12 Unique Christmas Celebrations From Latin America
Christmas celebrations in Latin America are the most highly anticipated celebrations on this part of the planet. While Christmas is celebrated worldwide, Hispanic Christmas is a bit different from the North American and European traditions.
Read this article to learn all about the most popular Hispanic Christmas traditions, why they’re so important. Find out everything you need to know about how people celebrate the holidays in Latin America!
12 Essential Christmas Celebrations in Latin America
Of all the traditions and celebrations throughout the year, Christmas is probably the most important one in Latin America.
While religion and beliefs play a great part in its importance, family, friends, and the feeling of love and union make this one of the most anticipated holidays for Hispanics.
Let’s look at 12 unique Hispanic Christmas traditions that are part of la Navidad in Latin America and Spain.
Deck the Halls! (¡Decorémos la morada!)
Here are some ways Latin Americans decorate for Christmas.
1. Lighting (Los alumbrados)
Christmas decorations with foquitos (light bulbs) or lucecitas navideñas (Christmas lights) are common not only in Latin America but all over the world.
Christmas in Colombia begins on December 7 with a celebration known as la celebración de las velitas (the little candles celebration). This consists of the believers of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception going out in the streets and making a path with candles and torches for the Virgin to follow.
After that date, in Medellin, el Festival de las Luces (Light festival) takes place, and the most important path in the city is covered in millions of Christmas lights.
2. Nativity Scenes (Los nacimientos)
Los nacimientos, los belenes, or los pesebres are nativity scenes that families put together in their homes.
The scene pictures the moment Jesus was born, and includes baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, an angel, and barn animals. Some also include a shepherd, and others have the three wise men. They’re decorated with pine needles, colored sawdust, and fruits.
In Guatemala City, there is a tour to see some of the oldest nacimientos in the country. Some are part of private collections and others are in churches.
Let’s Talk About Food
Food means affection in many parts of the world, and Latin America is no exception.
Food is a fundamental part of the holidays. Families come together to not only eat but also prepare their food.
Los tamales (tamale) are Christmas fare in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua.
Some are savory, others are sweet, and others are a delicious mixture of the two. What they all have in common is that they’re corn-based.
Costa Rican tamales are made with white corn masa (dough) and stuffed with vegetables, pork, and prunes. At Christmas, Guatemalan tamales are semi sweet. Tamales colorados have masa (dough) that’s tinted red because of the red sauce.
In El Salvador, tamales are a side dish to eat with turkey and are made with hen meat, instead of chicken. Mexican tamales are diverse and are usually a side dish for other traditional Christmas foods. In Nicaragua, nacatamales are filled with vegetables, olives, rice, and meat.
4. Argentinian Steak (El asado argentino)
While Christmas takes place in winter in the northern hemisphere, the south hemisphere is in the middle of summer for Navidad.
This means that the weather is perfect for outdoor activities, like an asado argentino (Argentinian barbeque). Argentinian families traditionally get together for an asado on nochebuena (Christmas Eve).
5. Hispanic Christmas Drinks
There are many traditional Christmas beverages to enjoy during the holidays.
In Guatemala, el ponche de frutas (fruit punch) is the most popular beverage of the season. Prepared with fruits, cinnamon, clove, sugar, and nutmeg, people enjoy it hot. It’s customary to give after the posadas or on Christmas Eve.
El chocolate caliente (hot cocoa) is another classic for the holidays. In Chile, there is a delicious beverage called cola de mono or colemono (monkey’s tail) and while this is an adult beverage, many families prefer a kid-friendly version of it. Learn how to make it with this recipe in Spanish.
Common Hispanic Christmas Celebrations
Check out these memorable, interesting Christmas celebrations in Latin America to learn about how Hispanic people celebrate the holiday.
6. Las patinatas
In Venezuela, most people use public transport to go to church during the holidays.
But in the city of Caracas, people go to the Christmas mass skating. Yes, skating.
This tradition is so popular that some of the most busy streets are closed so the citizens can use their skates, bicycles, and scooters safely before going to church to celebrate Christmas.
7. Las Posadas
Las posadas are small processions celebrated in several Latin American countries.
People recreate the birth of Jesus, beginning with Mary and Joseph asking for a place to sleep on the night of Christmas Eve. The people in the procession walk the images of the Holy Family through the neighborhood while singing about their situation.
Musicians accompany the procession with instruments. In Guatemala, people use turtle shells to follow the beat of the carol.
There are specified houses where the images will find shelter. When the images get there, people go inside the house to sing and pray. The hosts give food and beverages to their guests.
8. Black Christmas (La Navidad negra)
In Ica, a city in Peru, Christmas is black.Most of the citizens in this city are Afro Peruvians, and to celebrate Christmas, they recreate the birth of Jesus, with black actors.
This is a great way to understand how different people and races experience Christmas and give their own touch to the celebration.
9. Christmas Carols (Villancicos)
Los villancicos (Christmas carols) are a must during the holidays. Check out these popular Hispanic Christmas songs:
- Mi burrito sabanero – My Sabanero Donkey
- Campana sobre campana – Bell over Bell
- Los peces en el río – The fish in the river
- Feliz Navidad – Merry Christmas
- Ven a mi casa esta navidad – Come home this Christmas
- Navidad sin ti – Christmas without you
Plus, all those Spanish covers of popular songs!
10. Santa Who?
Santa Claus is known worldwide, but that doesn’t mean his name is the same everywhere.
In a lot of countries of Latin America he is known as Papá Noél (father Noel). Meanwhile, in Chile, he is called el Viejito Pascuero.
In Venezuela, his name is San Nicolás (Saint Nicholas), and in Central America he’s called Santa Clos or Santi Clo. In Costa Rica, he is known as Colacho.
But in some places, he’s not the one in charge of the gifts! In Colombia, is baby Jesus brings kids what they want for Christmas. And in Spain and Mexico, those in charge of the gifts are los Reyes Magos (Three wise men) who visit the kids on January 6.
11. Nobody Sleeps on Christmas
When I was a kid, one of the things that exited me more about Christmas was that I could stay up really late to open my presents!
It’s common in various countries in Latin America to stay up late during Christmas Eve and wait for midnight to open your presents. Some families eat Christmas dinner at midnight, and others like to go visit their friends and family that late!
As a kid, I loved to stay up with my cousins and siblings playing with our new toys. And as an adult, I love to stay up talking and laughing with my family.
12. Christmas Mass (La misa de gallo)
On December 25, Christmas day, La misa de gallo (the rooster mass) takes place in the early morning. Some families stay up all night and go to church to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, and then continue celebrating with their loved ones.
In the Dominican Republic, this celebration takes place in the Catedral Primada de América, the first cathedral on the American continent, where believers congregate on Christmas to celebrate.
Christmas traditions and celebrations in Latin America are an important part of keeping our heritage alive.
In the United States, there are approximately 53 million people who speak Spanish, and according to CNN, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the U.S. who speak Spanish in their homes, so there is a great chance that you may know a Hispanic person who celebrates Christmas following some of the traditions mentioned in this post! Learning Spanish can help you to understand their traditions better, be part of them, and know more about how they make their holidays special.
Or maybe you are planning on spending the holidays in Latin America or Spain! And if that is the case, learning Spanish can be a great help to bust through the language barrier and connect with the locals.
So, what are you waiting for? Sign up today for a free trial class with a certified native Spanish-speaking teacher at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Check out our programs and take a peek at our affordable prices and get started on your new Spanish learning adventure!
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