Navidad Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas

4 Jan

One of the things I miss the most about Venezuela is our Christmas.  We Venezuelans have a very celebratory spirit.  You just give us an excuse, and we’ll make a party out of it.  So Christmas is definitely a good excuse for a GRAND celebration.  Usually, the entire family gathers in one place and we have a full house of 30+ people for Christmas.  When I was a kid it usually took place at my great-grandparent’s house, where all the aunts, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, and even dogs and cats where invited.  They had a pretty big house where they could fit and feed all those people.  I was young and had several cousins my age that I had fun with.  But there were too many guests to bring a present for each, so we usually did a gift exchange in which you give one gift to someone (picket out randomly) and then you got one gift from someone else, so basically like a Secret Santa, but sometimes it wasn’t a secret.  However, within each individual family, the mom and dad exchanged gifts, and the kids all got gifts from everyone and also from Santa!

As I grew older, my great-grandparents passed away, and most of my family immigrated to the United States.  Pretty soon, it was mostly my grandparents, my parents, my sister and I.  Sometimes we spent it with my mom’s side of the family too, which is also pretty large (20 + people).  One time I event went with my dad’s entire family to spend Christmas in Puerto Rico.  Now, I have family in Venezuela, and in Florida, so the possibilities of getting everyone together for Christmas are slim.  But one thing that was definitely present in every single Christmas, no matter who was there, who wasn’t and where we were, was the food!

“La Cena Navideña” (The Christmas Dinner) is something that has to be present during Christmas and New Years Eve in order for it to be considered a real celebration.  No Venezuelan home can be called a Venezuelan home without the traditional Christmas dinner during Christmas, no matter where they live.  Venezuelans celebrate Christmas during Christmas Eve, on December 24th.  Dinner starts late, around 9-11 pm, in true Venezuelan fashion.  Then people exchange gifts (like our gift exchange), and then adults have drinks, talk and dance, while the kids play and try to stay awake to see if they can get a close look at Santa.  The same goes for New Years Eve, where the Christmas Dinner is also present.  Another important Venezuelan Christmas tradition we can never forget about is our Christmas music.  Gaitas, Aguinaldos and Villancicos serve as the perfect soundtrack to a true Venezuelan Christmas.  Gaitas are the most popular music genre during Christmas, originated as church songs, and later becoming popular outside church and during Christmas season.  Aguinaldos and Villancicos are based on Spanish Christmas carols and old carols.

La Cena Navideña Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner

The Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Table is the greatest example of the miscegenation of Venezuelan Food.  The different dishes served at a Venezuelan Christmas Dinner are the result of the many different culinary traditions that converged and intermingled in our country, as a reflection of the miscegenation of the country during colonization.  The Hallaca is the main component of the Venezuelan Christmas Dinner, joined by Pernil de Cochino, Ensalada de Gallina, Pan de Jamón, and Dulce de Lechoza (Ham, Chicken Salad, Ham Bread, and Papaya Delicacy).

La Cena Navideña Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner

La Cena Navideña Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner

La Hallaca/Hayaca
Pronounced Ah-jac-kah, is the most important component for a true Venezuelan Christmas Dinner.  The origins of the word, the spelling, and the origins of the actual dish have been in dispute for quite some time, so I will give you the versions that I like the most.  As far as the spelling goes, I like Hallaca better.  As far as the origin of the name, I like to believe the word Hayaca comes from the Guaraní dialect, in which “ayua” or “ayuar” means to mix or stir something together, and “ayuaca” is the mixed ‘thing’ that you get.  Then this became “ayaca”, latter “Hayaca”, and finally “Hallaca”.  And as far as the origin of the dish itself goes, I like the story that back in the colonial times, the aristocrats descendants of our Spanish conquerors would enjoy great banquets and the leftovers would be either donated to the slaves or basically taken by them, and then mixed all together, wrapped in corn flour and plantain leafs and boiled.  And once the aristocrats discovered this amazing dish, it was incorporated into their fancy banquets and became our popular Hallaca.  The popular dish that makes an appearance only during Christmas, and brings our families together even for the preparation, which can take up to 2 days and at the very least two people to make at least 50 Hallacas.  The preparation itself is a reason to come together and celebrate, and create an assembly line with positions assigned, like the chopper, the cook, the dough kneader, the wrapper, and the knot maker.

