For JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Christmas is all about family traditions and honoring her Cuban heritage.
The actress and founder of The Happy Place blog, who shares daughters Emerson, 5, and Sailor, 2, with husband Nick Swisher, tells PEOPLE that the holidays have “always been about tradition and spending time together” in her family.
“I don’t know if this is a Latin tradition, but I come from a very Cuban family, so [growing up] we would have a huge family meal on Christmas Eve,” she says, adding that their feast always included pork, black beans and rice.
And while the actress says her family still enjoys the same food and sense of togetherness, she’s changed up the preparation in a major way.
“We used to do it the old, traditional Cuban way — you know, the big fire pit with the pig in the backyard,” she explains. “We don’t do that anymore because I am in charge of cooking and I can’t go there,” she admits.
In addition to Christmas Eve dinner, Garcia Swisher also prepares Coquito, a Puerto Rican rum-based eggnog that keeps the adults feeling merry. She uses a close family friend’s recipe and even gifts jugs of it to friends and family over the holidays.
“It’s phenomenal,” she swears. “It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s delicious.”
If you’re looking to spice up your holiday libations, try out the Coquito recipe below!
Joanna Garcia’s Eggnog Recipe
6-8 cinnamon sticks
6 large egg yolks
1 15-oz. can cream of coconut
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup sugar
1 750 ml bottle silver rum
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. In a small pot, add cinnamon sticks and 1 cup water and gently boil for 2-4 minutes. Set aside and let it cool completely; remove cinnamon sticks.
2. In a blender, add the egg yolks, cream of coconut, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and sugar. Blend on high until smooth.
3. Add the mix from blender into a large pot set on medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture is warm to the touch but not boiling. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring for another 5 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, add 1 tbsp. of the cinnamon-infused liquid (reserve the rest in the refrigerator for future use), rum, and vanilla.
5. Pour mix into individual mason jars or empty glass bottles. Set aside and let it cool some then keep refrigerated.
6. When serving, add cinnamon stick and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Enjoy it! Make sure to shake bottle very well to mix ingredients before serving.
As Garcia Swisher gears up to entertain extended family in their new Los Angeles home, she says she’s most looking forward to spending quality time with her nearest and dearest.
“We had a really quiet Thanksgiving here in L.A., and I’m really looking forward to having a house full of very, very, very loud and wild family members,” she tells PEOPLE. “I love the chaos. I don’t even mind the mess. I’m just really excited about being together.”