In Puerto Rico the Christmas tradition comes in the form of an eggnog-like rum punch knotted up with the country’s complex colonial past and present. Spanish invaders brought to the Caribbean a European penchant for possets—the brandy-, madeira- or sherry-fortified forebear of our nog—but it wasn’t long before the Spaniards’ recipe got cozy with local rum and began to pop up wherever they had settlements. Soon enough Mexico had rompope, Venezuela had ponche crema and Puerto Rico had what they call coquito.
Most of those variations hew close to the original formula, but the Puerto Rican innovation was to add coconut, another colonial import that was incorporated into the local cuisine by African slaves who were working the sugar industry. And its most indelible modern ingredients are pure American convenience: canned condensed milk and evaporated milk, shelf-stable modern conveniences sent over after the Spanish-American war put the country under U.S. control.