Just as we have certain Christmas foods (fruit cake, cookies, eggnog, candy canes) other cultures have their own holiday treats and traditions. I learned more about such a celebration this week, when I went to a novena, one of nine daily events leading up to Christmas Day. It’s associated primarily with Colombia, South America, but is also celebrated in Venezuela and Ecuador and by a different name in Mexico.
Each evening centers around food and a re-telling of the Christmas story. There’s also robust singing accompanied by string instruments and homemade noise makers. This year Robin and her Colombian-born husband hosted a gathering of about 50 at their home.
Two foods are traditionally served during these gatherings: natilla, a rich, heavy egg custard with a crisp, sugar topping. The other is buñuelos, a fried dough ball, that resembles a well-rounded fritter and is filled with sweets or cheese. It’s a dessert that came to Colombia with the Spanish years ago like plum pudding came with the British to the colonies. This night, however, the dessert is homemade cookies and Tres Leches Cake, a magnificent concoction that includes several forms of milk.
Colombians have far more traditions that they celebrate this time of the year than we do. While we stand in line at the mall to have a photo made with a stranger in a red suit and beard, Colombian children write a letter to the Christ child and put it in the Nativity scene displayed in their home.
Whatever is eaten and whichever traditions are kept by Christians around the world, one thing we share: we all celebrate the spirit and joy of Advent.