Fiestas and Traditions Celebrated in Latin America During the Holidays

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There are countless of traditional festivities that Latinxs celebrate during the holiday season that have been passed on from generation to generation. Each of them are a large coming together of family, friends, cities, and countries with beautiful customs and celebrations. For many Latinxs, these festivities are so special that the holiday season is not complete without them and are embedded in our identity. The many fiestas and traditions vary throughout Latin America, but at the heart of them all is the spirit of joy, love, sharing, and giving with one another. We put together a list of some of the celebrations held during this time of the year, and ask you to share with us in the comments what festivities you observe!

Argentina’s Fireworks and Globos

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In Argentina, a Christmas tradition is the lighting of globes. Paper balloons containing small candles are lit from within, then released to float upwards, creating a radiant night sky filled with lanterns.

Belize’s Garifuna Community Dance Jankunu and Charikanari

During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the Garifuna community of Belize participate in drumming and the dancing of Jankunu and Charikanari. Jankunu dancers typically wear masks and costumes that consist of white tops, dark pants with bands of seashells that shake to the drumming sounds, masks, and African style head wraps. While the Charikanari dance is a performance of a hunting scene of a "hunter man" in search of the "Two Foot Cow".  In this dance, performers wear a cowhead mask with real horns worn over a head wrap and a wire screen mask.  

Dia de Las Velitas in Colombia

On December 7th, Colombia observes the traditional holiday of el Dia de Las Velitas. It is celebrated on December 7 as it is the eve of the Immaculate Conception. Windowsills, balconies, porches, sidewalks, streets, parks, and plazas are illuminated with candles, paper lanterns, and light displays. Then on December 8th, a white flag with the image of the Virgin Mary are displayed in homes all day.

Costa Rica’s El Tope Nacional

On December 26th, thousands of horses with riders strut down San Jose, Costa Rica for their national annual horse parade. Residents line up the streets with food, drinks, and music as they watch the parade make its way down the street.

Las Posada Navideñas en Cuba, Guatemala, and Mexico

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Celebrated in Cuba, Guatemala, and Mexico, las posadas navideñas is a novenario (or nine days of religious observance) where the story of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter is re-enacted. A procession with two people dressed up as Mary and Joseph takes place, with the actors stopping at different houses that have been designated as “inns” or posadas. The participants of the procession sing carols along the way and pray the rosary at the stops. The celebration typically ends with a feast, candy, and piñatas.

El Pase del Niño Viajero in Cuenca, Ecuador

On Christmas Eve in Cuenca, residents hold the Pase del Niño Viajero an almost day long procession in honor of baby Jesus. Featuring decorated floats and cars, musicians, as well as children decorated in costumes or traditional attire, and actors dressed like biblical figures; the procession down the streets of Cuenca is meant to symbolize the journey of Mary and Joseph to the town of Bethlehem. At the heart of the procession is a sculpture of baby Jesus from 1823 that in 1961 was taken to Rome to be blessed by Pope John XXIII. When the sculpture was returned to Ecuador it became known as Niño Viajero, or Traveling Child, and became the centerpiece and namesake of the parade.

Quema de Diablo en Guatemala

This celebration takes place on December 7th in anticipation of the feast for the Immaculate Conception. It is carried out as a spiritual cleansing, or rebirth, and as a way of warding off evil spirits prior to the feast. A papier–mâché devil figure sits atop a platform made up of garbage from the homes of townspeople and firecracker, then doused with gasoline. It is then torched and bursts into flames, with the firecrackers inside going off, until it is reduced to ashes.

Purísimas or Gritería for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in Nicaragua

The Purísima or the Gritería is the most popular religious festival in Nicaragua celebrated in honor of Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It is celebrated on December 7th on the eve of the feast commemorating Mary with the Gritería, where devotees walk the streets and visit different altars erected in honor of the Virgin Mary, in churches and private homes. Participants then perform prayers, religious songs, and chants while shouting, “¿Quien causa tanta alegría?” and responding, “¡La Concepción de María!” In between the prayers, singing, and shouting, the hosts of the purísima hands our fruits, traditional sweets, caramels, traditional drinks, sugar-cane and many other gifts to the guests.

Parrandas in Puerto Rico

The parranda is a tradition of musical festivities during the holiday season where groups of friends and even strangers gather for the Puerto Rican version of caroling. Traditional Puerto Rican music is sung using traditional instruments like guitars, tambourines, maracas, and guiros. A group of musicians or parranderos get together outside of a neighbor’s home and break out into music and a dance party. The homeowner must then greet and welcome in the parranderos into their homes, where the parranderos are gifted drinks, food, and continue to sing. Then everyone as a group continues on to the next house, to do it all over again, and again—the parranda and parranderos growing bigger and bigger.