The nine days before Christmas have special importance in Mexico. "Las Posadas," the remarkable buildup to Christmas Eve, is perhaps the most delightful and unique Mexican tradition. Beginning December 16th, it commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem and their search for lodgings on the first Christmas Eve.
After dark, each night of the "Posada," a procession begins led by two children. The children carry a small pine-decorated platform bearing replicas of Joseph and Mary riding a burro. Other members of the company, all with lighted long slender candles, sing the "Litany of the Virgin" as they approach the door of the house assigned to the first "Posada." Together they chant an old traditional song and awaken the mast of the house to ask lodging for Mary. Those within the house threaten the company with beatings unless they move on. Again, the company pleads for admittance. When the owner of the house finally learns who his guests are, he jubilantly throws open the doors and bids them welcome. All kneel around the manger scene or "Nacimiento" and offer songs of welcome, Ave Marias and a prayer.
After each posada ceremony, Mexicans feast and celebrate. Children enjoy trying to break the pinata, a brightly decorated paper or clay figure containing candy and small gifts. The pinata may be shaped like an animal, an elf, a star, or some other object. It is hung from the ceiling, and the children take turns trying to hit it with a stick while blindfolded. When someone breaks the pinata, the gifts and candy fall to the floor, and the children scramble for them.
In most areas of Mexico, the wise men leave the presents on the eve of Epiphany, or January 6th. In some parts however, this occurs on Christmas Day.
Santa Claus is not predominant, but the bright red suit is represented in the traditional flower of the season. This flower is the poinsettia, which ha a brilliant red star-shaped bloom. It is believed that a young boy walking to the church to see the nativity scene showing the birth of Jesus had realized on the way that had no gift to offer the Christ child so had gathered up some plain green branches. As he walked in he was laughed at, but upon placing the branches near the manger they started to bloom a bright red poinsettia flower on each branch. Thus, the poinsettia became know as the "Holy Night Flower", or "Las Flores de la Noche Buena".
On Christmas Eve another verse is added to the Ave Marias, telling the Virgin Mary that the desired night has come. Small children dressed as shepherds stand on either side of the nativity scene while members of the company kneel and sing a litany, after which the Christ Child is lulled to sleep with the cradle song, "El Rorro" (Babe in Arms).
At midnight the birth of Christ is announced with fireworks, ringing bells and blowing whistles. Devout worshipers surge into churches to attend the famous "Misa de Gallo" or "Mass of the Rooster." Following Mass, families return home for a tremendous dinner of traditional Mexican foods. The dishes vary with the different regions. However, somewhat common are the ,"tamales," rice, rellenos, "atole" (a sweet traditional drink) and "menudo," which is said to be more sobering than strong coffee.
On Christmas Day the Mexican children receive gifts. On Christmas day they are blindfolded and taken to try and break a decoarted clay pinata that dangles and swings at the end of a rope. Once the pinata has been broken, the children clammer to recover the candy that was inside the pinata. Those children who have been good also on January 6th receive a gift from the Three Wise Men.
One prominent tradition embraced by the Mestizo group involves a ten-day procession commemorating Mary and Joseph's search for lodgings before Jesus' birth. During this ritual called Las Posadas, statues of Joseph and Mary are carried different houses where they ask for and are granted food and shelter for the evening. Participants pray together after the statues have refreshed themselves. The ceremony is repeated at a different home each night until Christmas Eve, when Joseph and Mary make their way back to the church for the Dance of the Pastores, a performance symbolizing the shepherds bringing gifts to Jesus after his birth.
Certain Belizean cultures only perform certain rituals around Christmastime. The Maya put on "The Deer Dance" to portray the relationship between humanity and nature, and the Garifuna enact the Charikanari, a masquerade similarly symbolizing the relationship between the hunter and the deer.
Belize, as a former British colony, has adopted a few aspects of English celebrations as well. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is celebrated with dancing, singing, and drum playing in the streets. People of all ages gather to Waltz and Foxtrot when a Grand Ball is held on Christmas and New Years Eve. Dancing is a common theme in most of Belize's holiday celebrations. Calypso music made by pots, spoons, coconut graters and conventional instruments accompanies or closes many ceremonies. And participants are delighted by the costumes and sounds that weave their way through the neighborhoods.
