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South America and Spain
Christmas is celebrated in a deeply
religious way. But there are peculiar and interesting differences
in each country.
and Uruguay are countries with many cultural influences. So their
Christmas traditions are diverse and
is very difficult to
generalize. Following are some broad local traditions. Both
countries have a summer time Christmas
unlike that of the United
Despite this, their traditions are quite similar.
People celebrate it with devotion and joy. The tradition of
Nativity scene and Xmas tree,
gift-giving, banquets and
fireworks at around midnight.
select any artificial or
live tree to display at
home. These trees are decorated with colored lights,
candles. All Christmas gifts are
placed under the
tree. Many set up the Nativity scene, a model of the
Jesus Christ was born.
attend a Christmas church service, if this is part
of their family's holiday tradition. Many
plan a barbecue or
picnic, as their Christmas meal,
to take advantage of the pleasant
weather. Along with the special and usual holiday items, pan
Christmas bread filled with candies) and
sidra (cider) or champagne are served with
Bolivia, Christmas is celebrated
in a deeply religious way. The
main focus of the season is the pesebre or nativity scene
which is found in both home and churches. On Christmas Eve,
church bells ring to call families to
Mass at midnight for La
Misa Del Gallo or the Mass of the Rooster. The Christmas
feasting begins when everyone returns home from Mass. Since
ushers in the Summertime in Bolivia, the Christmas drinks
are iced and flowers are
in bloom to give color to the season. On
January 6, the feast of the
Epiphany, it is the Three Kings who
bring gifts for the children of Bolivia. On the night before
set out their shoes with letters to the kings.
a South American country we have included Brazil although its
national language is Portuguese. Northern Brazilians, like
Mexicans, enjoy a version of the folk play Los Pastores
(The Shepherds). In the Brazilian version, there are
rather than shepherds and a
attempts to kidnap the
Christ Child. Friends and family members may also take part in
these plays. People make a special meal and decorate their houses.
Many go to church to attend services
in line with family
tradition. Christmas picnics and banquets are also common. Special
items and usual
are tried along with the cakes and
Chile's gift-bringer is called Viejo Pascuero (Old Man
Christmas) who will wish
everyone a Feliz Navidad y un Prospero
Año Nuevo (a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year).
resembles Santa Claus and
reindeer. However, as chimneys are
less than roomy in this warm
he contents himself with climbing a window. As in all
Latin America, the manger scene is the center of festivities,
clay figurines (called pesebre) are placed
under every Christmas tree. Following
the midnight Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster),
the Christmas Eve meal often includes cazuela de ave
(chicken cazuela), a chicken soup filled with potatoes,
corn on the cob; and pan de pascua, a Christmas bread filled with
Christmas season in Colombia starts on December 7 when families
light candles in honor of the Virgin Mary. The church celebrates
December 8 as the day of the Immaculate Conception. This is a
Colombian National Holiday and a day of Obligation with the
church. It is celebrated with a display of lights as each home
will light approximately 100 candles
on the curb and sidewalk
area. City streets and parks are illuminated with large Christmas
lights as well.
On December 16,
Colombian families typically start
setting up the
Christmas tree which is artificial for ecological reasons. The
Christmas tree is decorated with lights and bowls. Families set up
Nativity scenes which are either plastic or
hand crafted figures.
Everyone in the family contributes on this day.
From December 16 through December 24, families usually
together at night around Nativity scenes
to pray and sing carols
in the Novena de Aguinaldos. On Christmas Eve family
members and neighbors gather to eat and dance. Traditional
Colombian foods include: ajiaco (a soup with potatoes),
chicken and natilla (a corn based dessert) and buñuelos.
Everyone waits until midnight to wish each other Merry Christmas
and to exchange gifts.
Traditionally, El Niño Jesus, the Christ Child is the one
who would bring you the gifts. But recently Santa Claus has been
introduced as a gift-giver as well. Children get up on Christmas
morning and find gifts at the foot of their beds.
tropical flowers highlight decorations for Christmas. Special
trips are made to gather
wild orchids blooming in the jungle
areas. The manger scene is called a portal and is decorated with
these brilliant flowers and colorful fresh fruit.
cypress leaves and
red coffee berries are very popular. The supper
after Midnight Mass consists of tamales and other local
dishes. Children used to leave their shoes out for the Christ
Child to fill, but Santa Claus is
relieving Him of this task now.
has been celebrated as a holiday in Cuba for only 3 years. Cuba
an atheist nation in 1962, but the Christmas
holiday was celebrated until 1969, when Fidel Castro decided it
was interfering with the
In 1997 President Castro restored the holiday to honor the visit
of Pope John Paul II in the island, and with the reinstatement of the Xmas a large Mass is held in
Havana's Revolution Square. Thousands of Cubans
midnight Masses, as church bells ring out across Havana to mark
the moment when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day.
Cubans celebrate Christmas with traditional
fervor and revelry.
