7 Ways South American Christmas Differs

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

Roller skates Photo: Mezzofortist

Rebecca Cuningham

22 thoughts on “7 Ways South American Christmas Differs

  1. Merry Christmas, Rebecca. The Pase del Niño Viajero (parade) was unfortunately canceled here in Ecuador this year due to continued COVID restrictions. It would be hard to describe how important this annual tradition is in the hearts of the Ecuadorians. (And we extranjeros – foreigners – love it too!) May we all find inner peace as the world sorts itself out.

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  2. Very interesting Rebecca. I had no idea how those countries celebrate Christmas. In Spain we celebrate the night of the 24th of December with a family dinner, a “cena”, then midnight mass (Miss del gallo) and then on Christmas Day we have a “comida” but the children get gifts too from Papá Noel (Santa Claus). On the 6th of January (Feast day of the Epiphany) we celebrate the Kings Day when children receive their gifts and there are huge parades and it is really our big day for the season. Hope you enjoyed yours Rebecca in health, love and wellbeing.
    All the best,

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    1. Gracias, Francisco for sharing the Spanish traditions for the season! It’s so fascinating to see where the South American traditions mirror those of Spain and where they differ. The misa de gallo church service happens all over Latin America as well. Have a wonderful new year’s celebration! Will you and your wife eat twelve grapes by the last stroke of midnight? 🙂 Rebecca

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We will not party or join friends, we are not allowed here as it is prohibited to meet with more than six people and the curfew starts at 00:00 hours, so yes! Absolutely we will eat our grapes like we do every year, but this time at home! All the best to you and your family Rebecca. Have a healthy and happy Noche Vieja and a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! May 2021 see the end of this pandemic and a return to normal…not new normal…life!

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