Christmas celebrations in Ibero-America
Christmas is around the corner and we are getting ready to celebrate another year of wonderful traditions with our families here in America. Since Christmas is a Catholic celebration, families around the world perform the same main religious rituals like attending Mass, representing Jesus’ birth (Nativities) and gathering to pray and eat together. Here the main celebration is on December 25th, usually starting at breakfast, however, have you ever wondered how people in Ibero-America(it includes all the Latin American countries as well as Spain and Portugal), celebrate, considering its immense diversity of food, festivities, and traditions?
In Spain, the streets and plazas exhibit Nativities(belenes) and the celebration starts on December 22,with the National Lottery draw, for which many people buy tickets months in advance. It is also very traditional to watch the special address by the King of Spain on TV. The main celebration is dinner on December 24(Noche buena) at around 10 pm, where depending on the geographical area, families share ham, lamb, pork or seafood, followed by a great variety of sweets, especially marzipan and nougat. Many people, right after dinner, attend Mass at midnight, while other families pray at home and spend the night together eating, drinking and singing. The following day, the celebration continues because it is time to visit extended family, bringing sweets for them. Children receive their gifts usually on January 6th (Epiphany).
In Portugal, fire is very important in the celebration. In several towns, right after Mass at midnight, people gather in the main plaza and light a bonfire to symbolize the triumph of light over darkness. Families eat cod with potatoes, carrots and eggs.
In Mexico and Central America, it is a community event, with people singing and dancing in the streets, especially decorated for the occasion. In Mexico, the celebration starts 9 days before Christmas, with Las Posadas: neighbors go door to door asking to shelter Maria to give birth to Jesus, until they are granted posada and are received with tamales, hot chocolate drinks and sweets. Children celebrate with a piñata filled with candy and little toys. At Christmas dinner they share turkey or cod, a potato and shrimp dish topped with a special rosemary sauce and hot fruit punch. In El Salvador, neighbors dress as old times and walk the streets together singing and carrying lights, representing the peregrination to Belem. They share tamales, hen or turkey, corn drinks and sweets. The celebration continues with fireworks.
In Panama and Costa Rica, there are parades in the streets and light festivals. In Costa Rica bullfighting is traditional. They celebrate with pork and tamales.
In Puerto Rico, the celebration starts on November 19and continues beyond January 6. It includes Discovery Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Epiphany. It is considered the longest Christmas celebration in the world. During these days, people organize parades and dances. Musicians play in friend’s houses (
parrandas)and family and friends share coconut and rum drinks, pork, rice and sweets.
In South America, Christmas falls in summer (Southern Hemisphere), so the idea of a white snowy landscape, with families gathered around a fireplace and wearing warm sweaters is not quite accurate. In the main cities, the celebration is very similar to Spain’s, with a traditional Christmas dinner on December 24th and Mass at midnight. Fireworks are always part of the spectacle as they announce midnight, where everybody greets each other, and shares a meal with turkey, pork ,ham, tamales, sweet bread, etc.
In Colombia, on December 7 people light candles in the streets and plazas in honor of Virgin Mary and participate in a procession, signaling the start of the Christmas season.
In the mountain parts of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, there are special parades, horse races, dances and processions representing the Holy Family.
Children receive gifts on Christmas after dinner or on December25th, where families continue the celebration by visiting extended family and friends.
Even though Ibero-America is huge and diverse, people from these nations share many traditions, enriched with the fusion of their own ethnic and cultural heritage, it is definitely a world within the world.