Celebrating the Christmas Holidays – Latin Style

Did you know that Hispanic Children Feed Camels rather than Reindeer?

Up North, here is what you would hear… “T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…”

While Down South the story goes as follows… The balmy trade winds carried the songs of carolers who stopped from door to door to visit friends, share a special meal, or break up a “piñata.” Stashed away is a figure of jolly ole Saint Nick with his rosy cheeks, white beard and red suit to remind children that the Child Jesus would soon arrive bearing gifts for all.

But the moment of greatest anticipation wasn’t Christmas at all, but rather the day (January 6) when the Three Kings traveled on their camels to visit Baby Jesus bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. On the night before their arrival, January 5th, children from all over Latin America fill a plate or shoe box with grass so the camels can feast while the Three Kings leave them gifts.

…and so it happens throughout most Latin countries during the Christmas season. There are some interesting subtle variations from each culture. A few are listed below:

In Mexico, Christmas celebrations begin on December 16, and for nine days children dressed in elaborate costumes representing Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, reenact Biblical scenes from the Nativity. Celebrations culminate with the traditional splitting of various piñatas filled with candy.

In Puerto Rico, Christmas eve begins with carolers playing traditional instruments and singing holiday songs, at designated doorsteps of family and friends. As they go from home to home and grow in numbers, the carolers are finally invited in at their last stop for a traditional chicken soup. On Christmas Day, children open a few presents not from Santa but rather from their parents. Some homes may include images of Santa as part of the overall festive decorations. However, the children anxiously await for their gifts on the magical day when the Three Kings arrive.

In Venezuela, the Nativity scene is placed beneath a Christmas tree. At midnight on Christmas Eve, the Child Jesus is believed to leave gifts for the children under the tree. Unlike Puerto Rico and Mexico the major gifts are given on Christmas Day followed by smaller gifts, if any, on Three Kings Day.

In Dominican Republic, the influence of Haitian superstition also referred to as “voodoo” is evident. Before the New Year, residents wishing for good luck and fortune are expected to thoroughly clean their homes and replace their old clothes by December 31. For those that cannot afford a Christmas tree, they decorate their homes with branches painted in white to resemble the “snow” from a white Christmas.

Can you imagine Christmas without Santa Claus?  Most Hispanics do.

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