Monday, January 20, 2014

Christmas in Latin America

article from December 23, 2010
by Julie R Butler

Christmas in Latin America, as you might expect, is celebrated differently by different people. But what you might not expect is the variety that exists throughout the region. The various traditional foods alone would take up an entire post, and a comprehensive essay would take me days to write, but this will give you the idea.

Mexico has its Virgin of Guadalupe, and their holiday season begins December 12 with the Feast of La Guadalupana.

In Venezuela, festivities on November 17 and 18 mark the end of the fair celebrating the Virgin of Chiquinquirá and the beginning of their Christmas holidays, which are filled with music and community events – and plenty of fireworks.

Colombian Christmas season begins December 7 with Día de las Velitas, the Day of the Candles, when towns and cities are lit up with candles and paper lanterns. This is the eve of Día de la Inmaculada Concepción de María, which is an official holiday in many other Latin American countries, as well. For the Colombians, the festive season begins on December 8 – with plenty of fireworks.

Venezuela and Colombia share traditions in common with Mexico’s famous Las Posadas, which are nightly processions, and related ceremonies that begin December 16 and lead up to Nochebuena, which is Christmas Eve in English and in Portuguese, Véspera de Natal. This night is actually more important than Christmas day, as Misa de Gallo, Rooster’s Mass, occurs at or around midnight, presents from Papá Noel, or more traditionally, El Niño Dios, may be opened, Mexican piñatas may appear, parties may continue until the roosters crow – and there are plenty of fireworks.

For many Mayans of Mexico and Guatemala, Nochebuena is more subdued, with the ceremonial laying of a figure of El Niño Dios in the manger of the family’s nativity scene. The ceremony might include a dance involving Abraham and Isaac, devils, and an ancient wind instrument called the tunkul.

El Niño Dios or El Niño Jesus is the traditional bringer of gifts in many parts of Latin America, and often, the children will have written letters asking for gifts. Alternatively, the Three Wise Men will bring gifts to the baby Jesus as well as to the children on January 6, El Día de los Reyes. In Mexico, special breads with small figurines of the infant Jesus baked into them are shared on this day, and whoever finds the figure is charged with certain obligations in El Niño Dios observances.

For some, this day, which may be known as Epiphany, marks the end of the holiday season, and leaving the Christmas decorations, such the relatively recently introduced Christmas tree, up past this date is considered to be bad luck.

The Mexican veneration of El Niño Dios, however, does not culminate until February 2, on Candelaria. On this day, the Christ figure is taken from the nativity scene and presented at mass to be blessed. The figures must be dressed in new outfits, which, in classic Mexican style, is in itself a complicated web of symbolism that results in outfits varying from the purity of whiteness to San Francisco brown to Aztec warriors, mariachis, soccer players, and much more.

[Image via Wikipedia]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler

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