Christmas in Puerto Rico

Christmas in Puerto Rico starts early on, for some like my friend María Espada, it starts right after Thanksgiving, which is the Advent or the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day.  There are many celebrations that make “Navidad en Puerto Rico” such a special time, the most famous traditions?: The “parrandas”or “asaltos navideños” especially on Christmas Eve and “Los Tres Reyes.”

The Epiphany is the main celebration. On January 6 “Los Reyes” or The Three Wise Men arrive to bring offerings to baby Jesus. Christmas day, meaning “Nochebuena” is another celebration but not as important as The Three Kings.

What Are the Parrandas?

Las Parrandas are a unique tradition where a group of friends or family known as the “trulla,” goes unannounced over a neighbor’s house very late at night to sing traditional Puerto Rican Christmas carols composed of six-syllable verse lines. The songs they sing are called “aguinaldos” or gifts.

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“Trulla” In Action During a “Parranda.”
Picture by Oquendo

The carolers may also be with other musicians playing typical instruments like maracas, triangles or the “guiro,” an instrument made of a hollow wood shell from the skin of a fruit called “higuera”.

The “trulla” or carolers continue until they are invited inside the home to share in delicious Christmas treats like marzipan, papaya sweets, rice with coconut, and flavorful alcoholic drinks.

After a while, the “trulla” has even more people in the party and moves on to another block or another home where they eat and party some more. This keeps on repeating until the early hours of the next day.

The “asaltos navideños” remain a tradition of Christmas in Puerto Rico but to a lesser degree, and it is definitely more common in Puerto Rico than among Puerto Ricans in the U.S.

La “Nochebuena” or the Puerto Rican Christmas Eve

Christmas in Puerto Rico has a mid-point, it is the 24th of December when Puerto Ricans dress finely to attend mass and celebrate with a great dinner afterwards.  Children get some presents that night from Baby Jesus and the parents but they will receive even more on January 6th.

In Puerto Rico Christmas also includes “misas de aguinaldo,” which are masses that churches celebrate with music and carols at dawn, generally between 5:00 am and 6:00 am during the nine days before Christmas.

Puerto Rican Christmas Foods

Chirstmas in Puerto Rico is an occasion to reunite the family and enjoy the simple things in life like cooking together.  “Nochebuena” usually includes a special dish, like roasted pork or “lechon asao.” The roasting of the pig on a stick is a big event filled with happy music, guests, and family all preparing the meal.

Other dishes include ham, and sometimes turkey (an American influence.) Maria tells me: “We serve the main dish with arroz con gandules y tostones, which are rice with pigeon peas and fried plantains.”

Boricuas also enjoy “pasteles” ot tamales which are mashed green bananas filled with meat and other vegetables, all cooked in boiling water and beautifully wrapped in banana leaves.

"Arroz Con Dulce" or Sweet Rice

“Arroz Con Dulce” or Sweet Rice
Picture by Oquendo

Christmas in Puerto Rico is also enjoyed with desserts that are infused with flavors of native ingredients. For example the famous “arroz con dulce” which is rice cooked with spices, sugar, milk, and coconut milk, and “tembleque” a custard made with cornstarch, sugar, and coconut milk. Another popular sweet dish during the holidays is “nougat” which is imported from Spain.

One thing is for sure, no Puerto Rican Christmas celebration is complete without the typical punch “coquito” which is made with water, cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, evaporated milk, and rum.

Three Kings Day, the Most Important Celebration in Puerto Rican Christmas

María Gaura explains in her article for the San Francisco Chronicle: “Home for the holidays: Celebrating Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico” what the celebration is about: “Three Kings Day, or El Día de los Reyes Magos, celebrates the biblical story of the three kings who saw a star appear in the sky on Christmas Day and followed that beacon to a livestock shed in Bethlehem, where they found, and worshiped, the newborn Jesus.”

Children in Puerto Rico expect presents from both, baby Jesus or the parents and The Three Kings. The tradition on the evening of the Epiphany on January 5 is for the children to leave grass and water for “Los Reyes” camels’ to eat.

María Espada says that some Puerto Ricans still observe the traditional “Octavas” -octaves and the “Octavitas” -Little Octaves. They are two-eight-day periods of continuing adoration of “The Three Kings” and baby Jesus from January 9 on. The “Octavitas” are right after the “Octavas.”

Traditional Decor for Christmas in Puerto Rico

Gourd Art
and Decorations

hispanic-christmas-ornaments-1Hispanic Christmas
Ornaments

christmas-nativity-setsspanic Christmas

Nativity Sets

In Puerto Rico the Christmas tree is more of a “new tradition” that started in the 1960s. Instead, nativities have always been part of the tradition. They are placed underneath the tree. Baby Jesus makes his way to the manger on December the 24th and the three kings keep getting closer to the manger as January 6 approaches.

Today many homes also display figures of Santa Claus but he is not who brings the presents on “Nochebuena,” it is the parents or baby Jesus. Although many traditions are truly religious in nature, it is evident several American traditions have also reached the island.

