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).
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 one of my favorite sites Hispanic Kitchen.
And now the photos!
*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!