Family gathered around a beautifully decorated table. Burl Ives singing “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas.” Ornaments twinkling on the tree. When you think of Christmas, these are the things you might imagine — and not having the cops come to your house to bust up a fight. But in Edwin Gonzalez’s hit YouTube song, “12 Days of a Puerto Rican Christmas,” that’s exactly what happens. From tias llorando to drunken tios, the parody of the classic Christmas song takes on a hilarious (and often truthful) tone. We spoke with Gonzalez about creating his song (he had a lot of personal inspiration) and why you should never wear an itchy 70s suit.
How did you come up with “12 Days of a Puerto Rican Christmas”?
That day, I called in sick to work. That’s how I came up with that song. [laughs] And the other one called “Esta Enfogona,” too. I called in sick both days. I was bored and I wound up doing the songs. I work for the New York Public Library, and I was actually really tired because I had three jobs. I had written the song and thought, “Maybe I should post it.” I asked my compadre if he wanted to do it and he said he didn’t want to. So I sat here at my computer and did it by myself.
My then-wife at the time was here as well as my sister. and a Kohl’s commercial came on where they were doing a 12 days of Christmas theme and I thought, “What would a Puerto Rican version of that sound like? Maybe screaming and crying and drunks.” I told my sister I was going to write it, and she told me I was crazy. I sat there and I wrote it, but I didn’t know which number was which. I needed something for number 9 and she said, “Well, there’s always someone drunk at the party,” and I was like, “Yes! There’s always a drunken Tio!”
At that time, my supervisor was going to retire. He was from Belize and came here in the 70s. I told him I was going to roast him for his retirement, and that’s when I bought these clothes that you see in the videos because this is what people wore back then.
What made you think to put it up on YouTube?
My compadre told me to go ahead and do the video, so I did. I wasn’t sure what kind of response I was going to get, but when people would tell me, “This reminds me of when I was a kid,” I thought, “This is great; it’s perfect.” Someone commented, “It’s funny how everything went crazy after the liquor broke out,” which is #8 in the song — ocho tragos de coco. The aunts start crying because the cousins are fighting, and they can’t stop it.
Sure. “Don’t quit your day job,” or “This is not really singing but it’s funny.”
So what were Christmases like when you were a kid? Were they like this?
Oh yeah. This is all life experience here. There’s nothing that I threw in there that I made up. This was it. Every time we had a party (and it didn’t have to even be Christmas), there was always a fight at the end, someone was jealous because someone was looking at another woman or someone was looking at someone’s man, and there was always a problem at the end of the night. It’s 1:00 in the morning, the party stops because a fight broke out, and someone called the cops.
Did you ever have what some might think is a traditional, normal Christmas where there wasn’t a fight?
[makes a face] No. There’s too many Puerto Ricans in one place. And not just Puerto Ricans; in our family we’ve got Dominicans, and a sprinkle of Mexicans and Ecuadorians. It’s just Latinos in general. It’s all the same.
How are you preparing for this Christmas?
Just working. It’s not an easy holiday to survive.
It’s not cheap.
It definitely isn’t cheap, but my kids are worth it. They do really well in school. My older son gets B+ or A- and my younger son gets A+. I struggled for a B-. And my daughter was always an A student. We did really well with our children.
I think it’s because I have put a lot of time in those kids. My compadre says that he hopes he can do for his son what I’ve done for my kids. I told him it takes a lot of work because you have to constantly be on top of them. I’m not the perfect parent but you try to do better for your kids.
Let’s talk about the new song, “Esta Enfogona.”
My mother-in-law called me, and she cursed me out because the song is about mothers-in-law. I told her, “It’s not about you! I have nothing bad to say about you.” She said, “So who are you talking about in that video? I know you’re not talking about me!” and I told her, “No, no! I love you.” I can never repay her for the things she did for me. She took me in, never judged me, and just loved me. I think it’s because I took her daughter off her hands, but that’s just me! [laughs]
When did “12 Days of a Puerto Rican Christmas” first come out?
I believe it was in 2007. I put it up and I got a good response, so I didn’t want to ruin it. A one hit Christmas wonder — I’m happy! People were asking when the next one was coming out, and I had already written this one. I wanted to space it right so people could be like, “Oh my God, you put up another one!” And I did it in one take.
Meanwhile, the other one took how many takes?
Oh my God, like 23, 24. It’s the fact that there are 12 things to name, and in this song, I did a couple of lines, and the rest was a rant. I hope that it looks like I got upset because that’s what I was going for. Does it look like I was upset?
Yes it does. It looks like you really got pissed.
That’s what I was going for! [laughs] I hope people buy this one.
What do your kids think about the song?
My little guy should be in comedy. His timing — you cannot teach that. My older son is funny too but in more of a sarcastic way. We get it from my dad because my mom’s not funny. She’ll sit there and kill the joke. My daughter is like, “Oh great you did another video,” but if it does great, she’s like, “There’s my dad!” My older son will poke fun at me.
I loved your Charlie Brown tree.
It draws more attention than a big tree. People will say, “Where’s your tree?” and I’m like, “Right there.” It’s a conversation starter. Last year, the gifts were taller than the tree, so I had to move them to the side so you could see it.
And that’s the way I do things. I like things that are odd or don’t fit because it’s interesting.
Like your 70s suit. [touching it] Ack, it’s itchy!
I bought it in a store in the Village. It’s 100% polyester. It’s really itchy and the pants are worse!
You’ve got a lot of personality for someone who works in a quiet library.
Someone said to me, “You shouldn’t be here. You need to be where people can see you.” But I like it and I’ve been there for 15 years.
What are your plans for the future?
The “12 Days of a Puerto Rican Christmas” is really a Christmas thing and I’m happy with that. I look at life a little bit different. This world is really, really sad. I don’t read newspapers or watch the news. If it’s important enough, I’ll find out about it, or someone will talk about it. If the market’s gonna crash and everyone’s worried, it’s not going to help me. I’ve been struggling my whole life, so if the market crashes, I’m still gonna struggle. I like to look at life and find the silver lining in everything.