Nationality: East European, Jewish
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): none
“So my family has this tradition, actually it’s a Cuban tradition but we bastardize it a little. A lot…of roasting a pig and throwing a party every winter. In Cuba, pretty much everyone celebrates Noche Buena on Christmas Eve and they basically throw gargantic parties and roast a whole pig and eat a ton of food, which is why Cuban holidays are the best! So my family, which is part Cuban, also likes to celebrate this tradition only we’re always out of town on Christmas Eve visiting my family in Miami, where a lot of people also celebrate Noche Buena because of the large Cuban population. So sometimes we celebrate it twice which is fun, but also means we gain like ten pounds every winter. Anyway, we usually host our party in early December or early January depending on when my brother…Adam is home from college because he is the right hand man to my dad who is the supreme pig roaster. Pigs are roasted outside in homemade pits…ours is in our backyard. It’s a largish square structure built out of bricks and covered with cement, and the whole family helped out and it’s decorated like Watts Towers because that’s the best place in the world. There’s also a wire contraption that holds the pig and it looks like a bed that the pig lies on. We invite a ton of people who bring other food. Cuban traditions are…all about community, so it’s important that there are a lot of people. My grandmother who is full-blooded Cuban cooks other Cuban food like Cuban black beans and rice and yucca. And the pig cooks all day and it’s cut in front of everyone…and by everyone. There’s also live music played by whoever brings an instrument, and lots of dancing…it’s similar to the celebration in most other Cuban households with the only major difference being how the pig gets cooked. One family we know skewers the pig on a long pipe and attaches a steering wheel to one end so they can drive the pig around and around above a fire…this is the other common way of cooking a pig!”
My informant’s knowledge of her family’s celebration of Noche Buena revolves mainly around the roasting of the pig. This is a long process that takes an entire night, which seems to bring people at this celebration together. It also has certain rules, such as how the pig is usually roasted outside over coals. The essence of this holiday is based not just in the food, but in the act of roasting (no shortcuts, no buying pre-roasted pig). I also found it interesting that there were alternative ways of cooking a pig, with the steering wheel method encouraging people to interact even more with the central food of the holiday. Noche Buena actually exists in several locations such as Spain and the Philippines, but only the Cuban and Puerto Rican communities add the pig roast as an integral part of the holiday.