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Jaslene Gonzalez counts down the days to Christmas

Jaslene with parents MariJesse (top row) siblings Amaris Javier Steven dog Twix.

Jaslene with parents Maria and Jesse (top row), siblings Amaris, Javier and Steven, and dog Twix.

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Updated: December 6, 2012 9:12PM

The holidays to me are very special, and one of my favorite times of the year. Like many people I travel back home every Thanksgiving and Christmas to reunite with my family. I always look forward to (and must prepare myself for) not only one or two but three Puerto Rican family homes: my mother’s side, my biological father’s side and my stepdad’s side. This is challenging because I’m expected to eat at every household, and my stomach can only handle so much food.

What’s funny about these families are the battles of who has the best Puerto Rican specialty dishes. These include arroz con dulce (rice pudding), pasteles (my fave, a savory dish I naturally always crave this time of year), tembleque (coconut pudding) and our usual arroz con gandules (a rice and pork dish). Let’s not forget the coquito, which is a coconut-rum beverage that’s very yummy!

There are things that stand out to me in each family: My stepdad’s parents are very conservative, so visiting with them is like being in a church because they are very religious. That means no booze and no music, just pure family enjoyment, and there is always that moment when grandpa comes out and starts to preach about the word of God (a moment I do enjoy). This is when I get my spiritual food.

My father’s side of the family is more like a private gathering with less drama. I love to watch my grandmother dance to Spanish music, and we always joke about the music because the volume only goes so loud on the computer. This year is different because my grandfather passed, and while he’ll be missed he will never be forgotten.

Last but not least is my mother’s side of the family: Chaotic, but in a good way. This is where the true Puerto Rican in me comes out. Walking toward the door you can hear the music, see the fog on the windows and smell the food from outside. Picture this: As I walk in, hugs and kisses from everyone, little cousins running everywhere, everyone talking so loud it sounds as if they’re screaming over each other at the same time. At that moment, I just want to twirl through the crowd in high spirits, and sing and dance to congas, bongos, cow bell, maracas ... you name it. It’s a blast! As the night goes on there are plenty of jokes, laughter, booze and lets not forget “bochinche” — Puerto Ricans love to hear gossip. These are all the moments that make my trip worthwhile. I leave you with this famous quote that sums it all up for me:

Having somewhere to go is what we call home. Having someone to love, who loves us in return, is what we call family. Having both: blessing.

Jaslene Gonzalez donated her fee for writing this piece to Women in Need Growing Stronger,

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