Reveillon: Just like Nochebuena, but here in New Orleans
By Christopher Ard
Click aqui para español- >Réveillon: La Nochebuena de Nueva Orleans
Pork tamales. If there’s one flavor that reminds me of Christmas, it’s that of pork tamales. Well, to be honest, gumbo is also one. There’s nothing like a hot bowl of gumbo on a cold, wet night to get me into the holiday mood.
I didn’t know it when I was younger, but my cultural background was a blessing. On the Mexican side of the family, our table was full of tamales, tortillas, beans, rice, and turkey. On the Louisiana side of the family, it was shrimp creole, oyster dressing, gumbo, and a variety of other dishes my cajun grandfather would whip up from his garden.
Yes, I was blessed with the best meals at Christmas, but little did I know, although the food was different, the tradition was the same. Long before the United States’ Christmas culture of trees, gifts, and consumerism arrived in New Orleans, French families carried on the old tradition of a Reveillon--a big dinner on Christmas Eve filled with family and friends. Sure, Christmas Day is great, but Christmas Eve is the real party!
If you’re fortunate enough to know someone with a Louisiana background, you may have been invited to one of these large meals. According to Wikipedia, within the United States, it’s something unique to New Orleans--or is it?
Just as French-American gather for Christmas Eve and stuff themselves with traditional meals, Latino families follow a similar tradition. Nochebuena is what many Spanish-speaking people call Christmas Eve.
From Spain to Colombia to Mexico, families gather together on Nochebuena to eat, attend midnight Mass, dance, and exchange gifts. While the two names for this celebration are different, the purpose is the same--to bring families together for the holiest night of the Catholic calendar.
Of course, Latinos are a diverse people. Many of us are far from home and won’t get to see our families this year and not every Latino practices Catholicism. No matter, if you find yourself in New Orleans this holiday season, you too can partake in this French, or Spanish, tradition.
Since the 1990’s, the New Orleans tourism engine has encouraged restaurants to offer Reveillon menus in order to attract tourists during the typically slow holiday period--and it’s not just on Christmas Eve.
Keep your eyes out this holiday season for Reveillon menus and specials. While you may not be able to get home this year, you can do your part to continue the tradition of gathering at Nochebuena right here in New Orleans--at least with friends over an incredible meal.
Illustrator Daniel Garcia