The Caribbean is home to a unique blend of influences both Old World and New, and during no time is this as evident as during the holidays. And while many favorite island foods – from juicy, moist pernil, creamy, rum-spiked coquito and savory pastelón – are a fixture on the table throughout the entire season, here’s a look at some very special traditions that make New Year’s Eve in the Caribbean so special.
In Puerto Rico, the party for Año Viejo really kicks off when the lechón asado or pernil– roast pig – is being carved. And while Puerto Ricans love a pig roast year round, there’s just something about being gathered with family and friends con un plato de lechón asado y arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) that makes these dishes a particular favorite around the holidays and especially on New Year’s Eve. Another must-have on New Year’s Eve? Plenty of cleaning supplies, as homes and cars are deep-cleaned to welcome a year of prosperity and luck. And children always love the tradition of setting off firecrackers and sparklers, a tradition practiced by families across the island as a way to really make the holiday a one-of-a-kind celebration. Check out the recipe for roast pork here.
Cuba is home to a blend of African and Spanish influences and its cultural history is conveyed through a number of very special traditions. When the clock strikes midnight, 12 grapes are eaten – one for each month of the year – for prosperity and washed down with a glass of Champagne or Cava, a tradition handed down from Spanish colonialists. And get the bucket of water handy, as tradition dictates that water be thrown out the front door to remove negative energy and evil spirits from the household in order to welcome a brand-new year (a custom derived from santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion). Desserts are a toothsome part of the celebration too, with sweets like flan and arroz con leche a staple of the spread for New Year’s Eve. Check out the recipe for arroz con leche here.
Hoping for luck at work, lots of money or good health? Then according to Dominican custom, you’d better dress up to welcome a change in fortune for the New Year. Red is for luck, green is for money, white is for health and yellow signifies success at work and should you wear the appropriate clothing on New Year’s Eve, you’ll surely get your heart’s desire. Another fun observance is to open all of the doors and windows of your home as the clock strikes 12 to let out the old year and welcome in the new. And while classic dishes like empanadas, rice, kipes, pudin de pan (bread pudding) and ensalada rusa (potato salad) are traditionally eaten during New Year’s Eve, we love blogger Clara Gonzalez’s recipe for pastelón– a layered casserole of simmered beef and mashed sweet plantain that’s always a welcome part of the dinner table during the final meal of the year. Check out the recipe here.