Happy Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve! As in Spain, Nochebuena in South America is celebrated with family and a midnight dinner feast. Catholic traditions, mixed with indigenous and African cultures, have created many South American Christmas traditions that differ from celebrations in other countries.
1) For example, Nativity scenes of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are more common in people’s homes than the Christmas trees we decorate with in the United States.
2) In interesting food traditions, hot chocolate and pastries are offered to children Christmas caroling in chocolateadas in Bolivia.
For additional cultural variations, let’s look at who gives gifts to the children and when:
3) In Ecuador and for some children in Venezuela and Colombia, it is el Niño Dios (Baby Jesus) who gives presents on Christmas. For other children in Venezuela, it is San Nicolás who arrives with gifts that day.
In Uruguay, it is Papá Noel (Santa Claus) who brings the gifts at midnight Christmas Eve.
4) In Chile, they call the person who brings the gifts on Christmas el Viejo Pascuero (Old Man Christmas).
5) Children in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Colombia receive gifts from Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) in their shoes January 6th. This practice was brought from Spain, where some families still follow the custom today.
6) Three Kings Day has added meaning for Afro-Chileans. Día de Reyes, or Pascua de los Negros – or Pascua de Baltasar – was traditionally a day of rest for enslaved people. (Pascua means Christmas) On the Three Kings date, people commemorate that history with pan de pascua (a pastry), sweets, music and dancing, especially in Arica. This fiesta is an offering to the Three Kings; especially Balthasar, the African Magi.
The same for Paraguay! La Fiesta a San Baltasar, Patron Saint of Paraguayans with African heritage is on 6 January. Dancing and musical events create wonderful festivities there.
7) To close, an unique tradition I read about in Venezuela is called Las Patinatas. The streets close to cars so people can roller skate to church on Christmas Day!
What family traditions do you have this time of year?
Happy beginning of a new season. ¡Olé! –Rebecca