The holidays are just around the corner. So, let’s get ready for the most magical time of the year! Here is how we celebrate in Latin-America.
I think the holidays are even more special this year. Mostly because it has been a different, tense, and hard year for the entire world. So, we can take these holidays as an opportunity to spread hope and positivity. For that reason, I will share with you how we celebrate Christmas in Latin-America to give you some ideas.
Christmas in Latin America
As you must imagine by now, I am from Latin America, to be more specific from Colombia and I’ve been living here my entire life. Well, we celebrate and express our traditions a bit differently. Some elements, like the celebration of Christmas itself and having a holiday season, are similar or even have the same origin. Christmas is not an exception and has some differences, especially in traditions.
I think the biggest differences are mostly in the climate. In some parts of Central America it can be cold, but in November and December in South America is summer. So, in most countries, there is not that cold winter climate. That changes the entire way to practice traditions and portray cultural elements. For example, in Chile, Santa, or the old man “Pascuero” is usually portrayed at the beach and having a great time in the sun. Also, due to the climate, it is not common to have hot drinks and light the chimney.
Differences are also because of the most common religion. In Latin-America, most countries were colonized under the Christian Catholic religion. Catholicism is a key aspect in most of the countries’ traditions and culture. So, Christmas is related to the holy family, the celebrations of Mary the virgin in her different manifestations, and Jesus’ birth. It is really common to make Posadas and holy masses to prepare for Christmas day.
Day of The Candles
This is a really special Colombian Christmas tradition, and one of the most beautiful. The Day of the Candles or “Dia de las Velitas” is the official opening of the Holiday season in Colombia. It is celebrated mostly on the night of December 7, which is why it is also known as the Night of the Candles. The main purpose is to light up the streets and homes with the light of happiness and hope.
Colombia is a really Catholic country, and that is where this tradition comes from. The Day of the Candles is celebrated as a vigil for the feast of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which is celebrated on December 8. For that reason, most people in Colombia light candles, lanterns, and Christmas decorations not only at home, but this also happens at parks, malls, plazas, and streets.
Also, this is a night to reunite with family and friends, not only to light candles. This is a night of faith, so it is really common to pray with the family and even attend the holy mass. Most families, pray the rosary and have a big dinner together with traditional dishes like custard and buñuelos, which are small fried-balls made with cheese, cornstarch, and cassava flour.
Christmas Dinner and Baby Jesus’ Birth
In Catholicism, the main celebration at Christmas is Baby Jesus’ birth. That is why there is an entire preparation before Christmas day. In most countries, the preparation for Christmas starts nine days before Christmas. That is a Catholic celebration better known as Novena, which is a commemoration of the 9 months before Baby Jesus’ birth.
So, nine days before Christmas eve, on December 16, families start a praying tradition. That usually consists of a set of prayers, one for all the days, one for each day, one to Saint Jose, one to Mary the virgin, and one to Baby Jesus. Also, families usually pray in front of the Crib or manger in the representation of Jesus’ birth. And it is common to sing Christmas carols during the celebration on each day.
The main day of this tradition is the ninth day, December 24. On Christmas eve, families reunite to go to the holy mass, which is usually at night. Also, some families reunite to have dinner and to pray on the last day of the Novena. And something really important is that the entire family together waits for midnight to pray and open up presents. In Colombia and Venezuela, Baby Jesus brings presents to children, instead of Santa.
The Three Kings
In most countries in Latin-America, the holidays don’t last until January 1st. Christmas doesn’t end with Christmas itself. Depending on the country Christmas can last up to February, for example in Mexico they celebrate the end of Christmas with the Candlemas Day o “Dia de La Candelaria”. There is a special Christmas celebration that is not in December but in January, and that is the three kings’ arrival.
On January 6, we celebrate the three kings’ arrival with a holy mass. According to Catholicism, after Jesus was born, a star guided three kings to Bethlehem to adore the King of kings, Jesus. Those three kings traveled from the east to offer Jesus gifts as the representation of the gifts he would need to face his destiny. Also, the three kings’ advice Mary and Saint Jose that the king was looking out for Jesus so they could escape.
This is a tradition that differs from one country to another. For example, in some countries, the three kings usually bring a present to kids. Also, in some countries like Mexico, there is a special dish to eat the night before or during the day which is a sweet bread called “Rosca de Reyes. In some countries this marks the end of Christmas and the Holidays, like in Peru, that is the day families pack away Christmas decorations.
Now, clearly, some traditions would probably change this year. But these are traditions that can inspire us to celebrate Christmas differently this year. We can adapt some of its elements to our own religions or even combine some of its elements with our own traditions. Also, as a Latin-American woman, I think these are traditions we need to share, practice, and honor.