La Navidad is here, and the celebrations are well underway. In fact, I’m sure a few Latino households have bought their caja china already and are preparing the ingredients for the festivities in the upcoming weeks.
But most Latinos will tell you that Christmas is more than a party. Many observe this time with religion in mind.
Christmas traditions for Latinos are encompassed in the beauty of our indigenous culture and Christian influences. Some of us might not realize how strong religion is for Latino identity during the holidays, but it is prominent.
The following traditions will highlight just how much religion is rooted in Latino’s Christmas celebration.
Growing up, I felt this was just part of an arts and craft project because my own Latina mom would have us build an almost life-like nativity scene, or pesebre, in front of the Christmas tree. It hadn’t clicked then that this was an homage to baby Jesus and our way to show our devotion to Christianity. I guess it didn’t feel that way since there were often a few glasses of alcohol around with deafening Christmas music blasting in the background during this event.
A novena is a Christmas prayer event that lasts nine days; it starts every 16th of December. Though it’s known to be a Roman Catholic tradition, many Latino cultures have embraced it for the mere fact that it is yet another opportunity to spend time with their family and loved ones.
Novenas occur at someone’s house, where you pray and eat the night away. Of course, this doesn’t mean it can’t turn into una novena bailable – Latinos will make a dance party out of any event.
Misa de Gallo
Misa de Gallo — also known as Midnight Mass or Rooster’s Mass — takes place on Christmas Eve at midnight (hence the name.) The tradition’s origin dates back to the Philippines’ experience under Spanish rule. History states that this early mass was held this early so that farmers could work during the day.
Years later, it is still observed as a form of respect for the Christian faith.
Some families see this as a pause from their Christmas parties and continue once the mass is over.
Praying the Rosary
There’s a certain peace that comes from praying a rosary. Perhaps this is why some Latinos pray the rosary every Christmas before opening any gift. If you were like me, you used to volunteer to pray the rosary only so you could make everyone pray faster. The Hail Mary sounded like a tongue-twister when it was my turn, but at least some time was shaved off from the rosary. Amigas, I laugh now, but I’m hoping my Pablo respects the rosary more than I did back then.
Niñito Jesus or Niñito Dios
Instead of asking Santa Claus for gifts, many Latino kids ask el Niñito Jesus or Niñito Dios. This tradition helps Latino parents teach children about religion as they learn to be mindful of what they ask for Christmas. Somehow, it seems as though Santa Claus will splurge, but not el Niñito since he actually cares for each and every single kid in the world. I’ve made sure my own kid asks el Niñito Jesus, and it’s worked out well so far.
Although so many of our traditions are deeply embedded in religion, it doesn’t mean we don’t have fun – because we do. It’s nice to know that our community is willing to preserve traditions no matter how many advancements we’ve gone through.
With that being said, Merry Christmas, mi gente. Enjoy it to the fullest!