When you learn Spanish, you get curious about hispanic culture too, right? Well, now that Christmas season here, it's the perfect time to find out about Spanish Christmas traditions around the world. That way, you can talk to native Spanish speakers about their plans for the festive season.
In fact, if you can speak to Spanish people or Mexicans or Peruvians about traditions in their countries, you'll find it easier to connect with them. And avoid any embarrassing cultural faux-pas, like asking them if they've got the turkey in for Christmas day!
That's why, in this post, you'll discover some of the most popular Christmas traditions in Spanish-speaking countries all over the world. And how they differ from what you're familiar with at home.
So, if you've ever wondered what Christmas is like in Spain, Argentina, or Mexico, get ready for a festive journey through the Spanish-speaking world.
You might be surprised by which Christmas traditions are similar worldwide. And which ones are completely different. Spanish-speaking countries have a lot of specific Christmas traditions, especially when it comes to gift-giving, Christmas food and decorations.
How many of these look similar to Christmas where you live?
Music and singing are important parts of celebrating Christmas in Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
Some popular songs are Spanish versions of favourite Christmas songs (villancicos navideños) from around the world:
Other villancicos navideños specific to Spanish include:
If you noticed that all four songs have a religious theme, you're right!
Most Spanish-language Christmas traditions are closely tied to the religious significance of the holiday since Roman Catholicism is the most common religion in Spain and Latin America.
Although Papá Noel (Father Christmas) is a part of Christmas celebrations around the Spanish-speaking world, he's much less prevalent than in English-speaking countries. In fact, children believe that the baby Jesus or the Three Wise Men bring most gifts, not Santa Claus
Food is a big part of any Christmas celebration around the Spanish-speaking world. No surprises there right? That said, each country has a slightly different menu.
Spain has a few distinct culinary traditions that are closer to Portuguese and French foods (its closest neighbours).
If you enjoyed that culinary tour of the Spanish-speaking world, then check out the linguistic version – it's a journey through the different Spanish dialects across the world.
Although you may see Christmas trees in December in the Spanish-speaking world, they're not as common as in other countries. And they're not always pine trees at all.
In fact, because Christmas falls during the middle of summer in South America, many Christmas decorations are less wintry than what you may be used to at home.
As the world gets more connected over time, however, conifer Christmas trees covered in (fake) snow are more common than ever before in Latin America and Spain.
Lights—including fireworks—are also a big part of Christmas around the Spanish-speaking world. In this collection of photos from all over Latin America, you can see many different light displays from Argentina, Cuba, Nicaragua, and more.
Large, elaborate nativity scenes, known as nacimientos, are an essential part of any traditional Christmas celebration in Latin America.
it's common to see nacimientos with a whole menagerie of animals, entire cities built around the Holy Family, rivers full of fish surrounding the nacimiento (referencing the song Los Peces en el Río), or even nacimientos staffed by live actors.
In Mexico, the baby Jesus is not traditionally added to the nacimientos until Christmas Eve.
Perhaps the most significant difference between Christmas celebrations in Spanish-speaking countries and those that speak English has to do with when gifts are given.
To explain it best, I've included a timeline of a typical Christmas season in Spain and Latin America.
Christmas season officially begins in Colombia with this holiday, which celebrates the Immaculate Conception. Families place candles and paper lanterns all over their homes and patios to fill their cities and streets with light.
A similar celebration takes place in Nicaragua, although there they call it La Gritería. After an afternoon and early evening of celebration and fireworks, children visit altars to the Virgin Mary around town and sing carols in exchange for sweets.
In Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, and other parts of Latin America (including among some Hispanics living in the United States), December 16-24 is a nine-day celebration representing the nine months of Mary's pregnancy.
Each night during Las Posadas starts with a caminata, a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging. Participants form in a procession singing and playing music behind those playing the part of Mary and Joseph (sometimes complete with an actual donkey!).
The procession travels to three separate doors either in a single house or through the neighbourhood. From behind the first and second doors, other participants sing songs but don't open the door. At the third door, the group behind the door opens the door and lets the procession in.
After the caminata is complete, everyone celebrates with dinner, drinks, sweets, and a star-shaped piñata for the children.
Christmas Eve celebrations begin with Midnight Mass, known as either La Misa del Gallo or Misas de Aguinaldo, depending on where you are. In Venezuela, it's traditional for people to roller skate to mass for the weeks leading up to Christmas!
After mass, people walk through the streets, playing instruments and singing. Many cities have elaborate fireworks displays that night as well. In Argentina, it's traditional to release globos (paper lanterns) on Noche Buena.
Interested in travelling to Argentina to experience Noche Buena? Then you'll need to take a look at this short introduction to Argentinian Spanish for your trip!
Christmas day is generally a quiet affair. Families spend it together, recovering from the late night before.
Similar to April Fool's Day in the United States, Los Santos Inocentes is a day of practical jokes and games. Some smaller towns in Spain have festivals on this day as well.
Celebrated on the 12th night of Christmas, Día de los Reyes is one of the most important parts of Christmas celebrations around the Spanish-speaking world.
On this day:
In most Spanish-speaking countries, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season.
By the way, if this post has inspired you to head to Mexico to celebrate the end of Christmas, then you'll want to have a look at this list of 29 Mexican slang words and phrases to make the most of your trip.
If reading all that has you wishing you could spend Christmas abroad this year, you're not alone.
The good news is that you can use this time of year as an excuse to dive more deeply into your Spanish studies with a few extra celebrations…all in the name of language learning!
Plus, of course, you can better connect with your Spanish-speaking family, friends or colleagues when you know what they're doing for Christmas. You'll know that they'll be much busier on January 6th, rather than December 25th. And you can pop round for a slice of King Cake to celebrate with them.
Which Christmas traditions in Spanish-speaking countries are similar or different to your country? Have you ever experienced a traditional Christmas either in Spain or Latin America? As ever, share your story in the comments below.
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