Each year, when the holidays roll around, this Sussex County family celebrates in a big way as homeowners Ana and Victor welcome kids, grandkids, parents and pets to their traditional Cuban-American Christmas event.
“Our heritage is important to us, so every year we enjoy the holiday with four generations,” Ana says. She left Cuba as a toddler, and husband Victor arrived in the United States in 1972. Both grew up in Hudson County and they were high school sweethearts.
Preparations for the annual Christmas festivities begin as Victor sets up the 11-foot spruce tree in the living room and Ana climbs the ladder to single-handedly add sparkly baubles and tinsel garland. This labor of love typically requires about nine hours until all 18 large storage bins are emptied. “We have more than 1,000 ornaments that our family has been collecting for years,” Ana says. “Our six kids and four grandkids know that ornaments are my favorite gift, so they’ve given me unusual ones from all over the world.”
Once the evergreen masterpiece is so full it can’t hold one more decoration, Ana’s favorite part begins: flocking the tree. Although it sounds like a complicated process, she simply buys a dozen bags of recycled garbage-bag flocking from Walmart and begins layering it on the branches. “It’s really fun and easier than it sounds,” she says.
Their Spanish-style home is expertly festooned from floor to ceiling by Ana, a self-taught decorator. Nicknamed Hacienda Fox Run, the residence overflows with vintage Christmas objects, fine art and quirky decor acquired at local estate sales, thrift stores and antique shops.
Here, Cuban art, a French farm table, an Italian stone fireplace, Eastern Indian textiles and Asian sculpture all coexist peacefully. “We celebrate diversity and welcome all cultures, and I think that’s reflected in our decor,” Ana says.
The couple purchased their home in 2019, but actually fell in love with the property the first time Ana drove past it 20 years ago. “I admired the Spanish architecture and the way it was situated in the woods. So when we discovered the home was available, we grabbed it.”
Once the tree decorating is complete, it’s time to plan the traditional Cuban-American Christmas Eve dinner. Two long tables and a children’s table are set for 24 guests. The menu includes lechon asado roast pork, rice, beans and yuca. Festive lamb is also served. “Noche Buena is a love-filled Cuban Christmas Eve where all generations gather in our finest as the aroma of lechon asado fills the air,” Ana says.
Dessert is an extensive buffet of sweets, including Victor’s aunt’s flan, marzipan turrones, frosted gingerbread and chocolate chip cookies, and whimsical custom cakes in the shapes of Santa and a Christmas tree, baked by daughter Briana, a self-taught cake artist. (View her creations on Instagram: @magical_n_sweet.)
Following dinner, Ana and Victor’s five shih tzus are welcomed into the living room while the children dance to Spanish and American music and the family exchanges presents. “Since there are a lot of us, we buy gifts only for the kids,” Ana says. “Then grownups play a white elephant game, and we each walk away with one silly gift.”
By the time December 25 rolls around, the whole family is happy to spend the day in their pajamas eating leftovers, dancing, and hanging out with the pups. “Christmas with my family is my happy place,” Ana says. “And we’ll do it all again in 364 days!”
Recipe for Classic Cuban Guava Bars
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 stick butter, softened (not melted)
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups self-rising flour
- 16-ounce package of Goya guava paste (available at Walmart)
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together sugar and butter. Beat 1 egg with 1 cup of flour. Then beat the other egg with the other cup of flour. Add the sugar/butter mixture to the egg/flour mixture. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with butter. Pour half the batter into the dish. Cover with sliced guava paste. Then cover the guava with remaining batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Slice into bars and enjoy!
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