by Taryn Chambers Givan
It’s that time of year. An atmosphere of holiday excitement fills the air. Nostalgic adults reminisce on the days of their youth and treasured memories of family holiday traditions. Children of all ages look forward to a break from school or work to enjoy festivities throughout the Twin Cities. For me and my family, it’s important now more than ever to set aside time for our favorite holiday dishes, movies, songs and games.
Family traditions make the holidays special, whether they’re traditions that have been passed down for generations or new traditions you create yourself. Our traditions can help reinforce our religious beliefs, bring us closer to our culture and heritage, or just create a good excuse to do something fun with the family.
“The holiday season is certainly our favorite season,” said Lucia Ochoa. From Thanksgiving to the new year, Lucia’s family uses the holiday season as a time to enjoy being together, honor cultural traditions and celebrate Jesus’ birth. See the next page to learn how her family celebrates the holiday season.
“We are a very close family made up of my husband Saul our fun 6-year-old son Jayden, our beautiful 16-year-old niece Naza (who we got to call our daughter) and my mom, Mrs. Florencia who makes every holiday magical with her amazing food.”
“During Thanksgiving, we enjoy traditional foods like fried turkey, chicken and dressing, turnip greens and pies. The pies and fried turkey are Jayden’s favorite! We list things we are thankful for, which is Nazaret’s favorite part. We make it a point to mention things that are common for us but not for many in other countries. We try to have teachable moments and make sure our kids understand that things like clean water, free education, access to books and supplies, and a clean and beautiful school are blessings.
During Christmas, we like to incorporate things from our culture with the hope that our children will continue those traditions. The kids decorate our Christmas tree, and we set up my parents’ nativity scene by our tree weeks before Christmas. We don’t place baby Jesus in the nativity scene until midnight on Christmas Eve. We set the three wise men, or Reyes Magos, far away, just like my mom did when I was a little girl. As we get closer to January 6, the three wise men move closer to baby Jesus.
On Christmas Eve, our family spends the whole morning and part of the afternoon cooking traditional Mexican meals such as pozole (hominy and pork soup) or stuffed pork loin in chipotle sauce. We often make several kinds of tamales (spicy and sweet) such as pork, chicken, poblano pepper with cheese (my favorite), and pineapple, raisin and pecan. We bake pies and a birthday cake for Jesus. Mom makes a special Christmas ponche that fills the whole house with its sweet smell. This is a traditional Christmas drink in Mexico made with fruit, sugar cane and cinnamon.
If we are lucky enough to find a star piñata, we will get one and fill it up with candy. I like to use a star piñata because it brings back many memories from Christmas spent with my parents, extended family and friends back in Mexico. Our large gatherings often featured several piñatas for children and grown-ups. In our small family, we only use one piñata, and we all take turns. The traditional star piñata has seven cones that represent the seven capital sins according to Roman Catholic theology. The stick we use to break it represents the faith to beat up those sins and overcome temptation. When that happens, the goodies that tumble out of the piñata represent the goodness of God.
We have a big and special dinner late on Christmas Eve to celebrate Jesus’ birth. When baby Jesus is placed in the nativity scene, we celebrate and thank God for sending his son with prayer, Christmas songs and hugs. Weeks before, we draw names and are responsible for buying or making a little something for a family member. We exchange those gifts as close to midnight as possible on Christmas Eve. The next morning, the kids will find another present near the tree, which is a gift from baby Jesus.
We often attend mass on Christmas Eve, but sometimes we go on Christmas morning. We spend the rest of the day watching movies, eating leftovers and enjoying our family’s company.
As January 6 gets closer we prepare letters for the three wise men that will soon come to deliver gifts for baby Jesus and the kids in the Ochoa household who have behaved. Sometimes Naza and Jayden send letters in a balloon, and sometimes letters are placed in their shoes. On January 5, Naza and Jayden place their shoes close to the Christmas tree. We also leave out water and food for the animals that help the three wise men. On January 6 the three wise men have made it to see baby Jesus and our children receive their gifts.
On that day we have a special cake called Rosca de Reyes, or kings cake, in the evening. We usually make traditional hot chocolate, or atole, to have with the cake. Inside the cake, we place a little plastic baby. Whoever gets the plastic baby will be responsible for dinner on February 2 after candle mass. Of course, we always end up helping the kids, but it is a fun part of our culture that I love sharing. The holidays are special because we get to spend time together, see our extended family and remember how blessed we are!”