Despite cultural differences, family, food and fun are some of the things that bring people together during the holidays.
Here is how some local Latinos celebrate.
Cheisan Pulinario Vega, 24, celebrates the holidays at her Meriden home.
Although Pulinario Vega is Dominican, she and her family have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey. She said by that time her Christmas tree is already up.
Christmas Eve is a night to dress up as her family and her husband’s family get together for a special dinner. Pulinario Vega said they tend to cook lots of food, including baked chicken, pork, rice, lasagna and potato salad.
At this gathering, her family drinks traditional Dominican Christmas cocktails, including ponche, which is similar to eggnog, and “La Fuerza,” a very sweet red wine.
“That’s a very special day for us because we gather with family and we share, celebrate and eat together,” she said.
On Christmas Eve the family also has a gift exchange similar to Secret Santa.
Part of the tradition is also getting up early to open the gifts under the Christmas tree on Dec. 25.
On Christmas Day they eat leftovers from the previous night.
During her holiday festivities, there’s a lot of dancing, she said. The whole family dances to merengue, bachata and other tropical rhythms.
For her, the holiday celebrations are important because she gets to spend time with family members she doesn’t see often during the rest of the year, she said.
MariaTeresa “Terry” Lombardi, of Southington, also has a special way of celebrating.
She was born in Cuba, her parents are from Spain and her husband is Italian-American, so she takes all of those cultures into consideration when celebrating the holidays.
On Thanksgiving, she used to always celebrate at her home. Now, she sometimes goes to her son’s house. Lombardi cooks a turkey with the traditional fixings, but also makes Cuban dishes, such as rice, black beans and yuca.
On Christmas Eve, she and her husband visit his family and eat Italian food.
On Christmas Day, Lombardi honors her heritage by cooking a paella with a variety of seafood and other meats. She also makes Cuban croquettes, which are small fritters, usually filled with ham or chicken. On Christmas Day she also cooks pork tenderloin and yuca.
Lombardi said that going to Christmas mass is also very important to her.
For a long time, she attended midnight mass. Now that she has grandchildren, she waits to go to church on Christmas Day.
Something she continues to celebrate is Three Kings Day. While she buys gifts for Christmas, she also buys one special gift for Three Kings Day. She recalled when her children were little, her gift to them once was a dog, something they will never forget, she said.
Her favorite part of the holidays is family, but she also uses the time to make some donations.
Melvin Lopez, who owns Ola Restaurant in Wallingford, said his family is always enthusiastic about celebrating all holidays.
Lopez, who was born in Guatemala, hosts Christmas festivities for about 30 friends and family. Lopez cooks some of the food and his guests bring the rest of the dishes.
While tamales are a popular dish in Guatemala, they are normally made with pork or chicken. At Lopez’ Christmas dinner, tamales are served with other types of meat, such as duck or lobster, he said. They also usually have other items like ham and steak.
His favorite part of the holidays is hanging out with family and friends by his fireplace.
Lauren Thompson, head of community services at Meriden Public Library, said she usually celebrates Thanksgiving at her mother’s house, where they either have a traditional American turkey dinner or a pork dinner to honor their Puerto Rican roots. Thompson noted that even if when they have a turkey dinner, they also have some Spanish dishes. Thomson said she recently got engaged and her soon to be husband spent Thanksgiving with her family this year. Her grandmother, who lives in Puerto Rico, also comes for Thanksgiving. After dinner, the tradition is to play games, such as bingo.
Christmas Eve is a more relaxed night at her cousin's house where everyone enjoys appetizers while wearing comfortable clothes.
She doesn’t always celebrate New Year’s Eve with her family, but when she does everyone eats 12 grapes at midnight for good luck in the new year.
Thompson said the holidays are “a great time” to celebrate with people.