When winter’s embrace begins to unfurl, there’s a certain elixir that I simply must make—coquito. I was introduced to the drink by my dear friends Noelia and Abe, who are from San Juan, the vibrant heart of Puerto Rico where this drink’s tradition blossoms. Literally translating to “little coconut,” coquito features its namesake fruit, plus sweetened condensed milk, a touch of rum, and a symphony of aromatic spices, each note humming in harmony.
It was Christmas of 2016 when Noelia and Abe gifted me a 64-ounce mason jar full of coquito, lovingly adorned with a scarlet bow. It still feels like yesterday, and I still hold on to the photo I took of it in my camera roll. It was more than just a present. It was an embrace of time and care, an embodiment of their rich cultural heritage.
You see, my upbringing, steeped in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, never held holidays in the spotlight. For my parents, every day was a celebration, and festive occasions took a back seat. But as I stood at the threshold of adulthood, I found myself yearning for those threads that connect us—moments shared, gifts exchanged, the joy of togetherness. From that day forward, I would be taking holidays into my own hands.
Coquito became the bridge between longing and belonging. Though they didn’t know it, Noelia and Abe became the architects of my own traditions. For me, the essence of giving lay not in materialistic things, like another piece of jewelry or the latest Apple watch, but in the act of sharing a meal or drink with loved ones.
I am one of seven children with nine nieces and nephews, so having my siblings and their families over for the holidays is a real treat. A couple years ago, my cozy log cabin in the woods of northwest Connecticut transformed into a haven for kin and kindred spirits alike. We converged, we feasted, we belly laughed, and we savored the magic of coquito while staying warm by the fireplace.
Abe, who kindly shared his cherished recipe with me, posed a playful challenge—create your own version. By the time I took on the task, I was newly diagnosed with IBD and lactose intolerance, so I’d have to cut the dairy. I’d have to improvise.