Christmas in Bolivia

One of the most beautiful aspects of Navidad in Latin America is that each country has its own traditions, but they all still have the underlying feeling of Hispanic Christmas. Christmas in Bolivia is no exception.

Like many parts of Latin America, the Christmas season in Bolivia lasts from December 24th to January 6th. The Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) is perhaps the most important event of the Christmas season for Catholics. As in many parts of the world, Bolivian Catholics attend a midnight mass.

After the Misa de Gallo, a meal is shared as a family. The main dish is traditionally a spicy soup called La Picana, which has chicken, beef or lamb, and pork, and Bolivians serve with corn and potatoes.

On Christmas morning, breakfast is generally buñuelos, or fried dough, served with a drink such as api (made of corn) or hot chocolate.

Traditions of Christmas in Bolivia

In homes, Bolivian Christmas decorations often center around a pesebre, or Nativity Scene. Also called a nacimiento, mangers can be simple, with just the primary characters of the Christmas story, or more elaborate, with up to hundreds of figures.  Pesebres are sometimes made of local gourds which are hollowed out.

Another important aspect of la Navidad en Bolivia is the Spanish Christmas songs, or villancicos. Because of the large number of indigenous people in the country, these traditional songs are not only in Spanish, but are also in languages such as Quechua and Aymara.

The carols are so ingrained in the culture that even people who don’t speak the Quechua and Aymara languages are familiar with them. On Christmas Eve, children will sing and dance to these carols in their homes.

Traditions regarding Christmas trees and presents vary among parts of Bolivia. For example, in certain regions, Christmas trees are common both at home and in cities, as public decorations; in others, no.

Also, some families exchange gifts on Christmas Day, others after eating dinner on Christmas Eve, and yet others on Three Kings Day (Jan.6, Epiphany).

Poverty and Christmas

Activities for underprivileged children are common at Christmastime in Bolivia.

Activities for underprivileged children are common at Christmastime in Bolivia.

Bolivia is a very much a developing country, with more than half the population living in poverty.

In fact, many families do not exchange Christmas gifts at all due to a lack of resources. As such, it’s not surprising that many Christmas traditions have to do with the poor.

For example, it’s common for social organizations to organize campaigns to collect food and toys for families.They also organize parties called Chocolatadas where underprivileged children are served hot chocolate and treats, and are often given presents.

Poverty has impacted Christmas in Bolivia in other ways. For example, in cities it’s common to see people from rural areas who arrive in hopes of receiving a handout from those in the holiday spirit of giving.

Poor children also sing and dance to villancicos on the streets as they ask for money.

Gift Baskets for Christmas

Another important and touching tradition is that of the traditional gift basket that employers give to their employees.

Large enough to be shared with families, the Canastón de fin de año is filled with basic groceries, as well as traditional Christmas goodies, especially cidra (non-alcoholic cider) and panetón, a sweetbread with raisins, nuts, and dried fruit.

Employers give this basket as an end-of-year appreciation for hard work, the gift is particularly special since bonuses are not generally offered throughout the year.

Perhaps the most joyous aspect of Christmas in Bolivia are the famed fireworks, or pólvora. Said by some to rival Fourth of July celebrations in the United States, these bright colors light up the night on Christmas Eve.

Have you spent Christmas in Bolivia? Tell us about it in the comments!

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