In my family we don’t have a particular set of traditions we follow every year for Christmas: some years we’d be traveling to Puerto Rico where my mom is from, other years we’d be hosting relatives in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and occasionally it would just be our nuclear family, although family-friends were always welcome to join, even on Christmas Day. This was sometimes a point of frustration for me as a child, because our family Christmas never looked like what I’d read about in storybooks. I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus.
One tradition that always makes an appearance is slow-roasted pork, Cuban pernil. My dad is in charge of the prep, choosing a bone-in cut of the shoulder or leg with the skin still intact. This will maintain the meat’s moisture and serve as a bonus treat of fresh chicharrónes, or pork rinds. The smell of cumin, garlic, and lime fills the house along with lively Puerto Rican Christmas music, and arguments about the oven temperature and how well-seasoned the pork is. My parents each have strong opinions about whether the Puerto Rican style or Cuban style of roasting is better. I usually stay silent on the matter. There’s a saying in Spanish, “En boca cerrada no entran moscas,” which literally translates to “flies don’t enter into a closed mouth.”
When in Puerto Rico we get to celebrate with the entire family on my mom’s side, so an entire day somewhere between Christmas and Three Kings’ Day will be spent roasting a whole pig. There’s even a Puerto Rican Christmas carol about the poor pig that was due to be roast on a spit, called “Ese Pobre Lechón.” I got to introduce my husband to the tradition when we celebrated Christmas in Puerto Rico the same year we got married – Our First Christmas. Pictured is the pobre lechón, you might notice his left ear is missing. We’d already snuck a first bite at my cousin’s insistence.
Stephanie Ruas appears as Mary in Theatre Unbound's A Gertrude Stein Christmas, devised by the ensemble from Stein's play "Turkey and Bones and Eating And We Liked It," premiering at the 2018 Minnesota Fringe. Get your tickets now!