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Discover the Celebrations of Christmas in South America

written by: Gustavo Lequerica-Calvo • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 11/25/2012

Christmas, or Navidad as it's known in Latin America, is an important religious holiday for many Latin Americans. As with many holidays, the observance varies from country to country, but the main focus is on celebrating the birthday of Jesus.

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    Feliz Navidad!

    You won’t see the same way of observing the Christmas holiday in every country: It’s not the same to go to Venezuela, Colombia or Brazil and compare ways to commemorate the event with the way it is celebrated in the United States. Every country adds a little aspect of their local culture to venerate Christmas.

    Even though globalized figures such as Santa Claus don't have much impact on Latin American cultures, it is observable that Santa made his incursion to other lands and other societies. In those societies, even if they accepted Santa, they still embrace their own heritage and their traditions to celebrate Christmas. Links provide more details of the celebration within a country.

    Colombia: The season starts on the first Sunday of December. It is known as El Dia de Las Velitas (translation: The Day of the Candles), which is a day where families, friends and neighbors reunite to commemorate the Sacred Birth of the Virgin Mary. In recent years the tradition has been declining due to lack of interest in younger generations.

    The nine days' prayers, or Novenas, form a tradition that commemorates the last nine days before the birth of Jesus. Because it is a religious holiday, the central figure is not Santa Claus but Baby Jesus. Some homes do put up Christmas trees; however, a nativity scene called Pesebre is more common to find in traditional homes.

    Venezuela: Essentially the same as Colombia, Christmas is a religious holiday where Baby Jesus plays a more significant role than Santa Claus. The celebration starts unofficially on the second week of November with the festivity of the Virgin of Chiquinquira.

    Brazil: Christmas has an influence from the Jesuit monks. But as a country open to modern influences, in northern cities the celebration of Christmas resembles most closely North American traditions rather than local ones. However, the local traditions are focused on the Kings' Feasts, where people chant Christmas Carols to Baby Jesus.

    Ecuador: Christmas is celebrated in a way similar to Colombia and Venezuela, but a distinctive feature is a cookie made of maple syrup.

    Peru: It’s as common to see Nativity Scenes in homes as in churches; dances and plays are common and traditional food is served during the festivities. During the weeks prior to Christmas, as a good will act, churches and individuals organize chocolatadas for people of lesser economical resources, and sometimes during the chocolatadas small presents are offered to the guests.

    Mexico: Las Posadas is one of the most well known traditions in Mexico. In a group of people as holy pilgrims, they go from door to door in a procession, looking for a place that the Holy Family can stay.

    Christmas is a worldwide celebration. Kids especially love Christmas because they know is a time for gifts, good food and time off from school. Families look forward to this time of year to get together with loved ones. Every family has their own traditions, as does every country in the world who celebrates this festivity. What are some of your favorite traditions?