How is Christmas celebrated in Spanish-speaking countries

How is Christmas celebrated in Spanish-speaking countries

by Lingoda Team

Updated June 16, 2023

The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration and for many people around the world, Christmas is the highlight of the year. While it is a universal holiday, the day on which it is celebrated varies from country to country. Some countries, like Greece and Russia, still follow the old Orthodox calendar, meaning that their Christmas celebrations take place about two weeks later than those in countries that use the Gregorian calendar. Additionally, in many countries, the main Christmas festivities are not actually held on Christmas Day itself. This is especially true in Spanish-speaking countries, where a wide variety of festive traditions are observed. Let’s learn more!

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Christmas in Spain

The Christmas season officially starts on 8th December, which is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. In Seville, there is a local tradition called Los Seises, which literally means “The Dance of Six”. The name presumably refers to the fact that in times gone by there were generally six young boys in each church choir and it was they who performed the dance originally. Now the ceremony involves ten children.

The next major highlight of the Christmas season is El Gordo, the special Christmas lottery which is held on 22nd December. Then it is time for the main Christmas celebration, which is actually held on Christmas Eve.

In most parts of Spain the special dinner will be turkey, usually with truffle stuffing, but some regions have their own distinct traditions. For example, Galicia has a long history of fishing and so they often eat fish and seafood. After dinner, families usually head to midnight mass. When the service is over people walk through the streets, carrying torches, making music and generally celebrating joyously. While children will probably get some presents on Christmas Day, they will get most of their gifts twelve days later on Epiphany or Twelfth Night.

In Spain, presents are brought by the three Wise Men rather than Santa. Children put their shoes out on window ledges or balconies for the Wise Men to fill with gifts and as a token of thanks they leave out food and drink for the Wise Men (and their camels).

Christmas in Mexico

The Mexicans start their Christmas celebrations early, on 16th December in fact. This is the beginning of the nueve posadas which mark the countdown to Christmas. The posadas represent Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay and being turned away each time. At each house, the posada party is turned away, until they reach the final house, where they are welcomed. Prayers are said and then there is a party. Families take it in turn to host these posada parties. This goes on until Christmas Eve and then after the last party, have a special meal to celebrate Christmas before going to Midnight Mass.

In the more northern parts of Mexico, Santa does his rounds on Christmas Eve but in the southern parts, people tend to keep to the older tradition of giving gifts at Epiphany.

Throughout Mexico, Epiphany is a day of celebration involving a special cake called Rosca de Reyes. It contains a tiny figure of the infant Jesus and whoever finds it becomes Jesus’ godparent for the year.

Likewise, Christmas trees are starting to be seen in Mexico, again mainly in the North, but even then they are often accompanied by beautiful and detailed nativity scenes. Nativity plays are also popular in Mexico, they are called pastorelas and are often very funny. Although the main Christmas festivities end with Epiphany, the festive season only closes completely at Candlemas on 2nd February, which is often celebrated with one, final party.

Christmas in Venezuela

The unofficial start of Christmas in Venezuela is the day of Santa Barbara on 4th December, this is about the time when the people of Venezuela spruce up their houses so that they look their absolute best when the Christmas decorations go up. Churches start running special services from about the 16th and in Caracas, people often go to the morning service on roller skates. This has become such a tradition that roads are closed to accommodate it.

The real festivities get going on December 21st, which is usually the shortest day of the year and culminate on Christmas Eve. During this time there will be music, parties and fireworks. While Christmas trees (usually artificial) are making their way into Venezuela, the nativity scene is the main Christmas decoration. Unlike in many Spanish-speaking countries, Christmas Eve is the day for receiving gifts that are brought to children either by Saint Nicholas or by Baby Jesus.

This is also the day of a special meal, which is often based around meat, particularly pork, rather than turkey or other poultry. This will be followed by Midnight Mass. After Christmas Day itself, the festivities become somewhat quieter until they end with a final celebration on Epiphany.

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Christmas in Puerto Rico (USA)

There are many Spanish-speaking people in the U.S.A. Those whose heritage leads back to different countries in Latin America often continue those traditions in the U.S.A. There is, however, one part of the U.S.A. where Spanish is the official language and the culture is completely Latin American. It is, of course, Puerto Rico.

The Christmas period is a huge festival in Puerto Rico and begins very early in December. This is the launch of Parranda season which is a bit like Christmas carolling except instead of going from house to house, the carollers go to the specific house of someone they know to serenade them. The serenading generally starts fairly late at night (about 10PM) so as to make it as likely as possible that the householders are asleep. Once they are awake, the householder will invite the parranda group in for a party. Of course, people use a bit of discretion here and try only to go to houses where the hosts will be up for the fun and since people expect parrandas at this time of year, they will have supplies in to welcome them. The party usually lasts for an hour or so before the parranda group moves on (possibly with their hosts). They will aim to reach their last house around 3 or 4AM and the host at this house will end the parranda at dawn with a bowl of chicken soup.

Food is a big part of the Christmas celebrations in Puerto Rico and in particular, for many Puerto Ricans, Christmas just would not be Christmas without at least one roast pig. This is essentially an all-day party with the cooking starting at around 4AM and guests arriving from late morning onwards. The host family will generally prepare side dishes to go with the pig and the guests will bring desserts.

Traditionally in Puerto Rico, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were religious days, albeit joyful ones and the day for giving gifts and riotous partying was Epiphany. Now the influence from the mainland U.S.A. has seen many Puerto Ricans move to give gifts on Christmas Day, although Epiphany is still an important festival and increasingly is seen as marking the end of the Christmas period, although historically festivities continued until Candlemas in February.

Spanish Christmas vocabulary list

Christmas Evenochebuena
Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
la Misa del Gallo
means cockerel and refers to the cockerel which crowed when Jesus was born
Christmas Dayel día de la Navidad
Baby Jesusel niño Jesus
Merry ChristmasFeliz Navidad
Epiphany or Twelfth Nightfiesta de los tres Reyes Magos
Christmas holidaysvacaciones de Navidad
(Christmas) presentsregalos (de Navidad)
SantaPapá Noel
incienso y
Christmas cardtarjeta de Navidad
Christmas treeárbol de navidad
(Christimas) decorationsadornos de Navidad
Nativity scenebelén
manger (lit.)
it can refer to the crib in the nativity scene and by extension the whole scene itself

Experience Christmas traditions first-hand

The diverse Christmas traditions found in Spanish-speaking countries are a true reflection of the richness and beauty of their cultures. From the lively music and dance of Puerto Rico to the elaborate nativity scenes of Mexico, each country has its own unique way of celebrating this special time of year. Whether you’re spending the holidays in your home country or traveling abroad, experiencing these traditions firsthand is an unforgettable experience. So why not take a trip to one of these countries this Christmas and immerse yourself in the magic of their unique holiday customs? You won’t regret it!

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