In Part 3 of our Mi Navidad series, Amy Scroggin shares her about her experience as a Cuban-American celebrating the holidays with family.
As I step into my Tio Carlos’ home, I am immediately surrounded by delicious smells and joyful chaos. My cousins and cousin’s cousins are running around the house as my Tios warn them not to play too close to la caja china. Every year on Noche Buena, celebrated on Christmas Eve, the Martinez family will roast an entire pig in a large box sizzling with hot coals called la caja china. The cousins fight over who who gets to eat the crispy orejas (pig ears). My mother is from Cuba and my father is from the U.S. and my brother and I were raised trying to incorporate both cultures into our Christmas traditions. So on December 24th, we trade in our honey baked ham for savory lechon asada, rice and black beans (congri), yucca, platanos maduros, flan, and of course some fresh Cuban bread. Before we eat, we sing our favorite corito, “Demos Gracias al Señor” (We give thanks to God) before our grandfather, a retired Methodist minister, would pray.
Our family has always valued music and performance, so all the grandchildren would plan out our annual nativity play as the parents chat in the kitchen. The eldest prima would direct our living nativity, and I was lucky enough to land the coveted role of Mother Mary. Some years, we’d be lucky to trade in a baby doll with a real live baby Jesús as our family continued to grow. Every year after our performance, our Tio Jerry would bring out the guitar and bongo drums as we joined together to sing Christmas carols in Spanglish. Our multicultural family would switch from English to Spanish mid verse. A family favorite is “Noche de Paz” (Silent Night).
The Martinez family typically exchanges gifts on Noche Buena. Then, we end our evening with a Christmas Eve candle light service at our local United Methodist Church. Our Christmas season lasts way beyond Dec 25h, however. We celebrate Christmas until January 6th, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings Day). My mother insists that the three and decoration stay up until this special day. I have never gotten the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in my mother’s home country, however our family in Cuba goes all out on Three Kings Day. That is typically when they open their Christmas gifts. This holiday brings mixed emotions for the Martinez family- it is the day my grandparents and their four kids fled Cuba for the hope of a new life in the U.S. Each year, we remember their sacrifice and reflect on the journey of the wise men. It is a time to commemorate the many families who journeyed to new lands, including the journey of the migrant Jesus, who transcends the borders of heaven and earth to be with us.
Amy Scroggin is a soon to be provisional elder in the Florida Conference. She attended Duke Divinity School and is currently working in the Office of Admissions.