‘Twas the Night Before…
‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish
By Roseanne Greenfield Thong; illustrated by Sara Palacios
This is a nod of the head both to Clement Clarke Moore, originator of the ageless “The Night Before Christmas” AND a blending of his iconic poem with a fresh take that includes Latino traditions surrounding Christmas Eve.
If you have ethnically blended families, it’s sometimes a challenge to build in an appreciation of the Christmas traditions of both sides. The same may be true of religiously blended families that try to accommodate the respected traditions of Hanukkah AND Christmas. But,it can be done with an open heart and a bit of research.
And as always, here is where the picture book steps to the fore with stories that weave the traditions, foods and family fun so much a part of the holiday season whatever the cultural leanings.
I always get a kick out of Author’s Notes that may often reveal the spark that set a book on its journey to being written. Here, Ms. Greenfield Thong was out in search of tamales late one Christmas Eve at her local restaurants. All sold out. She had enjoyed the tradition surrounding Nochebuena while living in Guatemala and Mexico. Ever hear of the term “ear worm”? It’s a snatch of a song that keeps playing over and over in your head! Who knows where it comes from. Well for this author, a rhyme about tamales did a morph into “sugarplums” that night from the famous “The Night Before Christmas” and the rest is picture book history!
“Twas Nochebuena” is written in English, using the iconic poem plus liberal sprinklings of Latino phrases that make the holiday traditions of Nochebuena or Christmas Eve, come alive for kids. And a handy Glossary of Spanish Terms at the end of the book, provides a go to review of the English/Spanish words and phrases used throughout.
We live in an ever ethnically diverse society, so letting your kids have a peek at the holiday traditions of OTHER cultures, builds in an early recognition of what we share as people, instead of what can divide.
Food, family, plus a whole lot of decorating, provide a commonality among cultures when it comes to Christmas! “‘Twas Nochebuena” is a color-filled Christmas window into the celebration of one Latino family. The food starts with “tamale masa”, and there are MONTONES of them. Decorations or “adornos” fill the rooms of Sara Palacios‘ warmly illustrated Christmas casa. Los Reyes or the wise men are prominently displayed along with the beautiful Christmas tree or “arbol.”
If you’ve never heard of the posadas, it’s a parade that takes place on Christmas Eve in the town. It includes canciones or carols sung by candlelight. Moving from “casa to casa”, the phrase “Le pido posada” is spoken. It is a plea for shelter and is asked of the residents by children dressed as the Holy Family carrying the creche or nativity scene. They are usually turned away traditionally, but always at the last house, they receive a resounding “si”!
Back home, the food and games commence, including a try at the traditional candy-filled pinata. Take it from me, I have sampled the scrumptious bunuelos served at Christmas Eve. Biting into one of these pancake confections sprinkled with cinnamon sugar is a taste treat not to be missed! Have to find a recipe for these!
The evening concludes with mass or Misa del Gallo and a family gathering where much food and “ragalos” or presents await.
If you want to savor Christmas celebrated in the Latino community, Roseanne Greenfield Thong has put together a picture book that allows the shared family traditions of a community to ring out with a glorious and joyful “Feliz Navidad”