Christmas in Latin America

Figure 1.--This photo shows a very "different" Christmas: with hot weather and poverty. The photo was taken in Northern Brazil. A charity institution is giving little presents to poor children in a rural area.

Celebrating Christ's birth for Christians presented a problem in that no one knows when Jesus was born. It almost certainly was not December. Christmas is celebrated on December 25 throughout Christendom, as the birth of Christ primarily because of the importance of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival in honor of Saturn the god of Agriculture, in Roman culture. Besides adopting some of the feartures of Saturnalia, there are many non-religious customs and practices which have developed over the years. These customs are in many cases peculiar to different countries. Germany has played an especially important role, in part because of the Christams traditions Prince Albert brought from Germany when he married Queen Victoria, many of which have since been past on to America. Many modern Christmas traditions are based on these English Victorian traditions. Here are the many Christmas traditions we knpow of around the world. We hope that HBC readers will tell us something about Christmas traditions in their countries.




Christmas is one of the most popular holidays in Haiti. The country separated from France with great acrimony in the late 18th century. ThecFrench populatuin iither was killed or fled. Thus there is relatively little French influence in the holiday celebrations. The Hitins celebrate Christmas in their own unique way with over-the-top show and revelry. Some describe Christmas as the happiest time of the yer for this poor Caribbean country. There is little discussion of the issues surronding holiday celebration in Anerica. Instead the whole country devotes itself to preparung for the holiday celebrations. Christmas in the West is not entirely, but largely for the kids. Thus is not the case in Haiti. The entire population, Haitians of all ages get into the Christmas spirit. The children, teenagers, adults, and even the elderly get into the Christmas spirit. The celebrations include parties, midnight suppers, concerts, family gatherings, buffets, and much more. The actual celebration begins Chritmas Eve (December 24). There seems to be less religious content in the celebrations than in most countries. Haitains on Chritmas Eve enjoy midnight suppers and concerts. Nightclubs are packed with revelers. Young people dance with abandon at these clubs throughout the country. Christmas in Haiti as in other countries is a special time for the children. Tragically many familie can not afford much in the way of presents. Various welfare organizations distribute toys to poor children.

Mexico and Central Amerrica


In villages and urban neighborhoods throughout Mexico youngsters gather each afternoon to reenact the holy family's quest for lodging in Bethlehem. The procession is headed by a diminutive Virgen María, often perched on a live burro, led by a equally tiny San José. They are followed by other children protraying angels, the Santos Reyes (Three Kings), and a host of pastores y pastoras (shepherds and shepherdesses), all usually decked out in colorful handmade costumes and carrying brightly decorated báculos (walking staffs) or faroles (paper lanterns). In most Mexican homes the principal holiday adornment is el Nacimiento (Nativity scene). The focal point, naturally, is a stable where clay or plaster figurines of the Holy Family are sheltered. The scene may be further populated by an angel, Los Reyes Magos (the Magi), the ox and the ass, shepherds and their flocks, and assorted other people and livestock. It is not unusual to also find the forces of evil represented by a serpent and a grotesque Lucifer lurking in the shadows. The figures may be simply positioned in a bed of heno (Spanish moss), or scattered throughout an elaborate landscape. Holiday festivities culminate on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) with the celebration of a late-night Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass). Afterwards families head home for a traditional Christmas supper which may feature a simple fare of homemade tamales and atole (corn gruel) or other regional dishes. A more exotic feast might include bacalao a la vizcaína (Biscayan cod) and revoltijo de romeritos (wild greens in mole sauce). Roast turkey, ham or suckling pig are other popular menu items for those who can afford it. Ponche (a hot fruit punch), s idra (sparkling cider) or other spirits are served for the holiday brindis (toast). The evening is rounded out with the opening of gifts and, for the children, piñatas and luces de Belen (sparklers). As these happy family gatherings generally last into the wee hours, December 25th is set aside as a day to rest and enjoy that universal holiday bonus -- el recalentado (leftovers). Incidentally, Santa Claus and the clatter of reindeer hooves on the roof do not generally figure in the scheme of Navidad. A Mexican youngster's holiday wish list is directed instead to el Niño Dios (the Holy Child) for Christmas Eve and the Reyes Magos (Magi) for Three Kings Day.

South America



Christmas comes at the beginning of their summer season. It is a time for boating, picnicking and other summer festivities. The red and green of Christmas decorations are provided eucalyptus leaves and brilliant red flowers of many sorts. The "pesebre", or manger scene is important and there is also a Christmas tree decorated with candles. On Christmas Eve the "cena", or meal, is set out before the family goes to Midnight Mass so that the Holy Family can have some if they wish while everyone is out. A popular menu would include turkey, fish and champagne. Before going to bed, the children set out their shoes for Papa Noel. On Christmas morning the children fix breakfast, then get their presents from their shoes and look for gifts that are hidden around the house. Christmas evening can be spent outdoors in the balmy weather and is a great time for fireworks. The people of Northern Brazil, as in Mexico, enjoy a version of the folk play Los Pastores ("The Shepherds.") In the Brazilian version, there are shepher desses rather than shepherds and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child.


Chile's gift-bringer is called Viejo Pascuero, ot Old Man Christmas. He strongly resembles Santa Claus and likewise comes drawn by reindeer. However, as chimneys are less than roomy in this warm climate, he contents himself with climbing in a window. As in all Latin America, the manger scene is the center of festivities; and following the midnight Mass of the Rooster, the Christmas Eve meal often includes azuela de ave, a chicken soup filled with potatoes, onions and corn on the cob; and pan de pasqua, a Christmas bread filled with candies fruit.


Christmas Day is a day of colorful procession as the Indians who live and work in the highlands and mountains dress in their finest and ride their brightly arrayed llamas down to the ranches where their employers live. They bring gifts of fruit and produce, which they lay before the image of the Christ Child in the pesebre, or manger scene, which is set up in the ranch house. Children also bring their gifts and make pretty speeches to the Holy Infant, asking blessings for their family and their animals. Then there is a fiesta with much singing and dancing outdoors. The owner of the ranch distributes gifts to all his employees and their families. The huge meal will consist of roast lamb, baked potatoes and brown sugar bread. There is always too much to eat, so that the processions that wend their way into the mountains at the end of the day are as heavily laden with leftovers as they were with offerings in the morning.



Venezuela is both an Amazonian, Andean, and Caribbean country. Most od the population is located in the north, either un the Andean highlands or along the Caribbean coast. As with other Latin American countries, there is no association with Christmas and cold weather. The country is largely Catholic. Thus Christmas traditions are primarily Catholic, although in recent years more commercial and secular traditions, often from America have become important. Since the election of Hugo Chavez, Benezuela has taken a strong turn toward Socialism. It is unclear how this in the long run will affect the Catholic Church and Christian celebrations like Christmas. Chavez clearly wants to remake Venezuela in the Cuba image, whether the Veezuelan people will accept this remains to be seen.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web holiday pages:
[Return to the Main country Chrisrtmas page]
[Return to the Main Chrisrtmas page]
[Return to the Main holiday page]
[New Years] [Valetines] [St. Patrick's Day] [Easter] [Fourth of July] [Haloween] [Thanksgiving]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: December 27, 1998
Last updated: 6:36 PM 12/24/2011