Christmas much different for Pena in US

Reds catcher didn't celebrate holiday while growing up in Cuba

Christmas much different for Pena in US

CINCINNATI -- Reds catcher Brayan Pena doesn't have any memories of sitting on Santa's lap as a child and giving him a list of presents he wanted. There was no Christmas tree, no Christmas lights, no Christmas movies or going to church with his family.

That's because Pena grew up in Cuba.

"We're a Communist country," Pena said. "There is no religion like that. One more thing is it has a lot to do with America. It's a great tradition in the States. The Cuban government tries to stay away from everything we do here. It's what makes the decision by the Cuban government not embrace the holiday. Some families do celebrate down there, but it's very, very rare that you see somebody."

That all changed for Pena when he defected and eventually arrived in the United States. Now a father of three, and an American citizen since 2008, the 32-year-old and his wife live in Orlando, Fla. They will all be celebrating the holidays together.

Recently, Pena talked with MLB.com about the holidays.

MLB.com: Are you big into Christmas?

Pena: Not too many people ask me that question. I think you're the first person in the media to ask me that. Coming from Cuba, we didn't believe in Christmas. We didn't believe in Santa Claus or nothing like that. I was raised that way. So when I got to the States, I had the opportunity to embrace Christmas time, and the gifts especially. I learned it's a great time. I learned that it's a great family time. I learned that it's a time for reflection. It's when all of us in the family get together and I love it. It's my favorite part of the year. I make sure that my kids have a good Christmas time. It's something I regret not having earlier in my life.

MLB.com: What was it like to receive your very first Christmas present and what was it?

Pena: It was a watch. I still have it. My agent back then told me, "This is your first Christmas present." The watch says "Brayan Pena" on it and it was awesome. I got here in September 2000 as a 16-year-old and everybody was talking about [Christmas] gifts and stuff like that, and I had no idea what they were talking about. When I saw everybody enjoying it, I learned about Christmas time and really started enjoying it. I told myself, "OK, I'm going to make sure that no matter what I do, my kids are going to have a great Christmas time."

MLB.com: And with the birth of your daughter this year, now you have an expanded family?

Pena: I have a 4-year-old, 3-year-old and a newborn. I feel like our kids deserve [Christmas]. My wife and I really make sure they behave because they have to, or else Santa Claus won't bring them any gifts. It's one month where they behave so well. They are calm and Santa is doing a great job.

MLB.com: I know you love watching TV shows and movies. Do you have a favorite holiday movie?

Pena: It's going to be funny, but I love "Home Alone." I love "Home Alone." My wife and I watch it with the kids -- "Home Alone" 1, 2 and 3. We enjoy it. We're definitely going to watch that.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.