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    Celebrating the Holidays Latinx Style

    By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.–

    With the holiday season upon us, I am reminded how my mother first reacted to the story of Santa Claus. My sister is the one who first told her about the bearded fellow in a bright red suit and hat. Our family, new to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, was then living in New York City. Upon hearing about Santa Claus, my mother grew very concerned, since she thought that he was a real man who might take advantage of innocent children! It took a while for my sister to assure her that Santa is now a mythical figure, whose legend has been integrated into Western Christmas observances.

    Latin American countries have their own range of customs, traditions, and ways to celebrate this holiday season. For those of Christian faiths, nativity scene displays or nacimientos are very common. Many Latinx families do not display the baby Jesus in these scenes until Christmas night. Starting December 16, it is common in Latin America for people to go caroling, known as participating in posadas. In Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, the posadas or parrandas usually occur on Christmas Eve, with carolers going from house to house with musical and percussion instruments and being invited, in return, to share a beverage with the homeowners and other residents.

    In Mexico and Guatemala, groups parade through towns, knocking on doors and asking for lodging through their singing and chants. Some posadas are very elaborate and may include Mary riding a donkey and people playing musical instruments while going door to door. The Novena of Aquinaldos is a tradition for many families in Columbia, Ecuador, and parts of Venezuela. It involves gathering for nine days of prayer, feasting, and singing religious songs.

    La Misa del Gallo or midnight mass on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) is commonly practiced throughout Latin America. Many celebrate beforehand with piñatas made of papier-mâché that blindfolded children try to break with a stick until the candy and treats inside fall, symbolizing God’s blessings. 

    The types of food for this holiday season vary greatly depending on the country. For Puerto Ricans, Christmas is celebrated with their traditional Pasteles de Masa made out of puréed tropical root vegetables, such as yuca and plantains, formed into a masa dough that is filled with a meat stew and wrapped in banana leaves, tied in parchment paper, and boiled until the masa is cooked through. This is accompanied with savory roasted pork (pernil) or chicken and yellow rice with pigeon peas (gandules).

    Cocoquito, a form of eggnog made of coconut milk with rum, is commonly shared among Puerto Ricans. Tamales are common among Mexicans for the holiday season as well as their soup pozole made of hominy and pork. A steak dish (el asado Argentino) is common for Argentineans. In Guatemala, el panche de frutas (fruit punch) is a common beverage. In Chile, cola de mono or colemano is an adult beverage of the holidays. Buñuelos (doughnuts) are sweetened with honey and sugar shaped as a small ball for dessert. Arroz con leche, or rice pudding, is very common, with some using coconut milk to flavor this dessert. Flan, natilla (a Columbian custard custard), and tres leches cake are other popular Latinx holiday desserts.

    People in Latin America ring in the new year with food, fireworks, and fun. Pyrotechnic displays are quite common in public squares in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and Mexico. In Brazil, wearing white clothing is expected because it symbolizes a new beginning. White-clad individuals then often dance the night away to samba music and enjoy the fireworks. In other countries, wearing yellow underwear is believed to bring prosperity while red underwear is said to bring love. In Ecuador, some men wear drag, symbolizing the widows of the past. In other Latin American countries, life-size dolls or dummies made of papier-mâché are displayed in parades.

    The Christmas season in Latin American countries extends through January 6, which is Día de Los Reyes, a celebration of the three wise men who visited Christ. Although Christmas is a time to exchange gifts, Día de Los Reyes is the day when children receive toys. So even without “scary” Santa Claus, Latinx kids look forward to being happily surprised by gifts that day.

    Eduardo Morales, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus, retired Distinguished Professor, and current adjunct professor at Alliant International University. He is also a licensed psychologist and a founder and current Executive Director of AGUILAS, an award-winning program for Latinx LGBTQ+. Of Puerto Rican decent, he has received numerous distinguished awards and citations, including being named a Fellow of 12 divisions of the American Psychological Association.

    Nuestra Voz
    Published on November 17, 2022