, La Misa del Gallo is more important than Christmas Day.
The Ano Viejo celebration uses cardboard, sawdust, and cloth cutouts to represent the bad times of the previous year. As the festival continues, those cutouts are lit on fire to symbolize the end of the bad times and look forward to the future. Of course, lighting things on fire is always fun for kids, and this celebration teaches tradition and safety at the same time.
Dia de Los Reyes Magos
In some ways, January 6th is one of the most important days of celebration. In fact, for some parts of Latin America, January 6th or Dia de Los Reyes Magos (three kings day) honors the arrival of the three kings who came to pay tribute and visit Jesus at his birth. At the start of the new year, kids write letters to the kings asking for gifts, sometimes putting hay under their beds. Then, on January 6th, offerings are left behind to surprise the kids in the morning.
One of the best foods in Hispanic cuisine is tamales. While not difficult to make, they are time-consuming, and the tradition of making tamales for special occasions is known as a Tamalada.
The most well-known of tamales is the Mexican version, which is stuffed masa wrapped in corn husks and steamed. In Puerto Rico, the tamale is the pastel, a plantain and yucca-based filling wrapped in banana leaves before being steamed.
Because tamales take a while to make, they are an excellent way for you to spend quality time with your kids while teaching them about the culture, history, and traditions behind the Tamalada.
Hispanic Holiday Food Favorites
To celebrate the holidays means feasts and family. Traditional Hispanic cuisine is both delicious and educational. Spending time together in the kitchen is an excellent way for families to observe the traditions that make Hispanic culture so unique.
Tamales: One of the more traditional holiday foods in Hispanic cuisine is the tamale. The tamale is a stuffed masa-wrapped dish that is steamed before being steamed. These delicacies often replace the turkey or other centerpiece dishes in Hispanic cuisine and represent the traditions of Hispanic history.
Ponche Navideno: The fruit-based punch varies from region to region, but the spicy fruit drink is made from sugar cane, prunes, apples, the fruit of the tejocotes - a hawthorn bush. Adults have been known to make it more “grown-up” by adding some rum or tequila to the Ponche.
Coquito: Another holiday drink is the Coquito, a rum-based type of eggnog served in the evening time.
Menudo: The morning of Christmas is often celebrated with a hearty bowl of Menudo. Also known as pancita or Mole de Panza, this dish takes hours to come together and marry all the flavors.
Moros Y Cristianos: This dish celebrates the inclusion of different cultures into Hispanic tradition. Loosely translated as the “Moors and Christians,” this black bean dish is served over white rice symbolizing the two ethnicities.
Bunuelos: No holiday is complete without the tasty bunuelos. This cinnamon sprinkled fried dough is served on every occasion and as often as possible!
Torrejas: This Colombian delicacy is a traditional dessert similar to french toast and made with pinole, freshly roasted corn kernels. Sometimes these are made similar to ladyfingers, dipped in cinnamon and brown sugar, served hot.
These dishes can be paired with any of the holiday celebrations mentioned, and spending time to make them before sharing them with loved ones is a time-honored tradition.
In Hispanic culture, so much of the history and tradition is centered around food. Food brings people together, comforts them during difficult times, and is used to celebrate important events.
As many dishes have regional and historical significance, teaching your children to cook them educates them about their ancestral past. In addition, bonding and educating your children around holiday cooking is an incredible way to observe the holidays and to spend some quality time together.