Celebrate New Year’s in Latin America
The holiday season is wrapping up, and the year ahead of us looks full of new experiences and opportunities waiting to unfold. On New Year’s Eve, it amazes me that almost everyone around the globe comes together to celebrate the end of a trip around the sun. Everyone has different ways to celebrate. Some people like to spend the New Year with their families. Others might prefer to spend it with friends or significant others. Ideally, for me, I’d spend it with both friends and family! How do you like to spend New Year’s Eve?
If you’re spending the New Year abroad you’ll discover there are different ways people celebrate this holiday. Today, we’ll explore the similarities and differences in New Year’s celebrations throughout Latinoamérica!
Most modern New Year’s Eve parties are similar in Latin America since we adopted some of the common party traditions from the US. Whether it’s small family gatherings or festivals with hundreds of people, we all wait until right before midnight to start the countdown to the following year. When the timer reaches zero, fireworks start to go off all over the place, hugs and greetings go around signifying the start of a new year. In other countries, you might have a national countdown timer, but in Guatemala, it’s usually pretty chaotic. Everyone waits until the stroke of midnight to light up fireworks and celebrate New Year. The surefire way to know New Year’s is here is by the copious amounts of fireworks you’ll see exploding all over the city! An exception to this rule is Antigua Guatemala, where they gather around El Arco de Santa Catalina and wait for the clock on it to reach midnight.
Did you know most countries in Latin America have little to no regulations when it comes to purchasing fireworks? Without age restrictions to buy fireworks, any kid who wants them can buy them. There are pros and cons to this: we get to experience all sorts of cool pyrotechnics, but we have to learn to be extra careful with them. The most notorious firework ban occurred over a decade ago. Canchinflines (pronounced can-cheen-fleen-ays), also called silbadores in other regions, were a popular type of festive firework that was eventually banned for causing too many accidents. People would light one of these little gunpowder-filled cylinders, and hold them until the second they went off. Then they threw them into the air where they would rocket off into the distance. Can you imagine why these were banned? Canchinflines were often unpredictable and started dangerous fires during the holiday season.
Always remember to be careful if you’re celebrating the New Year in a Spanish-speaking country! I’ve met my fair share of foreigners who are shocked by how we handle fireworks in Latinoamérica. As long as you follow general fire safety rules, you’ll be alright. Most, if not all, accidents occur because people use fireworks in irresponsible ways.
One of the best parts about any holiday is the traditions, and New Year’s is no exception. We have many different quirks and rituals that set us apart from other countries and cultures. Even within families, you see different ways to celebrate! In my family, we have a long-standing tradition with my cousins: If we’re near a body of water (pool, ocean, etc.) on New Year’s, we’ll put on our swimsuits and get ready to jump into the water when the clock strikes twelve. It’s a lot of fun!
Latinoamericanos have some shared traditions too, little things people do to welcome the year; like walking around the block with a suitcase. My aunt says that if you do this, you’ll increase your chances of traveling during the year. Pretty strange if you ask me, but it’s still entertaining to do these things for the fun of it! Other traditions include wearing yellow underwear to attract prosperity, eating 12 grapes while making 12 wishes, and sweeping the whole house to get rid of bad energy.
If you believe these things help to ensure having a better year or not is up to you. What seems great to me is that the dawn of a new year opens up the opportunity to reset and turn a new page. Maybe these acts aren’t going to magically make things happen, but they put us in a renewed mindset; one that invites us to reflect upon what we want from this year and how can we achieve our goals.
Religion, in one form or another, has been a big part of our culture since the beginning. While the numbers of Christians have dwindled over the years, they’re still a majority in Spanish-speaking countries. Families gather together and pray for prosperity. They often do this near the nativity scene, a diorama of baby Jesus’s birth that typically adorns Christian households in Latinoamérica. Initially, the crib in the scene is empty, but a little figurine of Jesus is placed inside it at midnight on Christmas Eve. He is then removed on January 6th, the day the Three Wise Men came to greet the baby.
New year, New Me
We have New Year’s resolutions too! That famous influx of January gym-goers happens in Latin America as well. There’s no shortage of memes, ads, and effort being put into becoming a better person. Other common resolutions are having better food habits and improving academic/work performance.
Talking about food in Latin America is always a challenge. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the different traditional recipes! That’s a good thing if you ask me, the more food to discover, the better. Most countries will have their traditional dishes served on New Year’s. In Guatemala, for example, we always have things like tamales and paches. Mexico has similar dishes to Guatemala, and most countries usually eat stuff like turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes.
Tamales are a mixture of cornflour with various kinds of meat and vegetables wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled in a huge pot. They’re one of the most popular foods in Latinoamérica! Paches are virtually the same dish, except they’re made with mashed potatoes instead of corn.
Ponche is a big part of this seasons’ dishes. We put lots of different fruits in it! Our punch has apple, pineapple, grapes, prunes, jocote, plantains, and more. The result is a sweet and warm drink, perfect for the chilly, sweater weather at the end of the year. Some people like to put a bit of rum in it, but I honestly prefer it without.
Get Ready for the Coming Year!
On New Year’s Eve, there will be no shortage of things to do. Most countries in Latin America have host families who love to share the holidays with travelers. Sometimes hostels will hold parties for the guests, and, with a little research, you’ll always find an event that caters to your interests! Do you want a running start on your New Year’s resolution? Take a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy today and let us know about your plans!