Despite their diverse Christmas traditions, the people of Belize are all united in the spirit of visiting family and friends for the holidays. Every household is thoroughly cleaned in mid-December and each one gets new curtains and marley (linoleum). A number of families choose to send Christmas cards and put up Christmas trees, while all prepare elaborate meals for Christmas dinner. Some traditional foods include rice and beans, potato salad, black fruitcake, white relleno (a soup with pork-stuffed chicken and raisins), pebre (roasted pork and gravy) and tamales. Rumpopo, the well-known Belizean version of eggnog, is also a favorite refreshment across the country.
Throughout Christmas several religious statues are taken for an elaborate procession. At the rear of the parade is an image representing God, this white-bearded man may also resemble a department store Santa Claus. Marimbas and chirimias accompany the procession.
On Christmas Eve festivities end are midnight with a Misa de Gallo or the Mass of the Rooster.
Nacimientos or Manger scenes, are displayed in churches and public arenas. The Christ child is added on Christmas Eve.
In El Salvador kids celebrate Christmas by playing with firecrackers, fountains, such as the small volcancitos ("little volcanos") and sparklers, estrellitas ("little stars"). Older kids and young adults display bigger fireworks or Roman Candles. Families also have parties in which they dance and eat. Traditional Salvadoran Christmas dishes are sauteed turkey sandwiches in a baguette with lettuce and radishes,Salvadoran Tamales, and sweet bread for dessert. Drinks include hot chocolate, pineapple juice, Salvadoran horchata, Cherry Salvadoran horchata, and coffee. At 12:00 a.m. on December 25 everyone gathers around the Christmas tree and opens their presents.
Christmas in Nicaragua begins officially on the 6th of December. On December 7th with the Nicaraguans celebrating "La Purisima"(meaning "the most pure) or the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary. Thousands in the country, specially the young, sing as loudly as they can and go from house to house, to sing hymns honouring the Virgin Mary. Someone from the crowd loudly asks what the cause of their happiness is? The chorus immediately answers, “The conception of the Virgin Mary!” For such performances, every house rewards the performers with generous treats including items like rosquillas, leche de burra (a sweet called donkey’s milk) nacatamal (tamal stuffed with meat) oranges, lemons, and chopped caña (cane).
In the weeks leading up to the festival, people come out on the streets in large numbers to buy candles, images of Nativity, presents, small Nativity figures, toys, flower bouquets and various types of food items. Children carry beautiful bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. Splendid fireworks are to be beheld all over the sky throughout the entire month of December. The whole family decorates the Christmas tree that they buy for the occassion. The festival, however, actually begins on December 16 with the performance of the lodging difficulties of Mary and Joseph. Every home carefully constructs a manger scene for this purpose. The home where lodging is found, supplies wine and food.
From December 16 until Christmas Eve Mass, prayer is held each evening in the home, followed by refreshments and the singing of carols. Contrary to the American celebration of Christmas on 25th December, the festival here is celebrated a day earlier. December 25th is just a regular day here.
Christmas Day is celebrated with fun, feasts, fireworks and dancing. The main streets of the town and cities are decorated and have loud-speakers broadcasting Christmas carols. In small towns, there is an old custom of the Catholic Church organising a parade or "procession". The priest goes around the town with a number of performers imitating various Biblical characters and enacting the birth, passion and life of Jesus Christ. Many people view this parade with great devotion.
The Christmas dinner is something everyone looks forward to here, as in elsewhere. On the morning of December 24th, all in the family work together to prepare the Christmas dinner. The Nicaraguan Christmas celebration is largely influenced by ancient Spanish traditions. Hence, the menu traditionally consists of Valencian style rice similar to Paella, stuffed chicken, nacatamal, and freshly baked bread. Spanish biscochos are served for dessert. In Nicaragua, the extended members of the family and friends are invited to each others homes to celebrate Christmas. At night, everyone in the family prepare to go to church. On Christmas Eve, church bells are rung which signify the start of the Midnight Mass. Thousands attend this Christmas Eve Mass, after which everyone enjoys the Christmas dinner together. White-coloured Christmas cards are exchanged on this occassion. Everyone wishes "Feliz Navidad" (meaning "Merry Christmas" in Nicaragua) to another.
On December 25th, everyone wakes up early in the morning. While the adults go to the market to purchase the food to be prepared for the Christmas dinner, kids look for toys on their pillows or rush to find gifts placed under the Christmas tree by Papa Noel. Here, children write letters to Papa Noel, the Nicaraguan equivalent of Santa Claus, asking him to bring them the toys and gifts they want to receive at midnight on December 24th.
