They took the squealing pig, tied its back legs, hoisted it up, and slashed his throat. Unless you’ve been there, you can’t really imagine the racket a scared, dying pig makes. They’d had me help. I placed a large white bucket underneath the beast. His blood started filling the bucket. A few minutes later, they lowered the carcass to the ground and sliced its belly open with a knife that would make Jason’s machete piss its pants. Smoke came from the pig’s insides. They yanked out the animal’s intestines and squeezed the feces out. Then grabbed a green hose and stuck in on one end so the water would clean up whatever was left in there. Eventually, that gory process produced some delicious blood sausages. I ate them. I never thought about not eating them. It was a Christmas tradition. Years later, I realized my horror-obsessed brain had been feeding on strange, bloody events even before movies and books started aiding in the process.
From that afternoon with the pig to my early teens, Christmas for me was a bizarre mix of coquito, pasteles, pernil, los tres Reyes Magos, and decorated trees, Santa Claus imagery everywhere, fake snow, and plastic reindeer placed under palm trees. Christmas music was loud and heavy on the percussion, screaming of its African roots. We dug holes in the ground and impaled pigs on large sticks that would rotate for 12 hours before we chopped them up and ate them with arroz con gandules and morcilla (blood sausage). These things went along with Rudolph and Santa Claus and songs in English about snow covering the streets. Those two different cultures cohabited without problem. I knew Christmas in Puerto Rico was special, and that was okay with me.
A few years later, my Christmases changed. I was suddenly reading a lot, seeing things differently, and aching to live in an independent country, not in a colony. I hated that my people had accepted reindeer and snow and Santa Claus as integral elements of our holiday season when most of them had never seen snow or a fucking reindeer in their lives. We were different than the United States. We had our food and our music and our costumes and folklore. Mixing it with that other alien stuff felt bad. We drank cold beer on the beach because it was 85 degrees and sunny on Christmas morning. That was our thing. We were a colony with second class citizenship, so why the hell were we accepting this other Christmas stuff we’d never experienced? Our abuelitas went to special masses and some of the nativity sets under our trees featured a baby Jesus that had slightly darker skin than the Jesus the gringos put under their tree. I started refusing all foreign elements and wished for an unadulterated Puerto Rican Christmas. The season made me angry. My politics didn’t jive with the fucking gigantic inflatable Frosty my neighbors placed in front of their house every year. It was 90 degrees at 8:00pm, so a snowman made no sense. Oh, and there was this whole thing about my having abandoned all religion when I was about 15…
Then, something else happened. Something strange and unexpected. Some loved ones died and some great friends moved away and I would only see them during the holiday break. Suddenly, those mixed culture parties I hated became great again because I wanted to spend time with the people there. I stopped caring about colonialism tainting my holiday experience and stopped cracking jokes about Mary telling a lie and then being too scared to tell the truth or about Joseph being the most gullible cuckold in the history of mankind. No, I stopped being a Grinch because I realized that fighting for racial equality and against racism, sexism, and homophobia was great, but not that great if I then turned around and made fun of people for celebrating Christmas. Instead of doing that, I should be happy that it’s a time in which loved ones try to get together and people give each other gifts and try to make plans for the new year (yeah, I even stopped joking about years being a silly construct and I’m not dumber because of it!).
Now I live in the United States. I’ve seen snow. I own a jacket and it gets cold in the mornings and I’m in the middle of that Christmas I knew so much about back then. It’s all good. I still try to go back home to hug loved ones and eat some great food, but when I’m not able to do it, I try to have as much fun, as much holiday spirit, as possible. Yeah, my Christmas tradition has been change. From acceptance to hatred of colonialism and its impact on my culture all the way back to a different, more mellow kind of acceptance and just trying to let people have fun and be nice to each other for a few days. I’ve done it all, and now I don’t have any qualms about saying “Hey, happy whatever the fuck you celebrate. I hope you have a good time and I wish you the best in 2017.” This less angry tradition feels nice.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS (Broken River Books),HUNGRY DARKNESS (Severed Press), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist. Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbcide, and many other print and online venues. You can find him on Twitter at@Gabino_Iglesias