Christmas in Puerto Rico is a unique celebration that lasts more than a month for many. It is also a time to get closer to your religious traditions and honor them, and there is no doubt that all these celebrations are incredibly fun and different from other Hispanic Christmas traditions.

Human Size Nativity In  Puerto Rico

Human Size Nativity In Puerto Rico
Picture by Mr. Frankie

Christmas in Mexico

Celebrating Christmas in Mexico is a unique experience. As a foreigner, if you have the good fortune to be invited to a traditional Mexican Christmas, you will be amazed by how intricate and beautifully kempt the traditions are.

Christmas starts shortly after one of the most important Mexican holidays, “la fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe” or Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every year, Mexicans try to take off from work the last two weeks to celebrate Christmas.

The main Christmas traditions in Mexico are “Las Posadas,” “Las Pastorelas,” and “La Fiesta de Reyes.” The first two traditions were born as a vehicle to teach religion to the Aztecs. I talked to María Teresa Noguez, a Mexican who now lives in Canada, about how she and her family celebrate Christmas in Mexico.

From December 16th to the 24th children in Mexico recreate the pilgrimage that Mary and Joseph lived while searching for lodging in what is one of the most awaited Mexican traditions: Las Posadas

Las Posadas a Unique Mexican Christmas Tradition

Christmas in Mexico  El "Nacimiento"

Christmas in Mexico
El “Nacimiento”
Bengalmixer

María Teresa tells me that as a child, she used get together with neighbors to go from one house to another carrying a tray with the figures of Mary and Joseph while reenacting their search for lodging. In other parts of Mexico, children dress up as Mary and Joseph and travel by donkey to represent “Las Posadas.”

During Christmas in Mexico many homes sing and play “villancicos.” Some of the most popular are “El Niño del Tambor” or “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Navidad Blanca” or “White Christmas.” After each “Posada night” there is a “pińata” party.

María Teresa’s sister, who lives in Mexico, still uses the old fashion ceramic “piñata” when she throws the party after her designated night in “Las Posadas.” To break the “piñata” children have to be blindfolded which makes the process more exciting.

Las Pastorelas

"Las Posadas"  North Beach, San Francisco

“Las Posadas”
North Beach, San Francisco
by Ivan N.

When the Catholic evangelists arrived in Mexico they used outdoor plays to teach religion and ideals to the Aztecs. “Las Pastorelas” use this format to tell the story of the shepherds on their way to visit baby Jesus.

“Las Pastorelas” are infused with humor through the improvisation of lines. The shepherds follow the star in the East to go visit baby Jesus but on their way they encounter many obstacles set by the devils while the Archangel San Gabriel tries to help.  Enjoyment, slang and good humor characterize “Las Pastorelas” that many churches reenact at their steps or in theaters with known artists who perform the roles.

In Mexico Christmas Enjoys Beautiful Decor

Poinsettia Flower

Poinsettia Flower
Picture by Laszlo From Halifax

Hispanic Christmas decorations abound during the holidays in Mexico.  The most recognizable Christmas decorative piece that originated in Mexico is the Poinsettia or “flor de Navidad,” like I heard my mom call it when I was a child. The red fury leaves of the Poinsettia surround the true blossom which is a cluster of small yellow mini-flowers.

Valerie Menard wrote in her “Latino Holiday Book” several explanations on how “La flor de Navidad” became the official holiday flower.

I chose to share the most romantic explanation, a little girl who was going to church and could not afford to buy flowers prayed for help. An angel instructed her to gather weeds to take them as an offering, and later on the weeds transformed into Poinsettias.

Mexican Christmas Decorations and Accents by Mexican Artisans

During Christmas in Mexico, Christmas trees are fairly popular. Hispanic Christmas Decorations typical of Mexico include ornaments made of “paja” or straw, a star or an angel on the top of the tree, Christmas lights, and silver streamers wrapped around the tree to simulate snow.

Mexican Christmas ornaments are famous throughout the world because they are mainly handmade and very typical, reflecting the catholic traditions of Christmas with a touch of Mexican artisanal tradition.

And…who has not heard of the beautiful “Luminarias”?  They are Christmas lanterns that symbolically served to light the path of the shepherds who visited baby Jesus. Mexicans use “Luminarias” as Christmas decorations in Mexico and Southwestern United States.

Nativities which Mexicans call “Nacimientos” are a very important part of the Christmas traditions in Mexico because most of the celebration revolves around the birth of Christ.  Life size nativities are common in churches or public  places, and smaller ones in homes where many collect and display them under the Christmas tree.

True Latin Christmas Decorations

Gourd Art
and Decorations

hispanic-christmas-ornaments-1Hispanic Christmas
Ornaments

christmas-nativity-sets

Hispanic Christmas Nativity Sets

Christmas in Mexico and “Los Reyes”

One of the most exciting moments for children during Christmas in Mexico is to open the presents on the day of the Epiphany on January 6th or Día de Los Reyes.

