I love Christmas! As a kid, I looked forward to it every year, mainly because of the toys. Can you blame me? Look at us! My sister and I were practically swimming in toys. Christmas meant dressing up to the nines to celebrate. Mom and nana Gloria would begin cooking the meal two days in advance, as we prepared for our tribe to come over. What was our Christmas dinner? Mom’s delicious relleno (AKA stuffing), cookies, fruitcake (blech), gallina (hen), some ponche (punch – virgin for us kids, and spiked with rum for the grownups), and other accoutrements. Of course, before eating the big meal, we had to have mom’s mandatory cheeseball and crackers. There was not one Christmas where mom didn’t make this cheeseball, and I remember thinking it was the most delicious thing EVER. My sister and I now laugh about this cheeseball. It’s like a jello mold. Needless to say, this cheeseball holds a dear place in our hearts.
Everything for our Cena Navideña was made from scratch; nana Gloria even killed the hen herself. Everything, except for the nasty fruitcake, which mom received every year in her Canasta Navideña (Christmas food basket) her employer gave her. To this day I don’t understand the value of this Panetón. I honestly think my family used to eat it out of guilt. I think it is just plain gross and it should be eliminated out of the Christmas food pyramid.
You may be asking: Why did you eat chicken during Christmas? Eating turkey during Christmas was something wealthy families did. Turkeys were very expensive for my mom’s budget, so we always ate hen, or a ham as in a leg of ham, like a pernil. Mom’s stuffing was sweet, as it was made using pan de dulce, a delicious Ecuadorian sweet, sugary bread; recortes, which are the odds and ends left from deli hams and cold cuts; shredded chicken and minced beef; prunes and walnuts. Was there a side vegetable? Maybe. But I was too busy stuffing myself with relleno to remember. Not to mention how full I already was from the cheeseball.
My family ate Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, and we opened our presents at midnight. But waiting for midnight was an eternity, and us kids were usually pretty sleepy by then, so we moved opening present time to 10pm. Ten o’clock could not come by fast enough, and we could not wait to see what El Niño Dios brought us for Christmas. The next hour was sort of a blur, as we tore through the wrapping paper and the boxes, played with our toys and fell asleep on the floor.