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Christmas Traditions from Spain and Latin-America

Christmas Traditions from Spain and Latin-America

Bonus: Christmas Vocabulary in Spanish

Christmas Traditions from Spain and Latin America

Christmas Traditions from Spain and Latin America. How do people celebrate Christmas in the Spanish speaking world? Do they have any special traditions? And what is the most useful Christmas vocabulary in Spanish?

This and more is what you will read in this article from team Spanish-Online. Christmas is a big, big event in the Spanish speaking world. Each Latin American country has its own unique Christmas songs, Christmas food and Christmas dinner. Christmas traditions in South America are a mixture of religion and elements of the local culture. Read on about Christmas Traditions from Spain and Latin-America.

Christmas in Mexico

Mexican Christmas traditions are extensive and a bit different than in other Spanish-speaking countries. First of all: they start around December 16 and go all the way to February 2. The period from December 16 to December 24 marks the nine Posada processions. The Mexican Posadas celebrate the days of Mary and Joseph when they were travelling and finding a safe place to give birth to Jesus. These days, people in Mexico decorate the outside of their homes with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns. Nativity scenes are very popular in Mexico; some of them with life-size figures made of clay. The figures include Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds and the Three Kings as well as more Mexican elements like women making tortillas, people selling food and different animals like flamingos.

Nativity Scenes

Nativity Scenes or Beléns in Spanish, are very popular with Spanish speaking families. Belén means Bethlehem in Spanish. While most people have a relatively small nativity scene at their homes, large and grand nativity scenes are set up in towns. They are often immersive, with farms and a whole marketplace accompanying the nativity scene in the stable.

Spanish Christmas nativity scene

La Misa de Gallo

Many Hispanic families go to “Misa del Gallo” or Midnight mass at Midnight on Christmas Eve. Why is it called Misa del Gallo? (gallo = rooster)? Because people believe that in the night Jesus was born, a rooster crowed to mark the beginning of a “new day”, even though it was night time.

Christmas food in Mexico

What is typical Christmas food in Mexico? Mexican Christmas food includes Pozole, a soup made with hominy, chicken or pork, chillies and is topped with greens like lettuce. Other Mexican Christmas dishes are roast turkey, roast pork, tamales, bacalao (salt cod stewed with tomatoes, capers, olives and potatoes), romeritos (a green vegetable cooked in a mole sauce with potatoes and shrimp) and the ‘Ensalada Noche Buena’: lettuce, beets or apples, carrot, orange, pineapple, jicama, pecans or peanuts and pomegranate seeds.

Christmas in Spain

Spanish Christmas is a mixture of Christian and pagan traditions. Christmas Eve is celebrated on December 24 and is generally a family affair. Christmas is celebrated on December 25, the day Jesus was born. But the most important days of the Christmas holidays in Spain are probably not Christmas, nor New Years Eve or Nochevieja, but January 6. January 6 is called el Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos (known in English as Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day).

Three Kings or Reyes Magos

This important festivity starts the day before, on January 5, the eve of Día de Los Reyes Magos. Most of Spain holds a parade (“La Cabalgata”) just after dark, where you can see the Three Kings, and their camels. The festivity commemorates the biblical story of the arrival of the three kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus shortly after he was born When they found him in the stable, they presented him with gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. This day is nearly as important in Spanish culture as Christmas, especially for children; in Spain, it is the day that the kids receive gifts. During the “Cabalgata”, the three wise men called Melchór, Gaspar y Balthasar, go through town and throw candy and gifts to the children. According to Western church tradition, Balthasar is mostly represented as an Arabian king, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.

Reyes Magos Spanish Vocabulary

El Gordo

The popular and massive Christma lottery in Spain called “El Gordo” (the Fat One in English) is one of the most important Christmas traditions of Spain. It is one of the biggest lotteries word-wide, paying out over 2 billion euros yearly. El Gordo takes place on December 22. Almost every Spaniard participates and buys a ticket. Families, neighbourhoods and clubs also buy (share) tickets together. If the numbers win, the winnings get shared out between all the people. The results of the lottery are broadcasted on National TV and are sang by children as the balls come out of the machine.

Christmas in Colombia

Christmas celebrations in Colombia also start early, on el Día de las Velitas el December 7 (Day of the Little Candles). Colombian People decorate the houses and the streets with candles and lanterns. There are big firework shows, dances, music and foods like buñuelos and empanadas.

Medellin has a strong reputation for having stunning Christmas lights; the city is also called the “world’s best destination” for Christmas lights. The local people call the lights – in Spanish of course – “los Alumbrados navideños’ or simple: ‘El alumbrado’, that are displays on the river Medellin and several parks through the city. About 4 million tourists visit Medellin every year in December to watch the Christmas lighting, which are a special part of the culture of this beautiful city.

Christmas Market in Peru

There are more Christmas Traditions from Spain and Latin-America: one of the most important Christmas events in highlands in Peru is the Santurantikuy Christmas market in Cusco.

