New Year’s Eve   Leave a comment

Once upon a time, in my family, New Year’s Eve was the most important day of the year. 

Now, of course, NY Eve comes one week after Christmas Eve and I should point out that our family tradition in those days was to open presents at midnight on Christmas Eve.  (That’s technically Christmas morning, right?)  What then made New Year’s Eve so special for us was the stark contrast to Christmas Eve one week before– it was just like Christmas Eve, same people, same place, same food, same songs, a prayer or two, but no gift giving distractions.  Just La Familia.  And that made it better and more meaningful than Christmas.  I can still remember being hugged and kissed while Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra played a syrupy Auld Lang Syne in the background. 

There was the mystery of what the future would bring once the clock struck 12.  There was a remembrance of the past.  There was my Abuela (grandmother), Francisca (better known as Sica), normally a quiet, somewhat introverted person, crying hysterically, apparently because the holiday reminded her of the people in her life that had passed on.  We as children did not fully comprehend what was going on as we watched her break down wailing as the clock approached midnight each year.  Her sons and daughters would all rally around her and get her off to bed.  And then at midnight, the entire family would gather in the living room and a hug-and-kiss-a-thon would commence.  Everyone hugging and kissing everyone else.  It was dizzying.  I don’t know how I survived the onslaught of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins of every stripe descending on me in a tsunami of midnight smooches.  It was magical.  One big happy family.

Of course, families are not as unified as we might see them through the lens of childhood.  How I long for that feeling of unity my family had back then.  It was not always perfect.  Hell, it was never perfect.  But it felt right.  And it was my grandmother who held us all together.  The year my Abuelo (grandfather), Arturo, died, we all braced for the worst from Sica.  New Year’s Eve came, the clock struck 12, the ball dropped and NOTHING.  Not a peep from the woman.  Nobody ever asked her why.  Perhaps she had shed as many tears as she could that year and there was nothing left in the tank.  Perhaps she was focused on what her life would become in Abuelo’s absence.  We dared not ask.

The food was amazing– pasteles (meat stuffed plantain dumplings) and pernil (a garlicky roast pork shoulder)– the classic dishes of a Puerto Rican Nochebuena (literally, the “Good Night” or Christmas Eve) and Nochevieja (the “Old Night” or New Year’s Eve).  There was no wine, save for the Manischewizt, which, Abuela, had one small glass of on each of Nochebuena and Nochevieja.  And there was always beer and rum for the men and coquito (think of it as coconut flavored egg-less Puerto Rican Egg Nog with a touch of Bacardi to act as a “preservative”) for the women.  My cousins and I always managed to sneak a taste of coquito or the Kosher wine when no one was looking.  The fact that the wine was Kosher (and probably not meant to be used to celebrate Christmas) was ironic, but ultimately it was of no real consequence to us– it was just one of those things that happens when different cultures clash in a New World.  For my Abuela, the key is that the wine was very sweet, just the way she liked it.

The past few years, Ms. R and I have shared Nochevieja together– sometimes with her mother and our two daughters as we will do tonight.  Her family’s traditions are different from mine.  At midnight, it was her father’s tradition to eat one green grape for every month of the year just passed.  Not sure why that is, but I go along with it. 

Personally, this has been a difficult year, no question about it.  We have made mistakes.  But we have also done good things, including raising some funds to battle pediatric cancer and contributing to a local shelter for pregnant women.  We have been there for our daughters providing support and cajoling them as needed.  And despite the challenges of 2011, we have much to be thankful for, including the strides that our children have taken in defining themselves.   

The year Abuela died, the fragmentation that had been bubbling under the veneer of family unity erupted.  It would never be the same again.  That’s what sometimes happens in families, I guess.  But I still have the memories.  And so I find myself doing as Abuela did– looking back at the past– with a tinge of sadness for what has been lost.  But I am also looking forward with optimism. 

May you all have a Wonderful Nochevieja and a very Happy New Year wherever you may find yourself today.

Posted December 31, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

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