does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Spanglish Christmas Eve

In a continuation of my series on Puerto Rican culture, I began writing a post to highlight the importance of Christmas Eve for the Spanish-speaking world and Puerto Ricans, in particular. I started by saying, “Christmas Eve is called Noche Buena [Good Night]. At least traditionally, Noche Buena, rather than Christmas day, was the premier celebration among family and friends. In Catholic families, dinner and music were usually followed by attending La Misa de Gallos [Midnight Mass].”

I don’t usually start my posts by talking about an earlier draft. In this case, though, it’s relevant. As soon as I had written the above sentences explaining the significance of Noche Buena, I thought I’d better consult with Puerto Rican friends and family. I got a stunning reality check. Reactions ranged from “... the relative importance of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is now, even in Puerto Rico, not that different ...” to “... the real distinction in Puerto Rico is between rural and urban areas ...” to “...the real difference is between how Catholics and Pentecostals celebrate Christmas Eve ...” to “...what’s up with this Noche Buena stuff? It’s Christmas Eve!” That’s when I realized that, in addressing Puerto Rican culture, I was once again caught in an identity maelstrom.

This is why, when I came across the following poem, Chihuahuas y La Noche Buena, it answered a present need. It showcased, by its use of Spanglish, the cultural reality of predominantly English-speaking individuals with roots in the Spanish-speaking world. While this was written by someone of Mexican-American background, it struck a nerve with this Boricamericana. This last term, by the way, a conflation of Boricua and Americana, is one which apparently I just made up because a Google search produced no results. Like the poem, it illustrates the point that, with cultural boundaries increasingly permeable, one of the results is a hybridized language and experience.

Here's the poem. I apologize to those who don't read Spanish, but translating this seems to defeat the purpose. I'll answer any questions you have, though.

Chihuahuas y La Noche Buena

Adapted by Río Lara-Bellon.

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the casa
Ni un ratón se movía. ¡Caramba! ¿Qué pasa?
Los niños were all tucked away en sus camas,
Some in long underwear, some in pijamas.
While Mamá worked late in her little cocina
El viejo was down at the corner cantina
Living it up with amigos, ¡carajo!
Muy contento y un poco borracho.
While hanging the stockings with mucho cuidado,
In hopes that old Santa would feel obligado
To bring a los niños both buenos y malos,
A nice batch of dulces y otros regalos.
Outside in the yard there arose such a grito
That I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito.
I ran to the window y miré afuera
And who in the world do you think that it era?
Santo Nikos in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero!
And pulling his sleigh, instead of venados,
Were eight little chihuahuas, approaching volados.
I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre:
¡Ay Milo! ¡Ay Tobee! ¡Ay Frida y Sasha!
¡Ay Todo! ¡Ay Pepe! ¡Ay Paco y Nacho!
Then standing erect with hand en su pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea
He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.
Then huffing and puffing, at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his traje de gala,
He filled all the stockings with bonitos regalos
For none of the niños had been muy malos.
Then chuckling aloud, seeming muy contento,
He turned like a flash y voló como el viento.
And I heard him exclaim (¡ay, es la verdad!)

Adaptation Copyright © 1996 by Río Lara-Bellon All Rights Reserved.

I now bid you so long for the remainder of the holiday season. I will be posting again on January 9, 2010. Have a Happy New Year!

Other relevant posts:


Jm Diaz said...

Yeah, I'll be drunk by midnight tomorrow, letting little ones rip through wrapping paper faster than you say $6.99 a roll.

And THEN, they will get the OTHER Christmas, American Style, where the wake up in the morning, only to find MORE gifts. They get gifts from "el Nino Dios' and from Santa Claus.

Lucky little monkeys.

Hope you have a feliz navidad. :)

Sun Singer said...

The poem works, even for those of us with a smattering of Spanish.

Have a great Christmas.


Efrain Ortiz Jr. said...

I love this post...have a wonderful holiday!

Judith Mercado said...

Jm: It sounds like you’re going to have a merry old time taking advantage of both holidays.

Malcolm: I’m glad the poem worked. You have a Merry Christmas as well.

Efrain: Thanks for linking to this post on your blog.

Nevine said...

Oh, yes I did understand this Spanglish, or at least most of it. And it's interesting that you mention "hybridized language and experience." I think this is true in many cultures. My family and I talk a mishmash of English-Arabic-French that sometimes leaves my husband (who is an American) looking at us like we're all crazy. But this is what happens when cultures begin to integrate in the true sense.

I would like to wish you a lovely holiday season. I have enjoyed visiting your blog and reading your posts; it has been a real pleasure. I hope you enjoy your time off, and see you next year. Happy Holidays, Judith!


melissashook said...

oh, what a good poem...
thank you...
I've been around the backside of a racetrack long enough to understand most of it...which delights me...that's a nice present from you...

Stephanie Thornton said...

That was a great test of my Spanish skills- I actually did all right! And I didn't realize the importance of Christmas Eve for Puerto Ricans at all. That's why I enjoy your blog- I always learn something!

Cynthia said...

My friends were discussing
traditions, having to do with
gift giving.
My Mom, says she was taught
{New Orleans} that is you give
a woman a purse, you should
put in a dollar, with a note
that says: to break the curse of
an empty purse.

My friend says that in her culture
{Asian} if you give someone a
gift that is black in color,
you also give them something red,
a scraf, ribbon or lucky charm
in red.

Tell me please, is there any
type of gift giving tradition
in Puerto Rican culture?

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Wishing you a blessed 2010!

Kathryn Magendie said...

I came to read and catch up and my phone rings -hang up, rings again - what is this, I say? Everyone knows i hate the phone! I am about to turn off the phone and it rings again - ARGH! so, now I have lost my trains of thought and now do not remember a thing I was to say *laugh* and my phone is off