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John Juan Coyote Presents

“Esta Noche Es Noche Buena, Y NO Es Noche De Dormir”

CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS IN THE SPANISH SPEAKING WORLD

The prototype for Christmas celebrations in the Spanish speaking world eminates from Spain and is closely linked to Catholicism.  Christmas in Spain is first and foremost a religious holiday.  It tends to feel more devout and less commercialized than in other western countries,  although this is may be changing.  The Christmas season begins on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Other important dates include Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) on December 24th, and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.  

Although Spain may be the traditional center of the Spanish speaking world, Central and South America are more populous.  In the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas occurs in the summertime.  For a person from the United States, Christmas in South America might feel like an Independence Day celebration.  There are a lot of fireworks involved, and families might even go to the beach on Christmas Day.

Below are descriptions of important elements of the Christmas holiday as celebrated in the Spanish speaking world.  Aftewards, there is a list of unique Christmas traditions by country.    

Dia de la Inmaculada Concepcion (December 8th, The Immaculate Conception)

The season begins on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Around this time, families will display Pesebres, or nativity scenes.  There is a common misconception that the Immaculate Conception refers to the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary.  In actuality, The Immaculate Conception refers to the birth of Mary by her mother Saint Anne.  

La Noche Buena (December 24th / Christmas Eve)

Christmas Eve is traditionally celebrated with a midnight mass.  This mass is sometimes referred to as  Misa del Gallo, or the Misa de los Pastores.  The midnight mass comes at the conclusion of nine previous days of celebration and prayer known as the posadas or novenas.  In the Spanish speaking world, Christmas Eve generally takes on greater importance than Christmas Day.  Families gather together to share a meal.  At midnight there are fireworks, and small gifts for the children.

Dia de la Navidad (December 25th / Christmas Day)

In the Spanish speaking world the primary Christmas celebration happens on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day is a calm, tranquil day.  In Spain, more modern families might even go out to eat at a restaurant.  In Central and South America, it is a day for picnics and going to the beach.

Dia de los Santos Inocentes (Dec. 28th / Day of the Holy Innocents, Childermas)

December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  During the time of Christ, Bethlehem was ruled by Herod, the Roman appointed King of Judea (Israel).  The Three Wise Men visited Herod and told him of the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem as foretold by Old Testament prophecy.  Prophecy claimed the child would grow to become King of the Jews.  Herod was a jealous King, and ordered that all young male babies in Bethlehem be slaughtered.  

Over time, the day has shifted from being one of mourning to a celebration of children.  In a sort of gallows humor, the day have evolved into one of simple pranks similar to what might be seen on April Fool's Day.

 

La Epifanía / Día de los Reyes Magos (January 6th, The Epiphany / Three Kings' Day)  

On January 6th, the Epiphany is celebrated in remembrance of the Christ Child's manifestation to the gentiles as represented by the Three Kings, or Wise Men. According to tradition Gaspar, Melchor and Baltasar traveled to visit the baby Jesus guided on their way by the Star of David.  Each Wise Man represented a different part of the world:  Europe, Asia, and Africa respectively.  They rode a horse, a camel, and an elephant.  As gifts, the Kings brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Traditionally, in the Spanish speaking world Three King's Day is the day gifts are exchanged.  Children leave out their shoes for the Wise Men to fill with toys. Children may also leave water, grass and grain under their beds for the Wise Men's camels.

Posadas

La Posada, is a religious procession that recreates Joseph's and Mary's the search for lodging in Bethlehem immediately preceding the birth of the Christ Child. During the procession, participants travel from house to house to imitate the Holy Family's attempt to find shelter.  In some parts of Latin America, these processions may run nightly for nine days before Christmas.   

Novena de Aguinaldos

Nine days of prayer preceding the Christmas celebration.  The period begins December 16th and runs through Midnight on December 24th.  The nine days mirror the nine months that the Virgin Mary carried the Christ Child during her pregnancy.  It is celebrated principally in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.

Pesebres, Portales, Nacimiento

Nativity or manger scenes depicting the Holy Family:  Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus.  Frequently, the Christ Child is not added to the scene until midnight on December 24th.  Frequently, farm animals are added to the scene to emphasis the humble birth of Jesus.  Sometimes the Star of David will be added to show that Christ's birth was the fullfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Villancicos

Traditional Christmas carols.  "Los Peces en el Rio" and "El Burrito Sabanero" are examples of popular Spanish Christmas songs.