As a child, María Teresa used to write a letter to “Los Reyes” asking them for toys. The little children in her family still practice this tradition, the only difference is that instead of putting the letter inside a shoe they attach it to a balloon and let it loose in the air to reach the sky.

The family reunites this day also to share the famous “rosca de reyes,” which is a round bread made with fruits and a small figurine of Jesus inside.

The person who eats the piece that has the Jesus figurine has to invite everybody to tamales on February 2nd which is the “Día de la Candelaria” or Candlemas.

Foods and Other Traditions for Christmas in Mexico

Christmas in Mexico overflows with “sabor” or flavor reflected in the traditional Mexican Christmas foods.

In Mexico Christmas requires three beverages, they are “Atole”, hot chocolate, and “Ponche Navideño.” The famous “Atole” is a beverage made with dough, cornstarch, milk, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate flavor. The “chocolate caliente” goes perfectly with “buñuelos” or fritters and with “rosca de reyes.”

On the 24th or “La Nochebuena” many families attend Misa de Gallo or midnight Mass, and enjoy the last day of “Las Posadas” and “Las Pastorelas.” On Christmas Eve, the families gather to eat “La cena de Nochebuena” and to share in the opening of the presents.

Rosca de Reyes

“Rosca de Reyes”
Picture by Camila Chaparro

Mexican Christmas dinner may include “bacalao a la vizcaína” or Biscayan cod, homemade tamales, or “revoltijo de romeritos” a wild greens in mole sauce. Ham and roasted pig are other popular menu items.

When it is time to toast, Mexicans drink sparkling cider or “El Ponche Navideño” a hot fruit punch that includes “tejocotes,” walnuts, orange juice, guavas, sugar cane, prunes, cinnamon, sugar, and brandy.

Christmas in Mexico is a truly traditional celebration rich in Catholic traditions and folklore where the entire family and friends participate while living the true spirit of “La Navidad.”

Christmas in Guatemala

Your Top Guide for Christmas in Guatemala
Through the Eyes of a Gringo…Benjamin Barnett

Celebrating Christmas in Guatemala has many similarities to celebrating Christmas in other Hispanic countries. This is one of the most beloved holidays in Guatemala.  Getting ready to start means preparing yourself with the advent season, which starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  This tradition has Christian origins and Latinos celebrate it throughout Hispanic America.

You may find that many Hispanic Americans don’t particularly celebrate Advent, but it seems to me that the farther you go south, the more you can find people keeping with this tradition.

Advent Wreath and Calendar

Did you know the word advent means arrival? therefore this is simply a time to celebrate the first arrival of Jesus and prepare for the second arrival of Christ.  In Guatemala, as it is in many other Latin American countries, it is time to hang the evergreen wreaths with 5 candles at homes and churches.

The four red or colorful candles go on the sides of the wreath, and the idea is to light one every weekend before Christmas. The middle candle is white and lighting it happens on Christmas Eve.  Also many families use the advent calendar, especially with kids.

The Nativity or Belén

Christmas in Guatemala requires the Nativity or Nacimiento. This tradition arrived in the country through a Franciscan priest in the XVII century.  Similar to Peruvians, Guatemalans gave their Christmas nativity sets a special touch when they started to represent the nativities with hand made clay figurines by Guatemalan artisans.  The nativity has clay houses, shepherds, sheep, roads, greenery and much more.

On the 24th of December baby Jesus rests placidly on his manger until the 31st of December when families take him and dress him with handmade clothes or a hand woven attire. On top of his head goes a bright small crown.

Using the traditional ways of the Mayan Indians, many artisans make the clay figures and elements for the nativity.  These Guatemalan clay figurines are a must, and you can see families buying the pieces at markets or mercados cantonales.

Burning the Devil a Unique Guatemalan Tradition

Get ready because on December 7th, Guatemalans prepare a fire with leaves, sticks and useless articles to burn the devil.  Believe it or not, children help find the materials to create the fire and are pretty much part of the whole process.

At the time the devil burns, many Guatemalas broom their homes from the inside to the outside. The purpose is to make sure the devil doesn’t come in, and instead, finds his way to burn in hell. After booming, families spay holy water on the broom.

Burning goes along with what we call polvora or firecrackers, that are pretty much available everywhere during Christmas and the new year.  If you have a chance, enjoy perusing the markets and seeing the paper mache devils stuffed with firecrackers ready to be burnt!  Yes, the devil must pay his dues at 6 o’clock, and now it is time as the men prepare the devil’s figure by pouring plenty of gasoline on it.

This tradition started in colonial times when people were preparing for the celebration of the Immaculate Conception.  Burning the Devil is one of the most recognized Guatemalan traditions, and tt shows the victory of the Virgin Mary over the devil. It also represents a rebirth, letting the bad go away to allow goodness to come in.

In Ciudad Vieja, Antigua and others, Guatemalans burn a huge devil in the town’s square. The people in charge of torching him read the charges and prepare to start burning it, as all people around listen carefully and excitedly.

