Latin America has seen 500 years of integration of the cultures of the native Indigenes (indigenous people), Spanish colonizers and African slaves. And Christmas season is one of the most beautiful times of the year to witness these traditions. The Christmas season is a time for the Latin American community to showcase their customs, cultures and traditions.
In Brazil, the sea plays a special role during this time as Christmas is celebrated with the music of the waves. Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador celebrate with their traditional delightful music to give a sense of pleasure during this season. In Colombia, big cities like Bogotá, parks and city streets are illuminated with strikingly beautiful Christmas lights and decorations. In El Salvador and Nicaragua, people prepare their traditional food and at midnight, there is an awesome show of fireworks and estrellitas (little stars), which enhances the beauty of landscapes and beaches. Feasts and parties continue till midnight.
Families and friends get together for feasts and parties. Some families visit the Misa del Gallo, or "Rooster Mass" (which means the Christmas Mass), these celebrations begin at midnight. Few people prefer to stay at home and group around the Nativity scenes to pray and sing villancicos. At midnight they wish each other Merry Christmas, exchange gifts and chocolates, and have a grand dinner party. During this time everyone is in a festive mood so there are many parties, stage shows and plays for birth of Lord Jesus.
Another important tradition is to place the baby Jesus figure as part of the Nativity scene, or Pesebre. The Nativity scene is generally set under the tree a month in advance, but the baby Jesus figure is not kept there until midnight of Christmas Eve to symbolise that the Jesus is newborn baby.
Because of regular immigration and the presence of a variety of cultures from different places, many customs and rituals have become a part of Latin American festivity. El Niño Jesus, the Christ Child or the Three Wise Men would bring the gifts. But now, along with three wise men Santa Claus has been introduced as well. Large tables with their traditional delicacies are the essential parts of this festivity. At midnight, before firework shows begin, everyone opens their gifts and presents.
In Argentina churches are highlighted with living Nativity scenes. The favorite foods for Christmas are meat, roasted pork or chicken, salads and chocolates. Due to the presence of European immigrants, some winter’s Christmas traditions can also be seen in this region. The traditional foodstuff is full of nuts and dry fruits of all sorts, delicious chocolates and mouth watering sweet breads.
In Peru, most people make hot chocolate along with "panetón", a sweet bread-type filled with sugar poached fruits and nuts. Christmas dinner in Peru commonly includes roasted turkey and pork.
In Bolivia, after the midnight toast, they eat a dish called "picana", which is a spicy and sweet broth. It is made with corn, beef, turkey, carrots, tomato, onions and dry wine. Then Christmas carols are enjoyed with their conventional Andean wind instruments. In the big breakfast of Christmas morning sweets and hot chocolates are served.
In Brazil, the turkey is served with “farofa”. In Colombia there is a special tradition in which children don’t write their wishes to Santa Claus but to baby Jesus, and they wake up on Christmas morning surrounded by presents, toys and chocolates. The Christmas is the most excellent time of the year to witness the Latin American culture and traditional values.