Christmas in Latin America, as in many countries around the world, is one of the most important celebrations of the year. It is a moment full of traditions that, although mostly inherited from the Spanish during colonization, have merged with each region’s native traditions and are still practiced.
Being a mostly catholic region, South America honors through traditions and Christmas celebrations the birth of Jesus Christ. In most Latin American homes, small figures of the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are kept at home on an altar during the festivities.
There are many traditions and all equally unique, family meals and gatherings, special masses, and symbolism about the year that is leaving and the beginning. Let’s explore some of the most peculiar ones throughout this beautiful region.
Día de las Velitas (Candlelight Day)
El Día de las Velitas is a celebration held in several Latin American countries to anticipate the arrival of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and the beginning of Christmas. In Colombia the celebration begins on December 7, candles are lit on the doors of homes, and these will guide the path of the Virgin; in other regions the celebration begins on December 8, such as Venezuela, specifically in the region of Merida in a small town high in the mountains called Mucurubá, a celebration attended by hundreds of people and around 17,000 candles are lit.
Celebrated mostly in Mexico for nine days before December 24, the Posadas symbolize the Virgin Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before the arrival of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. A procession of people accompanies them through the streets while singing. There are always candles, sparklers, piñatas, and a good meal.
El Año Viejo (Burning the old year)
This tradition originated in Ecuador and is celebrated throughout many countries in Latin America. The custom is to make a big straw doll, dress it up, and burn it on December 31st with the last bell. It symbolizes burning all the bad energies of the year ending and giving way to new things.
Patinatas or Christmas Carts
In Venezuela, every December 25 after the arrival of the Baby Jesus, cities close streets and avenues for people to enjoy on bicycles, skates, or sleds built with recycled materials. People enjoy with their families to the sound of the typical Gaitas venezolanas, with food in street stalls and gifts.
The 12 grapes
The twelve grapes are one of the Spanish traditions that persist in Latin America. It involves serving glasses of champagne with twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. At the sound of the chimes, one grape should be eaten per wish for each month of the year that is about to begin.