Those who can afford it try to make a special meal and decorate
their houses, and
church-going Christians attend services. Cubans
spend the days before Christmas buying pork,
apple cider, beans,
bananas and other fruit in preparation for their holiday
Day is a day of colorful procession as the Indians who live and
work in the highlands and mountains
dress in their finest and ride
brightly arrayed llamas down to the
ranches where their
employers live. They bring gifts of fruit and produce, which they
lay before the image of the Christ Child in the pesebre, or manger
scene, which is set up in the ranch house. Children also bring
their gifts and make pretty speeches to the Holy Infant,
blessings for their family and their animals. Then there is a
fiesta with much singing and dancing
outdoors. The owner of the
ranch distributes gifts to all his employees and their families.
The huge meal will consist of roast lamb, baked potatoes and brown
sugar bread. There is always too much to eat, so that the
wend their way into the mountains at the end of
the day are
heavily laden with leftovers
as they were with
offerings in the morning.
like most if not all Latin Americans,
value family and put it
first during Christmas celebrations.
Family gatherings begin at
about 7:00 pm (on Christmas Eve), when members start arriving at a
mostly the grandparents.
A must to bring along
are fireworks, usually estrellitas which are used around
midnight, when everything and everyone is in a festive frenzy with
laughter and hugs for the birth of Baby Jesus.
Christmas may very well be the one time of the year when
family is together and "catching up" is in order.
drop in to spread good wishes and are invited to stay over
for dinner, even if it is known that most are doing their
"traditional route" through friends' homes before
arriving to their own family's celebration. The Misa de Gallo
or "Rooster Mass", which is the name for the Christmas
Mass begins at midnight. Some families choose to eat before the
Mass, others after it. On the way to Mass, it is usual to hear the
loud noise of fireworks.
Dinner menus vary as does the times for dinner. Upper and upper
middle class families may enjoy a more "Americanized"
turkey and ham, while traditional middle class and
strata families may have chicken or even special homemade tamales.
Just before saying goodbye to the family, a tradition is to place
the Baby Jesus figure as part of the Nativity Scene under the
Christmas Tree. Even when the Nativity Scene may be set under the
tree a month before, the figure is not placed
until after midnight
of this day, symbolizing that Christ
is now born.
nine days before Christmas, posadas (religious processions) pass
through the streets. The
beat of drums and the crackle of
fireworks provide lively accompaniment as the figures of Mary and
Joseph are carried to a friend's house, where a carol is sung
asking for lodging for the Holy Family. After ritual questions and
answers, the doors are opened and Mary and Joseph are taken to the
nacimiento (manger scene) where they
remain until the next night, when they once again go out
shelter. Everyone who accompanies the figures
on their quest makes
a great party with punch and hot tamales and dances
once the goal
is accomplished. On Christmas Eve, the figure of the Christ Child
is added to the nacimiento at the last of the nine houses to
receive the Holy Family. This is the signal for the biggest party
of all, and the home selected had better be a large one,
everyone who was involved over the last nine days
will show up on
this night. The Christmas tree has joined the nacimiento as a
popular ornament because of the large German population in
Guatemala. Gifts are left under the tree on Christmas morning by
the Christ Child for the children. Parents and adults
exchange gifts until New Year's Day. Midnight Mass on Christmas
Eve follows the posada and is in turn followed by a full supper.
party in their homes, jobs, clubs, bars, and even in churches. It
doesn’t matter what their social position or religion is, people
everywhere prepare for several weeks before Christmas Day. They
prepare parties for their families, friends and
have several traditional foods like pork, tamales,
beer and aguardiente.
They usually have a dinner with the family. Then they
drop by the
homes of their friends and neighbors to drink, eat and dance. They
end up stuffed with delicious food and drink. Then, at 12
o’clock they all hug and say Feliz Navidad (Merry
to each other. At the same time,
cherry bombs are exploding everywhere.
It looks like a battlefield.
After 12 o’clock, the young people usually go to bars to drink
and dance until the sun comes up. The preparation before Christmas
is usually made in homes and stores. But they all set their
Christmas tree up and adorn it with lights and many other
decorations. They also put little
light bulbs outside their homes.
And, of course, the kids make their list to Santa.
share many traditions with the
Spanish. Their main Christmas
celebration is called
La Posada, which is a
religious procession that
reenacts the search for shelter by Joseph
and Mary before the birth of Jesus. During the procession, the
celebrants go from house to house carrying the images of Mary and
Joseph looking for shelter.
weeks before Christmas, elaborately decorated market stalls or puestos
are set up in the plazas of every town and city. Some people
travel for days from remote areas to get to these markets. The
puestos offer crafts of
every conceivable kind, foods such as
cheese, bananas, nuts, and cookies, and flowers such as orchids
Claus is not predominant, but the bright red suit is represented
in the traditional flower of the season. This flower is the poinsettia,
which has a brilliant
red star-shaped bloom. There
is a legend connected with the flower. A little boy named Pablo
was walking to the church in his village to visit the Nativity
scene, when he realized he had nothing to offer the Christ Child.