Seeing this happen at one of the well preserved towns transports you back in time, making you feel you are in colonial times while experiencing the heat of the fire.  When the burning starts Children and adults laugh, enjoy and scream around this cultural tradition which makes the festivities very much alive!

Experiencing a Real Christmas in Guatemala!

 Christmas in Guatemala!

All I shared here with you is just a little piece of what this tradition is all about.

This small article can’t give you all the info you need to really understand and enjoy a traditional Christmas in Guatemala or to cook the traditional dishes like tamales.  That is why I truly recommend Benjamin Barnett’s guide to Christmas in Guatemala.

His book is a chock full of info about the Feast of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception, Dia de Santo Tomas, a complete Christmas guide for Navidad in Guatemala, La Procesion del Nino, the traditions for the New Year and more.

Want to cook the best tamales that accompany Christmas in Guatemala? Then you can’t miss out Benjamin’s Guatemalan tamales recipe book that includes over 40 recipes. These are treasures passed down in families every year.

Benjamin Barnett created a complete guide to Christmas in Guatemala from a real insider’s point of view, a true American who settled in Guatemala for a while.

Benjamin had been traveling to Latin America for over 10 years and to Guatemala for 5 years before he settled there for 2 1/2 years. He lived the Guatemalan culture and for sure, he can take you on a true adventure of Navidad in Guatemala!

True Latin Christmas Decorations

Gourd Art
and Decorations

hispanic-christmas-ornaments-1Hispanic Christmas
Ornaments

christmas-nativity-setsspanic Christmas Nativity Sets

Christmas in Cuba

Celebrating “La Navidad Cubana”

Christmas in Cuba is not marked by the grandiose feasts and decorations that characterize many Hispanic Christmas celebrations in other countries in North, Central and South America. But this was not always the case.

Before the fall of Batista, Christmas in the island used to be a big Catholic celebration. To make matters worse for the Catholic Church, in 1962 Cuba became an atheist country.

In Cuba, Christmas was officially removed from the calendar in 1969. The reason? Fidel Castro thought this holiday was interfering with the production of sugar cane which is the main export of the island.

When talking about the celebration of Christmas in Cuba it is important to see it from three perspectives, prior to Fidel’s revolution, after Fidel’s revolution and how exiled Cubans celebrate in the U.S.

Roasting the Pig

Roasting the Pig
by Mikee032901

Christmas Eve Mass Remedios, Cuba

Christmas Eve Mass in Remedios, Cuba
by ext212

 

Christmas in Cuba Prior to Fidel Castro’s Dictatorship

Christmas or Nochebuena in Cuba used to be a big celebration also tied to the Roman Catholic influence of Spain in the island. Families gathered and shared a special “Cena de Navidad” at 9:00 pm. After dinner, the Catholic population -almost the entire island – attended Misa de Gallo or mass of the rooster at midnight.

The “Cena de Navidad” or Christmas dinner in Cuba included beans, plantains, rice, “mojo” which is a type of marinade with onions, garlic, and sour orange, and pork as the main dish.

Valerie Menard explains in “The Latino Holiday Book” why pork is favored by writing: “Cattle and turkeys where in short supply in the Caribbean, but thanks to the Spaniards, pork was not.”

Cubans served roasted pork, some in fancier ways than others. The preparation of Christmas dinner in Cuba was a special occasion for families to reunite and roast the pork. Families made the cooking an event; pretty much like traditional Hispanics do for Christmas.

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Preparing “Mojitos”
Picture by David and Nasha

Desserts like “turrones” or nougats, “buñuelos” or fritters, and others made of tropical fruits like coconut, guava, and sweet potato were very common at Christmas dinner. Nuts like “avellanas” or hazelnuts and tropical fruits were also part of the dinner.

Beverages like “sidra” or cider, “Mojitos” a drink made of rum, sugar cane juice, lime, carbonated water and mint, were the main alcoholic drinks for the night. Traditionally, Christmas dinner ended by drinking wine, and going to mass.

Christmas in Cuba included celebrating the birth of Christ and the Epiphany on January 6. Many Cubans displayed mangers with “Los Tres Reyes” or the Three Wise Man.

The day of the Epiphany included processions with people dressed like the Three Kings and many people following. As a tradition, children received presents from the Three Wise Men and not from Baby Jesus.

Christmas in Cuba After the Revolution

After declaring the country atheist and removing Christmas from the calendar, Castro was able to start fading the significance of Christmas. It was almost non-existent on the island until the arrival of the pope Juan Pablo II in 1996.

The December 1997 CNN article “Christmas To Be Observed in Cuba” says “Cuban President Fidel Castro has declared Christmas a national holiday this year –an unprecedented gesture of goodwill in honor of Pope John Paul II’s upcoming visit to the communist nation.” After the Pope’s visit Castro recognized the holiday again but it still remains a very low key celebration.