This important fair has been a Cusco Christmas Eve tradition for over 500 years. The fair begins around 4 am on December 24 when the first artisans arrive with their colourful wares, and it lasts well into the evening of December 24. Santurantikuy translates to the ‘Selling of the Saints’ in Quechua, the original language of the Peruvians. Religious ceramics dominate the market. According to the local artisans, they take about 6 months to handcraft. The local people living in the surrounding communities come from their villages to Cusco, to sell the native plants that the people use for the Christmas Nativity Scenes. Of course, there are also many stands with food, snacks and drinks, like for instance the local ponche de leche. Ponche is a sweet and warm drink (alcoholic) drink to keep you warm while shopping around.

Spanish phrases related to Christmas

To kick off your holiday season, the team of Spanish Online happily provides you with a list of here are some Spanish phrases and Spanish vocabulary related to Christmas to help you get by during the Christmas Holidays.

Phrases related for Christmas wishes
How to say:
How to say Merry Christmas in Spanish? Feliz Navidad
How to say Happy New Year in Spanish? Feliz Año Nuevo
Have a great Christmas! ¡Que pases una feliz Navidad!
Have a nice time this Christmas Que pases lindo esta Navidad.
I wish you a Merry Christmas Te deseo una feliz Navidad
Cheers! ¡Salud!
Felices Fiestas !Felices Fiestas!

Arbol de Navidad vocabulary spanish

Christmas Words in Spanish
Christmas Navidad
Christmas tree Arbol de Navidad
Christmas card Tarjeta de Navidad
Christmas Eve Nochebuena
Christmas lights luces navideñas
Christmas Dinner Cena Navideña o Cena de Navidad
Christmas Carols Villancicos
Christmas Day Día de Navidad
Christmas Hamper Cesta de Navidad
Santa Claus or Father Christmas Papa Noél

Santa Claus Christmas Words

More Christmas Vocabulary in Spanish
Nativity Scene Nacimiento
Presents Regalos
Fireworks Fuegos Artificiales
Lights Luces
Traditions Tradiciones
Toys Juguetes
Children Niños
Wishes Deseos
Family Familia
Friends Amigos
Santa’s hat Gorro de Santa

Celebrating Christmas Spanish

Religious Christmas Vocabulary in Spanish
Adviento Advent
Angel Angel
El Niño Jesus baby Jesus
Reyes Magos Three Kings or wise men
Turkey pavo
Champagne champán
Candy cane bastón de caramel
Gingerbread man Hombre de jengibre
Hot Chocolate Chocolate Caliente
Hot Chocolate with milk Chocolate con leche
Toast Brindis
Shopping Vocabulary
To go shopping ir de compras
Secret Santa Amigo secreto
Wrapping paper Papel de regalo
Gifts Regalos
Christmas discounts Ofertas de Navidad

Christmas Gifts Spanish Words

Christmas Decorations
Christmas decotations ornamentos
Elf duende
Fireplace Chimenea
Holly Acebo
Mistletoe muérdago
Ornaments Adornos
Candles Velas
Bells Campanas
wreath Guirnalda
More Christmas Classics
reno reindeer
listón ribbon
Noche de Paz Silent Night
trineo sleigh
nieve snow
copos de nieve snowflakes
muñeco de nieve snowman
estrella star
Media o calcetín stocking
recibir to receive
dar to give
Noche de Reyes Twelfth Night

Christmas Vocabulary Spanish


Bonus: the different words for Turkey in Spanish

There are different words in Spanish for Turkey or Pavo (the general term in Spanish for turkey), the all-time classic dish for Christmas dinner. Here are a few:

Guanajo : Cuba
Guajolote : México, El Salvador, Honduras.
Pisco : Colombia, Venezuela
Cócono : México


Latin New Year Traditions

There are several new year traditions, unique to each country, but there are two ones that are very important and are alive in almost all the Spanish speaking countries: yellow underwear and grapes.

Yellow Underwear
Have you heard of the tradition of the yellow underwear? Wearing new, yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve is a vivid tradition in many Spanish speaking countries, including Spain, Colombia and Peru. It is supposed to bring luck, money and happiness in the new year, as the colour ‘yellow’ signifies wealth.

Yellow Underwear New Year

The 12 grapes
Another fun Latin/ Spanish New Year’s tradition is the one of the 12 grapes.
According to this tradition, eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight — one for every month of the year — will ensure prosperity in the new year. People make a wish for every grape. Not only will you get your wishes but you will also protect yourself from evil spirits in the new year.

Spanish vocabulary related to New year

Año Nuevo New Year
Fuegos artificiales Fireworks
Cuenta regresiva Countdown
Medianoche midnight
Fiesta party
Globos balloons
Confetti confetti
Uvas grapes
¡Feliz Año Nuevo! ¡Happy New Year!
Nochevieja New Year´s Eve
Día de Año Nuevo New Year´s day
New year’s resolution Propósito de año nuevo

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