Unfortunately for me (and you), this year I didn’t have a Venezuelan Christmas, and I didn’t have any Hallacas.  So I do not have a personal recipe to share with you.  I can only hope, and promise you, that next Christmas I am surrounded by enough family members to help me make my own Hallacas, and the rest of the Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Menu, so I can share my very own recipe.  I do however, have a GREAT collection of photographs of the complicated process of making Hallacas, that my awesome uncle Fernando took for me, while my beautiful aunt Gaby (the designated Hallaca maker and personal gourmet inspiration and influence) was making Hallacas this year.  And also a couple of links of good Hallaca recipes:

– From Adriana Lopez and Pica Pica with VIDEOS and complete Recipe Booklet!

– From one of my favorite sites Hispanic Kitchen.

And now the photos!

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

Venezuelan Hallacas Ingredients

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: El Guiso | The Stew & El Aceite Onotado | Annatto Oil

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: El Guiso | The Stew & El Aceite Onotado | Annatto Oil

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Prensa | The Press

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Prensa | The Press

My beautiful Aunty Gaby super ready to make Hallacas

My beautiful Aunty Gaby super ready to make Hallacas

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Masa | The Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: La Masa | The Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Las Hojas de Plátano | The Plantain Leaves

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Las Hojas de Plátano | The Plantain Leaves

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Prepping the Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Prepping the Dough

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Adding the Filling

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Adding the Filling

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Wrapping the Hallaca

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Wrapping the Hallaca

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Tying & Cooking

The Making of Venezuelan Hallacas: Tying & Cooking

*A very special thank you to Gaby Ojeda and Fernando Sucre for the beautiful images, that still make my mouth water! (I LOVE YOU GUYS)… and guardenme mi Hallaca!

¡Buen Provecho!

9 Responses to “Navidad Venezolana | Venezuelan Christmas”

  1. Marlene Crespo May 9, 2012 at 09:38 #

    I noticed in the pictures there is a la Canasta press. May I ask where I can buy one of these?

    • mwolowicz May 27, 2012 at 09:49 #

      Marlene,

      Thank you for your question, and I apologize for the delay on the answer. The Canasta press is a press used to make tortillas. My aunt and uncle bought it in Mexico, when they lived there. You might want to try to find it online.

      MW

  2. Ira October 13, 2013 at 13:22 #

    The first time I had an Hallaca was when I was visiting my soon-to-be wife in Caracas during the holidays.

    The whole (and huge) family were drinking and eating and having a blast, and I leaned over to my wife and said, “I’m going to vomit. These are terrible.”

    She got really mad at me, and my brother-in-law noticed the tenseness in our relationship and inquired, so my wife said something like, “He doesn’t really like the hallaca.” (I was pissed too, because is it MY fault that I thought it was terrible?)

    A few seconds later, my other brother-in-law bursts into laughter and screams:

    “EL ESTA COMIENDO LA HOJA!!!”

    And then everyone else is choking and spitting out their food from laughter too.

    What did I know? I was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, and wasn’t really paying attention to exactly “how” everyone was eating these things!

    • mwolowicz October 14, 2013 at 10:57 #

      Ira,

      Thank you for this comment. You are hilarious. I can only imagine the scene in my head. Please, tell me did you eat Hallacas WITHOUT the plantain leaves? and did you like them then?

      MW

  3. hailey December 15, 2013 at 13:34 #

    What kind of meat is being used? It looks like some type of beef loin maybe?? I’m making hallacas this year

    • mwolowicz January 20, 2014 at 14:40 #

      Hailey,

      I apologize for the late reply. The holidays and family members visiting from Venezuela took up most of my time. I did ask my aunt what kind of beef does she use to make her Hallacas. She responded that they call it “Cañada” at the local latin supermarket chain (Sedano’s), and she said she always makes them with “lomito” but that this year she made it with “Boliche Entero”… I must research further about this in order to give you a better answer with the correct Venezuelan name and the correct translation.

      MW

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Recipe: Ensalada de Gallina | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Chicken Salad | asky Cooking - December 21, 2014

    […] Ensalada de Gallina, Hen Salad. The chicken salad is another important component in the Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Plate.  However, unlike the hallacas and the pan de jamón, the chicken salad is not exclusive to […]

  2. Recipe: Pan de Jamón | Venezuelan Christmas Dinner Ham Bread | asky Cooking - December 21, 2014

    […] in this blog is Venezuelan Christmas Recipes… until now. I have a very informative post about Venezuelan Christmas celebrations, traditions, dinner and gifts, but I did not have any actual Christmas recipes until […]

  3. Christmas 2014 | RB Design Chronicles - December 24, 2014

    […] I wanted to give you all a look into the creation process of the Venezuela tradition of Hallacas. Of course every family  makes them their own way but this is a good base for you all to see the […]

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