After the visit from the pope, Christmas in Cuba became more festive but nothing like it used to be. Also churches, which normally carry and explain many of the traditions during Christmas, are stranded for money.

On Christmas day in Cuba children attend school like in a normal day, shops, restaurants and markets stay open for regular business. Remember, many children were born after and during the revolution, and the new generations don’t know how the old generations celebrated Christmas in Cuba since they were forbidden to do it.

Small Christmas celebrations happen in the tourist areas like Varadero, Santiago, etc, all designed to please the travelers for a price. Hotels put up Christmas trees and big images of “El Ché Gevara” who is practically plastered all over the island.

moros-y-cristianosFor some who can afford to celebrate, Christmas in Cuba includes a special dinner made of roasted pork, plantains, beans and rice. The hotels serve the same menu while entertaining the tourists with typical music, games, and shows where national athletes participate.

Priests celebrate mass in churches and designated places like cathedrals or “plazas,” the most popular is Havana’s Revolution Square. Churches ring their bells to mark the moment of Christmas Eve becoming Christmas day. Christmas is not certainly a commercial holiday, at least for the natives.

How Cubans Celebrate Christmas in the U.S.

For Cubans who are in the U.S. Christmas is a big celebration tied to the old traditions they remember from the island they left. Let’s not forget that the first wave of Cubans that arrived in Miami in the 1960’s came from well-to-do families that had strong Christmas traditions.

For this first wave of refugees feasting, decorating their homes with Christmas trees, nativities, expecting the arrival of the Three Wise Men, and attending “Misa de Gallo” on their old island was a common practice. They brought these traditions with them when they arrived in the U.S., and passed them down to their children born here.

The second wave of Cubans refugees was in the 1980’s with the Mariel boatlift. This new wave of Cubans brought lots of diversity to the old Cuban traditions. Christmas and religion were almost forgotten for many Cubans who arrived in the 1980’s.

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“Lechón Asado” or Roasted Pig
Picture by ktaietehrani

Interesting enough the new wave of Cubans adopted the traditions of their fellow refugees giving them a touch of their own, and now the majority of Cubans celebrate Christmas.

The “big feast” features “lechón asado” or roasted pig with a special marinade of orange/citric flavor, accompanied with “Moros y Cristianos” or black beans and rice, “tostones” or fried plantain and “yuca” or yucca with “mojo.”

To roast the pig, Cubans pass a stick through the pig to place it over the fire and cook it slowly. This process lasts the entire day and involves several family members who take turns cooking it.

For dessert Cuban-Americans favor rice pudding, “turrones” or nougat candy, and “Boniatillo” a sweet potato pudding. Many of these desserts and ingredients can be purchased in Little Havana, in Miami, which hosts the largest Cuban settlement in the U.S.

Christmas in Cuba is a celebration that has been transformed by the political landscape, and even though it is today an official holiday for everybody to enjoy, the economic and religious reality on the island may not allow that.

In a country where basic items like perfumed soap are considered luxury and where the Roman Catholic faith is working on a very tight budget it is reasonable to expect Christmas in Cuba to be a low key celebration. This is a complete contrast to the Christmas celebrations of Cuban-Americans in the U.S. where the holiday takes center stage.

True Latin Christmas Decorations

Gourd Art
and Decorations

hispanic-christmas-ornaments-1Hispanic Christmas
Ornaments

christmas-nativity-setsspanic Christmas Nativity Sets

 

Christmas in Colombia

Christmas in Colombia “Navidad en Colombia”

Christmas in Colombia is a religious event also mixed with lots of “parranda” or fiesta, like it is common in Hispanic culture. As soon as December starts we take out our decorations which must include “el pesebre” or nativity, the Christmas tree, red and white candles, angels, and lights that we display on the windows or balconies of our home.

In Colombia Christmas or “Navidad” starts on December 7th by celebrating the day of “La Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción” or The Virgin o

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Lighting “Las Velitas”
Or The Candles.
Picture by Asdrubal Colombia

f the Immaculate Conception. This day is widely known as “El Día de las Velitas” or the day of the candles.

How do we celebrate “El Día de las Velitas”? Simple, we start at dusk by lighting candles (skinny ones) on long pieces of wood board to make infinite lines that illuminate the front of homes, house complexes, churches, etc.

“El Día de las Velitas” is not complete until we mix in dancing music, foods like “buñuelos” or fritters, “empanadas” which are fried dough stuffed with potatoes and meat or grilled meats. We drink rum and the famous “Aguardiente,” an anise drink that is pretty powerful.

“La Novena de Aguinaldos” or The Christmas Novena

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Public “Novena de Aguinaldos” San Antonio Station, Medellín
Picture by Kosmonaut1

Christmas in Colombia is deeply rooted in Catholic tradition like most of the Hispanic culture countries, therefore the novena is a must. On the 16th of December we reunite with family members, and I mean everybody, each night until the 24th to pray the novena. “La Novena de Aguinaldos” is a special occasion to get closer to our faith by remembering the birth of Jesus.

