December 3, 2023 | Rome, Italy

In the blood

By |2018-03-21T18:47:22+01:00December 31st, 2011|Lifestyle Archive|
La Noche Buena: Traditions matter.

his was the first year I didn’t spend Christmas with my family. The second, really: The first time was my Las Vegas honeymoon with my husband Fabio.

For the last decade, Fabio and I have always been apart for the holidays. Whether because of work constraints (usually his), his fear of flying alone, or a combination of factors, both of us have usually opted to spend the holidays with our respective families

But now that we’re a family, albeit a family of two, I began growing tired of not ushering in Christmas with my hubby and watch him open his gifts. This year we tried something different: Christmas in Rome (since his family would be here) and New Year’s in Miami. It seemed to me a reasonable compromise. And who wouldn’t want to spend New Year’s in the fun, sun and the sand?

I’d only spent Christmas with his family once before, the year I managed to transport my entire family, including my sister’s ex-boyfriend, to Italy. That gave me an unusual and interesting look at different family traditions in action. I got to see what each side considered as holiday fun.

My family, while not large, swears by its own little traditions. On Christmas Eve, we’d typically go to a friend’s house for their big Noche Buena feast. In Miami this means, a huge roasted lechon (pork), black beans and rice, platanos maduros (sweet bananas), yucca and other delicious Cuban treats. We’d eat, drink and be merry.

And just as everyone reached their merriest level, we’d gather around a large table and play the White Elephant gift-stealing game. The next day, my parents, my sister and I ate Christmas ham, peas and mashed potatoes before going to a Christmas movie in the early evening.

These are the traditions I grew up with. I’m used to them. This year, I missed them all, and it showed.

Christmas dinner in Rome was elegant and pleasant. It was nice to be in a large family setting, with my husband. Fabio was certainly in his element and his family beamed with joy.

But for me, something was missing. I felt strange, as if the traditions I was sitting had nothing to do with me and my I’d grown up in. I wondered what it would be like in the years to come.

As expat, the holidays are the time of year when being away from home hits hardest. Not home as another country but home as the place and the traditions you grew up in. No matter how strong your ties to your new country, you can still feel out of place and time.

Next year, I think our family of two will try to incorporate some of my Miami traditions into our Christmas rituals. So that the holidays feel a little more like home.

About the Author:

Nicole Arriaga wrote features and a column ("Bella Figura") between 2004 and 2012.