The food is the main event!
First thing, dinner is served on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas day!
That is if you’re going to do the holidays Puerto Rican style. The preparation for la cena de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve dinner) takes longer than your typical family sitting. Start the day early by prepping your lechón (the pork mounted on a stick outside) or your pernil (roasted pork leg or shoulder). Keep in mind that if you’re making a lechón, your preparation for the feast can start as early as 4:00 am.
Cooking the meat slowly, roasted on a spit or fogón, is an opportunity to teach the children about the Island’s country-side traditions, and you can even dress them up as jibaritos as they take turns to turn the pig through the day. The lechón can take up to eight hours to cook, depending on the size.
As the day goes by, set up the tables with red and green decorations and fill your house with music and aguinaldos to set the mood as you cook the rest of your menu. Of course, arroz con gandules and pasteles are a must. Your house will be filled with savoring scents that’ll make your guests hungry the second they walk into the place. You can ask others to bring side dishes like guineítos en escabeche, ensalada de coditos, ensalada de papa, and desserts like tembleque and arroz con dulce.
After dinner, break out the coquito and a guitar and gather everyone around the tree to sing some authentic holiday songs like “Arbolito, arbolito,” “El Cardenalito,” and “De la montaña venimos.” This time can serve as a rehearsal for a parranda later on in the night.