Each night of the novena we sing “villancicos” or Spanish Christmas carols and enjoy typical Hispanic Christmas foods. The novena can rotate from one home to another or in many cases, the grand parents host it and everybody brings a dish.

The Role of Children During Christmas in Colombia

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Nativity Underneath the Christmas Tree
Picture by Asdrubal Colombia


There is no doubt, celebrating Christmas in Colombia is a major event for our children. The first thing they do is to write a Carta al Niño Dios or baby Jesus.

The letter goes in the nativity from where it mysteriously disappears, meaning baby Jesus took it so he can know what presents to place on or near your bed on the 24th of December. It can also remain on display for baby Jesus to read.

Christmas traditions in Colombia also have a lot to do with giving during this time of the year.

We buy gifts and ask the children to help us wrap them to deliver them at corner streets where less fortunate children may be begging.

We let our children stay up late expecting to see baby Jesus delivering presents.

The youngest ones fall asleep before midnight. The older ones stay up late and participate in games like finding the baby Jesus with money that one of the adults previously hid.

“La Nochebuena” One of the Top Christmas Traditions in Colombia

In Colombia Christmas gives an opportunity to indulge in typical foods by enjoying a special “Cena de Navidad” or Christmas Eve dinner.

The main dish can be pork, ham or even Ajiaco Bogotano, a hearty chicken soup people from the capital cook. If you are celebrating Christmas in Colombia on a farm, which is what we call our second homes, the main dish is a roasted pig or an “asado” which includes a variety of grilled meats. We do the “asado” with coal not gas, and it is outdoors while we enjoy the wonderful weather.

During Christmas in Colombia the entire country enjoys a dessert called “Natilla.” We make it with cinnamon, corn starch, milk, “panela” a hard sweetener from sugar cane, and cloves.

“Buñuelos” or cheesy fritters, “arepas” a thick corn mass, “empanadas,” “hojuelas” a fried dough pastry with sugar and jam are amongst the favorite munchies.

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“Natilla” Colombian Style
Picture by Asdrubal Colombia

My mom used to make a multicolored gelatin dessert with “leche consensada” or condensed milk that always turned out to be delicious.

For dessert, people who live on the Atlantic coast prefer “arroz con coco” or coconut rice pudding, and people who live in the colder states close to the capital prefer “postre de natas,” which is made with milk and condensed milk cooked with sugar, cinnamon and raisins.

At midnight we toast with “aguardiente,” rum or champagne. We also have “ponche de frutas” or fruit punch, and “Micheladas” which are beers with salt and lemon.

Other Typical Christmas Traditions in Colombia

Many people “quema pólvora” or light fireworks during the month of December even though they are prohibited. Children always get sparklers.

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“Voladores” a Type of Fireworks
Picture by Steve8642005

We also love to “elevar globos” which are paper globes that we light inside to let them fly freely in the sky. It is a nice tradition because requires many people to hold many corners of the “globo” while one person lights it.

And What Happens After “La Nochebuena?” “El Año Nuevo”

Many families after going to mass on the 24th and celebrating “La Nochebuena” continue partying the next day on the 25th. We typically wake up very late, eat leftovers, play more music, and have more fun.

On the 31st of December we say good bye to the old year and prepare ourselves to receive the New Year. In many areas of the country, people reunite on their “fincas” to make a human size rag doll stuffed with fireworks.

We call this doll “El A&natilde;o Viejo,” and at midnight we burn it after we walk around with it crying because it is going away forever. We toast with champagne and wish everybody a “feliz año nuevo.”

Christmas in Colombia follows many traditions or “agueros” to bring on good fortune in the new year, for example, we wear new clothes, we eat 12 grapes during the final 12 seconds of the old year, we wear something yellow, we broom our homes and clean them very well to take out all the bad energies, we do “saumerios” or cleansings of the homes with eucalyptus leaves, etc.

Last but not least we continue feasting with typical foods and partying with excellent dance music. Three Kings Day is not such a special event in Colombian Christmas like it is in Central America, even though we celebrate it.

Hispanic Christmas Decorations

Hispanic Christmas decorations are very important during the festivities. Many families take pride in adorning their homes for these special days. The Christmas tree or el arbolito de navidad is a most as well as the nativity or pesebre. Lots or Christmas ornaments hand in beautiful decorated trees, and we specially value ornaments that reflect our artisans traditions and materials.

My parents loved ornaments that Andean artisans made using fibers, woods and materials that came from South America and that depicted typical nativity scenes from catholic traditions. Gourd, cloth and ceramic ornaments have a special place in our hearts. I confess I have cloth and straw ornaments that are handmade that we hang in our tree every year.


Christmas in Colombia is a very especial time that brings joy and love to the families that practice the traditions engraved in our culture. In Colombia, Christmas is filled with Catholic customs that we pass down from generation to generation.

True Latin Christmas Decorations

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Ornaments

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Nativity Sets

Christmas in Argentina

Christmas in Argentina

Celebrating Christmas in Argentina has to do a lot with tradition and Catholic roots that still persist until today.

