Noche Buena

I’ve always loved Christmas, but I love Noche Buena even more.

Noche Buena is the name for a customary celebration on Christmas Eve in many Spanish-speaking countries; it literally means “good night.” When we still lived in the Philippines, my whole family would sit down for a huge dinner after Midnight Mass. As a kid, I’d be giddy with lack of sleep and anticipation. On Noche Buena, we got to open some presents before Christmas Day. On Noche Buena, almost all my favorite foods were on the table.

One particular Noche Buena stands out in my memory. It was the last celebration before we moved to Boston ten years ago. My sister Monica is deaf-blind, and my family left the Philippines so she could study at the Perkins School for the Blind in nearby Watertown, Masschusetts. It was also our last Noche Buena with Uncle Jun.

That night, my parents prepared a spread that brimmed with traditional Filipino dishes, food that has been influenced by centuries of Spanish colonization and Chinese settlers. We had a scrumptious mix of appetizers: Chinese cured ham (air-dried and bone-in pork leg, smothered in sweet honey and wine glaze), queso de bola (an Edam cheese ball covered in red wax), and warm crusty pan de sal (Filipino bread rolls) with butter.

There was Filipino tsokolate, a drink made from tablea (cocoa disks with ground peanuts) dissolved in hot milk and frothed with a batidor (wooden whisk) in a small aluminum pot by my mother. I have never had hot chocolate that’s better than her tsokolate: It is thick, frothy, and creamy, with the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness from the tablea….

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Note: This piece appears in the December 2010 issue of Talking Writing, where I am the social media consultant and a contributor. Happy reading, and happy holidays! – Bianca


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