 

TRADITIONS BY COUNTRY

ARGENTINA

In Argentina, like the rest of the southern hemisphere, Christmas occurs in the summertime.  For a person from the United States of America, Christmas in Argentina might feel like an American July 4th, Independence Day celebration.    On Christmas Eve in Argentina family and friends gather.  The religious attend church services.  At midnight, children open gifts and there are fireworks. Christmas day is celebrated with picnics and barbeques.  Favorite Christmas foods include Pan Dulce (bread filled with candies) and sidra (cider).  On Christmas Day there is an abundance of iced drinks to combat the summer heat.  A typical entree might include roast peacock brilliantly garnished with its own feathers or Nino Envuettas; rolled squares of steak, filled with meat, spices, hard-boiled eggs and onions.

BOLIVIA

Employers give employees a "Canastón".   A Canaston is a basket filled with basic food products like bread, sugar, rice, biscuits etc.   The Three Kings bring gifts for the children of Bolivia. On the night before Epiphany, children place letters in their shoes for the Three Kings.  "Natilla" and "Buñuelos" are Christmas time specialities.   Natilla is a custard made from corn starch. Buñuelos are cheese filled fritters.

BRAZIL

As a South American country we have included Brazil although its national language is Portuguese.  In Brazil the gift bringer is called Papai Noel or Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man).  In Northern Brazil, the play Los Pastores is a holiday favorite.  The play tells the story of a gypsy that attempts to kidnap the Christ Child and the shepherdesses that thwart the attempt.  Christmas foods include Farofa, a manioc flour roasted with butter, salt, bacon, and spices.  Codfish, French toast, Brazil nut, and Panettone are seasonal favorites.  

CHILE

El Viejo Pascuero (Old Man Christmas) is the gift bringer.  "Cola de Mono" or "Monkey's Tail" is a popular Chilean drink. Ingredients includes aguardiente, rum, coffee, milk and anise.  Christmas Eve meal often includes cazuela de ave (chicken cazuela), a type of  chicken soup filled with potatoes, onions, and corn on the cob.

COLOMBIA

Dia de las Velitas, or Day of Little Candles is the start of Christmas Observance in Colombia.  It is celebrated on December 7th, on the eve of the Immaculate Conception.  The day is celebrate by displaying candles and paper laterns on sidewalks, porches, and balconies.

In Colombian, families commemorate the nine months of the Virgin Mary's pregnancy. For nine days before Christmas, beginning on December 16th and running through midnight on December 24th, families gather to pray and sing.  The tradition is known as the Novena de Aguinaldos.  

Traditionally, El Niño Jesus bring the gifts.   The Santa Claus tradition is gaining popularity however.  God parents may bring gift on the Ephinany.  Typical foods include Buñuelos served with natilla or manjar blanco.   Also, hojaldres, which are something like a puff pastry or phyllo dough.

COSTA RICA

Costa Ricans display Nativity scenes called portales that are decorated with bright tropical fruits and flowers.   The traditional Costa Rican Christmas tree in a cypress.  In Costa Rica, the Christmas season is a time for Topes, or horse parades, and Bullfights.  The traditional Christmas food is tamales.

CUBA

After the Communist takeover in 1962, Cuba officially became an atheist nation.  Castro believed that Christmas interfered with the sugar harvest so he outlawed the holiday.  Castro allowed Christmas celebrations to resume in 1997 to honor a visit by Pope John Paul II.  The Cuban people were quick to rembrace Christmas.  A highlight of Christmas celebrations in Cuba are Parrandas, or street parties.  These began back in the 18th Century as way to boost attendance at Midnight Mass.  The Parrandas have a carnival feel.  At Christmas, Cubans enjoy Crema de Vie, which is similar to eggnog, and consists of condensed milk, rum, sugar syrup, lemon rind, cinnamon, and egg yolk.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

The oldest cathedral in the Americas is located in Santo Domingo.  It is named the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor.  Construction on the Cathedral began in 1512, and was completed in 1540.  The Cathedral of Santa Maria hosts the most elaborate masses in the country at Christmas time.  When not attending Services, people in the Dominican Republic celebrate Christmas like an American on Superbowl Sunday except with more fireworks.  Traditional Christmas dishes include Puerco Asada, pan telera, pasteles de hojas, root tamales, and ginger tea.

ECUADOR

On Christmas Day in rural areas, the indigenious people that staff the local ranches and farms will parade down from the highlands dressed in colorful garb and riding llamas.  Employers will give employees gifts.  Roast lamb and brown sugar bread make up the traditional Christmas meal.  