Honduras (soon to come)
Costa Rica (soon to come)
Panama (soon to come)
Christmas in Cuba is one of the most joyous occasions in the country and observed with great fun and festivity. Following the declaration of Cuba as an atheist nation in 1962, the festival was removed from list of holidays of Cuban calendar in the year 1969 when Fidel Castro decided it was interfering with the sugar harvest festival. Cuban authorities banned the public display of Christmas trees and nativity scenes, other than in places frequented by tourists, such as hotels. But in 1997, President Castro restored the holiday to honor, in the honor of the visit of Pope John Paul II in the island.
With Christmas coming back to its former glory, a large Mass is now held in Havana's Revolution Square. Thousands of Cubans worship at midnight Masses, as church bells ring out across Havana at the stroke of the midnight hour signifying the transition from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. Giant-sized TV screens are set up in the square outside Havanna's cathedral so that crowds can watch the Pope celebrate Christmas Mass at St. Peter's in Rome.
Cubans celebrate Christmas with much enthusiasm and revelry. Gifts are a major highlight of Christmas celebrations in Cuba. Since the occassion signifies spreading love and happiness among fellow human beings, gifts are an inseperable part of the festivities. Those who can afford it try to make a special meal and decorate their houses, and church-going Christians attend services. Cubans spend the days before Christmas buying beans, bananas, fruits and other foods and gifts in preparation for their holiday festivities. Houses are beautifully decorated for Christmas. Dazzling lights, beautiful Christmas tree, balloons, gifts, toys, bells, stars are the major components of Christmas celebrations.
Carribean Nations (soon to come)
In Venezuela on December 16th families bring out their pesebres which is a specially designed and thought out depiction of the nativity scene.
It is a custom to attend at one of nine carol services is observed by most Venezuelans. Firecrackers explode and bells ring to call worshippers from bed in the predawn hours. The last of the masses takes place on Nochebuena de Navidad Christmas Eve. Families attend a mass on this night and then return home to a huge and fancy dinner.
On January 6th when the children awaken they will discover that the straw that they had left beside their bed the night before has gone and in its place are gifts the children know that the Magi and their camels have been and when they go to look in the mirror if they have a black smudge on their cheek they know that Balthazar, King of the Ethiopians has kissed them whilst they slept.
Suriname (soon to come)
French Guiana (soon to come)
December 16 is the first day of the Christmas Novena, a devotion consisting of prayer said on nine successive days, the last one held on Christmas Eve. The Novena is promoted by the Catholic Church as a staple of Christmas, and is very similar to the posadas celebrated in Mexico. It is a call for an understanding of the religious meaning of Christmas, and a way to counter the commercialism of the Christmas season. Individual traditions concerning the Novena may vary, but most families set up a "pesebre" (manger scene), sing religious Christmas carols called villancicos accompanied by tambourines, bells, and other simple percussion instruments, and read verses from the Bible as well as an interpretation which may change from year to year. Novenas serve as beautiful religious gatherings as well as learning environments for young children since kids have a central and active role in the celebration of the Novenas (they read prayers, sing, and play instruments guided by their family). From December 16 to 18, games called "aguinaldos" are played after having made a "pinky promise" deciding the prize for the winner and the punishment for the loser. The games include "Hablar y no contestar" (Give but don't receive), "Pajita en boca" (Straw in the mouth), "Tres pies" (Three feet), "Beso robado" (Stolen kisses), and "Si y al no" (Yes or no). Churches offer dawn and nightly masses during the nine days of the novena, culminating with the Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) on Christmas Eve at midnight.
Christmas Eve is the most important day of Christmas in Colombia. Families and friends get together to pray the last Novena and wait until midnight to open the presents, parties are held until sunrise on Christmas Day, kids stay up late playing with their new presents, and fireworks fill the skies. Families gather around meals, music, and singing. Because Christmas Eve is the most important day, little occurs on December 25. Families join Christmas Day mass although it is not nearly as festive as Christmas Eve.
The "Dia de los Santos Inocentes", or the Day of the Innocents, falls in the Christmas season, on December 28. The day commemorates the innocent infants (called the innocent ones) who were said to have been killed by King Herod in fear of the power of the newborn baby, Jesus. 6 January, the day of the Revelation of the Magi (Epiphany), is called "Reyes Magos" (from The Three Magi), used to be a day of gift giving, but is celebrated less now since gifts are given mostly around Christmas Eve today. Some families still give presents, and it is also the day when godparents give Christmas presents.