Catholic influences are everywhere even though Argentina is a country influenced by immigrants, especially Italians and Germans who emigrated there after the Second World War.  When thinking of celebrating “la Navidad” in Argentina prepare yourself for blue skies, worm temperatures and a delightful breeze

In Buenos Aires especially, the scent of orange blossoms, jasmine, and honeysuckle is in the air, and lots of beautifully-colored flowers are everywhere at Christmas time.

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Letter To Santa
Picture by HM LaPlata

During Christmas in Argentina, children write a letter to Santa. I found this to be a unique tradition since in the majority of Latin American countries children write to el nino Dios or baby Jesus instead. I guess this stems from their European influence where writing to Santa is fairly common.

During the night of the 24th of December families gather at the grand parents home, including brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, etc. All to celebrate “La Navidad.”

It is also common to see young people in their 20s, go out at midnight and come back home in early morning.

Foods for Celebrating Christmas in Argentina

The families previously agree on the Christmas menu that traditionally requires each participant to bring a dish, a beverage or any part of the “cena de Navidad” – Christmas dinner.-

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La Parrillada
by Tony R. Rosi

Since Christmas in Argentina happens during the Summer time the climate calls for a Christmas menu with cold salads, beverages and dishes that make you feel refreshed.
The favorite cold salads are the Woldorf and the Russian. The main dish can be sweet and sour pig, chicken Provencal style, and “pesheto” or tongue, but the most traditional dish is grilled meat or “parrillada Argentina” as they call it.

 

The “sidra” used in Argentina for Christmas has a very similar complexion to that of Spain. Argentineans also drink champagne.The best time to drink “sidra” is right after being poured because it has this “sparkling” characteristic you don’t want to loose.

Pan Dulce

In Argentina Christmas also includes delightful desserts like “turrones” – a type of candy- and “pan dulce” or sweet bread called “panetone” which has crystallized fruits and nuts, especially almonds.

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Pan Dulce
by “Pan Dulce” or Sweet Bread
Picture by Maggie Manson

Celebrating Christmas in Argentina Must Include “Pólvora” and Presents!

At midnight on the 24 of December you can hear the explosions from the fireworks going on everywhere. “Quemar pólvora” – lighting fireworks, hugging and kissing family and friends, and opening presents that were placed under the Christmas tree is a must at midnight.

Quemando Globos

“Quemando Globos.”
Picture by Tony & Rosi

Another beautiful tradition is to light “globos.” They are paper decorations you light inside and they take off into the sky. Argentinians do it at night, and you can see the skies lit with them.

Today very few families go to church to share in the midnight mass. Even though Christmas is one of the top holidays in Argentina, it has become more of a commercial holiday than a religious one.

The old tradition was to hand make the presents but as Argentineans became more affluent they started to incorporate imported gifts. Argentina entered an economic recession in 2002 forcing many people to go back to their old traditions of low expenses and hand made presents at Christmas time.

Hispanic Christmas Decorations in Argentina

In Argentina Christmas is an important holiday and this is evident in the decorations that every home displays. Wreaths in green, gold, red and white along Christmas trees decorate the living rooms.

Argentineans decorate the Christmas tree with laces, balls, Santa Clause figures or “Papa Noels” -an American influence -, and candles. The “pesebre” or Nativity also plays an important role and it is placed close to the tree.

A Buenos Aires Christmas

A Buenos Aires Christmas
Rick Price

It is interesting to see many people use cotton balls on the branches of the Christmas tree and throughout the nativity to simulate snow.

Hispanic Christmas decorations are important amongst Argentineans who enjoy ornaments made by many artisans from the South American

regions as well as those
with some European influence.  Some of my Argentinean friends tell me that celebrating Christmas in Argentina has a special place in their hearts. You may try it one day and be amazed at the difference between having a traditional cold weather Christmas and warm weather outdoors one.

Like in any other Hispanic country, Christmas in Argentina is about family, mixed with some religion and lots of enjoyment, the difference is that in Argentina Christmas
is a convergence of European, American and Hispanic traditions.

True Latin Christmas Decorations

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Do you have any other ways to celebrate Christmas in Argentina? I would love to hear from you, share it with many others that really want to know how Argentinians celebrate Christmas…

Dominican Christmas

Traditions and Foods in
La Navidad en Republica Dominicana

Christmas is a time for celebrating, and perhaps nowhere on earth is this more true than in the Dominican Republic.

Though citizens of this Caribbean nation are not wealthy, they are rich in Christmas spirit. It is so rich, that a single day is simply not enough time for Dominicans to properly celebrate Christmas. Instead, Dominican Republic Christmas lasts almost 3 months, from November to January.

Though hardly anyone gets any serious work done in December because they are too busy hanging out with friends and family, everyone gets a Christmas bonus called doble sueldo or double salary during this month. The extra cash helps fuel the celebrations and spread good cheer throughout the nation.