EL SALVADOR

In Early December Families setup nativities scenes, however the Christ Child is not added until after midnight on Christmas Day.  There are  Estrellitas, or fireworks to signal the symbolic birth of the baby Jesus.  More modern families might enjoy a dinner of turkey or  ham.  Chicken or tamales are traditional.  

GUATEMALA

The Christmas tree has joined the nacimiento (nativity) as a popular decoration because of the influence of the German population in Guatemala.  Parents and adults exchange on New Year's Day.  Turkey, bunuelos, tamales, and ponche (fruit punch) are popular menu items at Christmas.

HONDURAS

Honduras celebrates with lots of fireworks, pork, tamales, and aguardiente (fire water), a strongly alcoholic beverage.

MEXICO

There are poinsettias flowers everywhere.  Legend has it that a young boy was walking to church to view the town's nativity scene.  He had no offering to bring and so in a moment of improvisation he gathered a cluster of green branches.  The other children at the church teased him for his humble offering.  Miraculously though, when the boy place the branches on the altar of the church red flowers began to bloom.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas puestos (market stalls) appear all around the local plaza of every city and town.  These stalls sale all kinds of artisan foods and folk crafts.  

On Christmas day children break a decorated clay pinata.  Presents are also given on the Feast of the Epiphany by the Three Wise Men.

NICARAGUA

On December 7, the people of Nicaragua celebrate La Griteria (The Shoutings), in honor of the Virgin Mary.  There is singing in the streets, neighbors visit one another to share food and drinks, and exchange small gifts.  The traditional christmas dish is the nactamale, the Nicaraguan version of the tamale wrapped in plaintain leaves.

PANAMA

Christmas is the start of summer in Panama.  Christmas Day features a carnival like parade and fireworks.  At Panama City Beach there is a boat parade.

PARAGUAY

In Paraguay, the traditional Christmas meal includes Chipa made from cassava, and a soup called Bori Bori.

PERU

Quechua Indians are known for hand carving beautiful wood nativity scenes.  In the capital Lima, Christmas Day is celebrated with a procession including a statute of the Virgin Mary.  For the nine day preceding Christmas, the Mass of the Carols is held every morning at 5:30 a.m.  House to house Christmas caroling is popular.

PUERTO RICO

At Christmas time, the people of Puerto Rico  give a nod towards their agricultural roots.  Regular city folk will play the role of the "jibaros", or farmer peasant, by wearing a straw hat called a "pava." There is also the custom of "parranda," which is something akin to Christmas caroling.  Family and friends surprise neighbors with music and singing, and in return are invited in for a meal.  A favority holiday drink is Coquito is an eggnog like beverage made from coconut milk.

SPAIN

In Spain, Christmas can still be a deeply religious holiday.  At the gothic cathedral in Seville,  the season begins with an annual ceremony called Los Seises, or "Dance of the Six."  The holiday often include swinging.  Towns and villages setup swing sets and young people will swing in time with music and singing.  In a tradition that predates Christmas, bonfires are built to celebrate the winter solstice and participants will jump over the fires to ward off illness.  On December 22, El Gordo (the Fat One), the world's largest lottery in held.  On December 28th, young boys are giving the "keys" to their local town, and for a day are allowed to act as "mayor" ordering townsfolk to sweep the streets or pay a "fine."  The most famous of Spanish Christmas delights is turron, a kind of almond candy.  Other Christmas foods include yema, an egg based dessert, mantecados, crumbly cakes, and King cake.

URUGUAY

Christmas is officially known as "Día de la Familia" (Family's Day). However, most Uruguayans call December 25th "Navidad" (Christmas) and celebrate the night before (December 24th) "Nochebuena" (Christmas' Eve).  January 6th, The Epiphany is also celebrated.  Family dinner, fireworks and presents are the norm.  And then, more fireworks.  Crowds flock to beach resorts like Punta del Este.

VENZUELA

At bedtime, children will tie a long piece of string to their big toe.  The other end of the string is hung out their bedroom window.  Early the next morning, the people of the town join in a collective roller skating party.  The skaters will gently tug on any string they see hanging out a window to summon the children to join the party.  On the Epiphany, Children will wake to presents left by The Three Kings.  The children know that The Three Kings came to visit because if they look in the mirror they will see a black smudge left by Balthazar, King of the Ethiopians, who kissed them in their sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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