Blog: A Very Latino Christmas – December 20, 2011

Similar to our Thanksgiving post, the Christmas season for Latinos in the US is a time when Latin American traditions are integrated and sometimes even blended, with American customs. Depending on how acculturated the family is determines how much of the Latin traditions are celebrated. Given that Latin America has heavy Catholic roots, traditions are deeply religious.

The Christmas Season is known to Latinos as Fiestas Navideñas. This is a time filled with music, lights, parties, and other rituals.  Also, like the American holiday spirit, family and friends get together and share stories, memories, and gifts.

Although every Latin country has slightly different traditions, there are common elements to the Christmas season. It traditionally kicks off with the preparation for Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) with Las Posadas, nine days prior. The nine days represent Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and quest for housing to give birth to baby Jesus. This is a period of reflection and thanks through daily prayer.  In addition, families will pedir posada, going door to door singing villancicos (Christmas carols) and asking for somewhere to spend the night for the Holy Family.

Nochebuena is the most celebrated custom, the day of Jesus’ birth. Families will get together for dinner and celebrating. Typical dishes include tamales, champurrado, menudo, lechon asado (barbecued pig in Cuba), and niño envuelto (stuffed cabbage in the Dominican Republic). At midnight, when Jesus was born, families will go to mass, or Misa del Gallo. Those that opt to stay at home will pray, sing villancicos, and open presents. Some families will have a nativity scene and place the baby Jesus figure after midnight, symbolizing the birth of Christ. If a family has been more acculturated, then American customs such as the Christmas tree will be included with the nativity scene.

Lastly, on January 6th, El Dia de Los Reyes Magos, is the day when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus, guided only by a star. Children are asked to leave a shoe under the Christmas tree in hopes that the three wise men will leave something for them over night. For those more Americanized, gift exchanges will happen on Christmas Eve instead, and the children will be told the presents came from Santa Claus.

What types of Latin American and US-based holiday customs do you celebrate?