In Peru nativity scenes with Retablos inside are very popular. When priests were first taken to traveling they would carry small altars around with them for festival days. These gradually developed into portable boxes with saints above the altar and scenes from everyday life below it. Now the retablos depict Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, with local people crowding around.
Bolivia (soon to come)
The Chilean Christmas celebrations are quite similar to the U.S. observance of the occassion, though the weather is quite unlike the temperature Americans experience during December. Naturally, Chileans have a really "warm" Christmas celebration as opposed to cold weather festivities in most Western nations.
The Chilean Christmas celebration is a spiritual affair and is held much in accordance with the true Christian way. Church services are held on a daily basis throughout the entire Christmas season but the actual holy observances begin from nine days before Christmas Day, when Chileans begin a special prayer service along with spiritual preparation known as "Novena" - a Roman Catholic ritual. For the entire nine-day period leading to Christmas, prayers are observed by every pious Christian in the country. A visit to the local churches are made, carols are sung and passages related to the nativity are also read from the Holy Bible. On Christmas Eve, Catholics attend the Midnight Mass followed by a sumptuous dinner with the extended members of their family. Christmas is a time for family reunions and many Chileans seize this opportunity to visit their relatives in distant places and be with them during the festive days.
Prepartions for Christmas start nearly a month prior to the actual festive day. Chileans love adorning their homes with brilliant lights and balloons on Christmas. The Christmas tree is set up one or two days before the festive day and decorated with tiny clay figures known as 'pesebre'. Elaborate scenes from the nativity are put up and clay/wooden figures are used to represent the Holy Family and other religious characters.
The Christmas festivities are incomplete without good food and a plethora of mouthwatering dishes form the items of the Christmas menu. The Christmas Eve dinner traditionally delicacies like "Azuela de ave" (a special chicken soup), "Pan de pasqua" (bread stuffed with candied fruit). "Rompon" and "Cola de Mono", a.k.a. Monkey's Tail are the customary drinks to have on Xmas Eve.
The Chilean version of Santa Clause, "Viejito Pascuero" (Old Man Christmas), is believed to visit every house in Chile on Christmas Eve, riding his sleigh pulled by flying reindeers. As per popular legend, he isa small-sized man who goes down through chimneys or enters through windows to leave goodies inside the stockings of good children and nice presents for them under the Xmas tree.
This is also the day when many people enjoy the nature. The warm climate makes it possible for most to take a break at the beaches, go on rock-climbing or surfing, or even making a short trip to the nearest holiday spots. Everyone wishes another 'Feliz Navidad' (meaning Merry Christmas) on this day!
Paraguay (soon to come)
Uruguay (soon to come)
People go to the church with family, then come back to a family gathering. At midnight after eating they toast, then the adults' dance while younger people go out to see the fireworks. After this they go to sleep, but not before they open the presents under the Christmas tree. That day is very special for because they are Christian and celebrate Jesus' birth on the 24th of December.
The dinner food is pork, turkey, and a great variety of meals. Then the table is covered with sweet things, cider, beer, and juice for consuming while waiting for the time of the toast. After the toast all the family chat, others play.
Houses are decorated with red and white garlands; on the door Father Christmas's Boots are placed. The Christmas tree is decorated with colored lights, ornaments and Father Christmas placed on top of it. Mothers make different kinds of meals such as roasted turkey, roasted pork, stuffed tomatoes, mince pies, Christmas's bread and puddings. The toast: drink prepared with different kinds of fruit which is cut into pieces, then it is mixed with juice and cider.
Brazilians are a mix of different ethnic people, and as a former Portuguese colony, they have many Christmas customs which originate from this heritage.
One tradition is to create a nativity scene or Presépio. The word originates from the Hebrew word "presepium" which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presépio is common in northeastern Brazil. Nowadays presépios are set up in December and displayed in churches, homes, and stores.
A huge Christmas dinner includes turkey, ham, colored rice, and wonderful vegetables and fruit dishes.
Decorations include fresh flowers picked from the garden. Fireworks go off in the skies over the cites and huge Christmas "trees" of electric lights can be seen against the night skies in major cities such as Brasilia, San Paolo, and Rio de Janeiro.
In Brazil there is folk dancing and singing and the festivities go on until January 6th, which the Brazilians refer to as Three Kings Day. January 6th is supposed to be the day when three wise men visited Jesus to bring him gifts.