He saw some green branches growing along the roadside and gathered
them up. Other children laughed at him, but when he laid them by
the manger, they
started to bloom a bright red poinsettia flower on each
The Mexican children receive gifts. On Christmas day
blindfolded and taken to try and break a decorated clay piñata
dangles and swings at the end of a rope. Once the piñata has
been broken, the children
run to recover the candy kept inside. Those children who have been good also on
January 6th receive a gift from the
Three Wise Men.
many Latin American countries, Nicaragua
retains many of the
customs of old Spain. In the weeks
leading up to Christmas people
stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles,
Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant
bouquets to the altar of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas
Eve, church bells
beckon the people to Midnight Mass. On January
6, the feast of the Epiphany, the three Wise Men bring
gifts for the children. Often the Holiday season concludes with a
brilliant display of fireworks.
in Paraguay is celebrated in a deeply religious way. The main
focus of the season is the pesebre or nativity scene which
is found in both the home and in churches. December is the summer
season in South America, and there is a profusion of flowers
growing everywhere at this time of year. Churches and homes are
decorated in bright colors to match the flowers. On Christmas Eve,
church bells beckon the people to church at midnight for La
Misa Del Gallo or the Mass of the Rooster. The Christmas
feasting begins when family and friends return home from Mass. On
January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, it is the Three Kings who
bring gifts for the children of Paraguay. On the night before
Epiphany, children set out their shoes with letters to the kings.
Peruvian manger scenes will feature the
quaintly beautiful figures
wood-carved by the Quechua Indians. On Christmas Eve, the meal
after Midnight Mass
features tamales (traditional local
dish). Christmas Day
festivities in Lima are
highlighted by a
procession with the statue of the Virgin Mary.
in the Christmas season,
carolers begin going from house to house
and from farm to farm. They wear homemade
costumes of what the
Magi might have worn and sing bright Spanish carols called aguinaldos and
villancicos. They are
rewarded with food and drink,
and many from each house
will join them, so that eventually there
are great crowds going singing from place to place. Nine days
before Christmas, the Mass of the Carols begins. This takes place
each morning at 5:30 a.m. It is filled with music and usually the
caroling continues on the way to work or home. The manger scenes
are peopled with santos and hand-carved figures that represent some
oldest works of art. The tree and Santa Claus are also popular.
Gifts arrive on Christmas morning, but also on the Epiphany. On
January 5 in the evening, children leave water, grass and grain
under their beds for the camels of the Wise Men and the next day
find presents in their place
is a deeply religious holiday in Spain. The country's patron saint
is the Virgin Mary and the Christmas season officially begins
December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is
celebrated each year in front of the great Gothic cathedral in
Seville with a ceremony called Los Seises or the
"dance of six."
Oddly, the elaborate ritual dance is now
performed by not six but ten elaborately costumed boys. It is a
series of precise movements and gestures and
is said to be quite
moving and beautiful.
Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). It is a time for family members to gather together to
rejoice and feast around the Nativity scenes that are present in
nearly every home. A traditional Christmas treat is turrón,
a kind of
December 28 is the feast of Santos Inocentes (Holy
Innocents). Young boys of a
town or village light
bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor
who orders townspeople to perform
civic chores such as
Refusal to comply results in fines
which are used to
pay for the celebration.
As in many European countries, the children of Spain receive gifts
on the feast of the Epiphany. Los Tres Reyes Magos (The Magi) are particularly
Spain. It is believed that they travel through the countryside
reenacting their journey to Bethlehem every year at this time.
Children leave their shoes on the windowsills and fill them with
straw, carrots, and
barley to feed the horses of the Wise Men. Their
favorite is Balthazar who rides a donkey and
is the one believed
to leave the gifts.
Venezuela on December 16th families
bring out their pesebres
(mangers) which is a specially designed and thought out
depiction of the
attend an early morning church service daily between December 16th
and 24th. This is called Misa de Aguinaldo (Early
Morning Mass). In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary
to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the
streets to cars until 8 a.m.
is a tradition to attend at one of nine carol services which most
Venezuelans observe. Firecrackers explode and bells ring to call
worshippers from bed in the
predawn hours. The last of the masses takes place on
Nochebuena (Christmas Eve).
Families attend a mass on this night and then return home to a
huge and fancy dinner.
Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their
big tow and hang the other out the window. The next morning,
give a tug to any string they see hanging.
January 6th when the children are awaken they will discover that the
straw that they had left beside their bed the night before has
gone, and in its place they can find gifts. The children know that the Magi
and their camels have been at home. When they look themselves in the mirror
a black smudge on their cheek they know that Balthazar, King of the Ethiopians has kissed them whilst they
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