La Navidad, a widespread celebration by carlos matías
Christmas is a universal holiday. Religious sentiments get mixed in family and friends’ gatherings; a lot of consumerisms, encouraged by large commercial firms; good wishes for others and frequent excesses in food and beverages. La Navidad is the most widespread because of the number of countries that celebrate it. But each country has its own peculiarities. Time has been taking over Christmas traditions from other cultures and “exporting” its own. The United States is the country with the greatest variety of celebrations.
Europeans tend to believe that Thanksgiving Day (last Thursday in November) is the “official start” of the American Christmas. The most important day in the United States is December 25, which is usually celebrated with a family dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, and savory meat pies. In the early morning Santa Claus arrives. For this reason, families usually have breakfast together on December 25, while everyone opens the gifts that “Santa” has left them during the night.
In Latin American countries, most of the Christmas traditions come from Spanish Christian customs. But they have their particularities. Peruvians celebrate Christmas in a similar way to Americans, with stuffed turkey as the main dish and in some places with roasted guinea pig: a rodent mammal, native to the Peruvian jungle, which is one of the most exotic dishes in Latin America.
The beginning of Christmas is marked in Colombia by the Night of the Candles during the night of December 7 and the early morning of December 8: the country is illuminated with candles and lanterns. A celebration that begins the Novena de Aguinaldos, in which families gather to pray around the manger and the Christmas tree for nine days.
Mexico celebrates these dates with posadas, piñatas, pastorelas and Christmas carols, the posadas are held every night from December 16 to 24, Christmas Eve, and commemorate the arrival of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, in search of a place to give birth to Baby Jesus. The Pastorela (shepherd’s play) is the scenic representation of different episodes in their pilgrimage to Bethlehem, on the occasion of the birth of Baby Jesus. It is common to celebrate New Year’s Eve on the beaches of Tulum or Cancun and enjoy the fireworks. On Three Kings Day, January 6, the Rosca de Reyes is eaten.
All countries coincide in family and friends’ dinners on December 24 and 31. But the food depends on the hemisphere in which the country is located. In Chile and Argentina, the traditional asado is accompanied by cold food, such as salads, fruit, and ice cream. In Chile, the queque, or Easter bread, is famous, as well as the “cola de mono”, a drink prepared with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, milk, coffee, sugar and brandy. The last night of the year is marked by different customs to attract luck. The tradition of the 12 grapes is widespread among Spanish speakers, but the Italian custom of eating lentils is also followed. Colombia and Venezuela celebrate the New Year with a short walk in which they carry suitcases. In the streets of Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Ecuador, dolls are burned, symbolizing the wish not to relive the bad moments of the previous year.
Some countries have Santa Claus in charge of the gifts. In Chile it is the Viejito Pascuero; in Venezuela, San Nicolás; in Central America, Santa Claus, Santi Clo or Santa Clos; and in Costa Rica, Colacho. In Colombia, Baby Jesus brings the gifts.
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