Traditional Dominican Christmas Decorations

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Charamicos: wood and straw decoration in Dominican Christmas

In preparation for Navidad in the Dominican Republic, Dominicans put out all kinds of decorations. While in many countries Christmas has become so commercial that outdoor nativity scenes are rare, in the Dominican Republic Navidad is still a holiday completely grounded in religious devotion.

In addition to nativity scenes, you will also see displays of the Three Kings and various Catholic saints.

Other common decorations include poinsettas, aka Estrella de Navidad, which grow outdoors in the Dominican Republic, as well as charamicos, which are a type of folk art statue made from wood and straw.

True Latin Christmas Decorations

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Three Dominican Republic Christmas Traditions

Reunion Feasts. The return of Dominican expats from around the world is a major part of Dominican Republic Christmas. Everyone wants to go visit the relatives that have been away working abroad all year, and so there are many, many parties and feasts as whole extended families get together for joyful reunions.

Expats often bring gifts like expensive alcohol, nuts, and products from the US or Europe with them when they return.

Un Angelito. Dominicans love giving gifts; they give them on Christmas Day and on Three Kings’ Day, and as part of a tradition called Un Angelito. This is basically a secret gift exchange with a twist. Instead of giving your Angelito one gift for Christmas, you give them a little something each week of the Christmas season.

I have never seen this angelito tradition with this particular name in any other Latin American country.

Nochebuena. While many countries celebrate Christmas Day, Navidad in the Dominican Republic means Christmas Eve or Nochebuena. This is when families come together to eat a huge meal full of traditional delicacies.

The main course will be roast chicken or roast pork, along with a Russian salad made from a secret family recipe, pasteles in hojas, pan telera, and of course tons of special Christmas cookies and cakes.

Pasteles en hojas are what we call in other Latin American countries tamales or pasteles.

To drink with dinner there will be wine and rum, and after dinner Dominicans snack on grapes, apples, and nuts and drink eggnog or spicy brews like Anis del Mono and jengibre.

Ladies take plates to the neighbors and everyone sits out on porches and shoots off fireworks until it is time to go to the midnight mass. Christmas Day will be a time to recover from the fun of Christmas Eve!

Día de los Reyes Magos

Three Kings Day

There are many celebrations, fiestas and patrons that people in Hispanic culture commemorate and celebrate.

Dia de los Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day is one of the most beautiful religious traditions amongst Hispanics. We have many religious holidays pertaining to saints, their lives and what they represent and this is one of the most celebrated especially in Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Hispanics celebrate Three Kings Day after New Year’s, specifically on January 6. This Hispanic holiday is also called the Epiphany.

This Latino holiday commemorates the day when the Three Wise Men went and followed the star to Bethlehem and found Jesus on the manger. On this day, Los Tres Reyes gave three specific gifts to Baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When January 6 approaches, Hispanics make many preparations for this particular day. After December the 31st, children start writing letters to their favorite Wise Man or Rey Mago.

What do Hispanic children write in these letters? They ask Balthazar, Melchor and Gaspar for presents!

In Mexico for example, in the evenings of January 2 to January 5, the whole family goes to Alameda, which is a part in Mexico City. In this park, hundreds of stands are set up full of food and toys. They also have stands where children can have their picture taken with the Three Kings.

There are also a great number of helium filled balloons sold in the park. It’s through these balloons that children’s letters travel to the Three Wise Men of the Orient. The letters are tied to the balloons and the balloons are set to fly. As the balloons float up to the sky, the wishes on the letters are carried with them.

Three Kings Parade in Puerto Rico

Three Kings Parade in Puerto Rico
by Oquendo

Children can also do their letter writing at the Alameda at this time because there are many stalls that sell stationery and envelopes addressed to the Reyes Magos.

In Hispanic culture, on January 5th many families add figurines of Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar to the nativity scene.

In Puerto Rico Dia de los Reyes Magos is a huge event. The custom is for children to place their old shoes under their beds before going to sleep. It’s in these shoes that the Wise Men will leave them the presents they wished for in their letters.

In many houses children leave a bucket of water and hay for the animals, and milk and cookies for the Three Wise Men to eat. Finally, Dia de Reyes arrives. The children wake up with sparkles in their eyes and excitement on their faces, and again there are more presents to open.

kids look under their beds to see the gifts the Three Wise men left for them. The whole day is spent with children running around playing and talking with their friends about the arrival of the Three Wise Men and how they made it to their homes to bring the presents they asked for.

The famous Rosca de Reyes is tradition in Mexico and the family enjoys it with tamales and hot chocolate. Mexicans eat it at a special meal of the day called merienda. To know more about Christmas in other Hispanic countries go to my Hispanic Christmas page.

Believe it or not countries like Spain, Colombia, Malta, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands celebrate Dia de los Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day also.

True Latin Christmas Decorations

Gourd Art
and Decorations

hispanic-christmas-ornaments-1Hispanic Christmas
Ornaments

christmas-nativity-setsspanic Christmas Nativity Sets