10 Fun Ways Latinos Celebrate Navidad
As the holiday season approaches, Latino families are gearing up to celebrate Navidad in many festive ways. From dramatic light displays, to feasting on favorite recipes, Navidad is a time that community and tradition join together. Always the welcoming hosts, Latinos share their homes, exchange gifts and set off fireworks to light up the night in style. Parties erupt with laughter and music. Navidad celebrations even continue into the new year with unique ways to bring good luck. Here are 10 fun Latino traditions to help you celebrate Navidad from early December all the way through the first week of January. Felices Fiestas!
La Quema del Diablo and Dia De Las Velitas
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Depending on the area you are from, Navidad celebrations can begin as early as the first week of December. In Venezuela there is a special feast on Saint Barbara’s day, December 4th. In Guatemala, La Quema del Diablo kicks off the Navidad season with huge bonfires at dusk to keep Satan away from the festivities to follow.
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In Colombia, the first official Navidad celebration is December 7th on Dia De Las Velitas, or Day of the Little Candles. This public holiday includes lighting candles and lanterns to honor the Virgin Mary.
Parrandas and Villancicos
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Nobody loves spontaneous group singing like Latinos do! The 9 nights leading up to Navidad, gather la trulla and surprise your neighborhood with Parrandas or Villancicos, traditional carol-like songs. In Puerto Rico, groups walk through town singing along with instruments like the cuatro guitar, maracas and drums.
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This tradition is so fun, it’s not unheard of for the group to continue singing and growing larger as they travel through town well past midnight. Of course there’s plenty of food and drinks served along the way!
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In addition to parrandas, the 9 days leading up to Navidad also include Posadas Navidenas. Children love to dress up as Mary and Joseph and reenact the events leading up to the birth of Jesus by traveling throughout their neighborhood.
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The Posada group is “turned away” from the host the first 8 nights representing the struggles of Joseph and Mary looking for shelter. On the ninth night, the host lets them enter, and a celebration follows. If you’re looking for fun the days leading up to Navidad, Latino neighborhoods are definitely the place to be!
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Nacimientos are Nativity scenes created to help decorate Latino homes during Navidad, featuring Joseph, Mary, the wise men and animals. Our family had a very modest nacimiento but some include extremely detailed designs.
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The figure of baby Jesus isn’t added until the night of December 24th, celebrating his birth.
Niño Dios or Papa Noel
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Who needs Santa? While some Hispanic areas do acknowledge Papa Noel, many Latino children write special letters to Niño Dios, asking for presents each year.
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It is far more common in the Latino culture for letters to be addressed directly to baby Jesus himself. With millions of excited niños waiting, that’s one busy baby each Navidad.
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Nochebuena is the main event for Latino Navidad celebrations. Families and friends gather together on December 24th for the ultimate evening of celebration. Gifts, sparklers and piñatas are all part of the fun. If your family is like mine, the heart of the evening will be sharing a delicious feast of favorite foods. Pasteles, lechon, roscas, creamy natilla and tamales are all favorites. My family would hide an olive in the middle of each tamale to honor the Virgin Mary.
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Of course no Navidad holiday would be complete without fireworks! And if you’re looking to add a little more spice to your evening, be sure it includes coquito; basically egg nog but better…think rum! Many families will wrap up their celebrations in time for the traditional Midnight Mass and then it’s back to la casa to open more presents!
La Misa Del Gallo
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If you haven’t been to this special midnight Mass before, put it on your bucket list. This Catholic tradition dates back centuries. Latinos across the world gather at their local church at midnight on December 24th, sharing in prayer and reflecting on the birth of Jesus.
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I remember the last one I attended was so crowded with people you could barely see the front of the church, but it didn’t matter because just being a part of that moment felt amazing.
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Navidad celebrations extend beyond Nochebuena for Latino families. A favorite tradition takes place on December 31st when Latinos create scarecrow type dolls or muñecas out of old clothes stuffed with grass.
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Symbolizing the year that is ending, the muñecas range from doll to life sized. On December 31st, light your doll on fire to represent the old year ending, adios!
Feliz Año Nuevo
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Quickly eating a dozen grapes as the new year strikes is another fun Latino New Year tradition. Don’t forget to make a wish for each month as you gulp those grapes!
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If you’re looking for good luck in the coming year, join other Latinos in wearing yellow underwear to bed, or choose the color red if you’d like a year full of love.
El Dia de los Reyes
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Navidad celebrations usually wrap up with Dia de los Reyes on January 6th. This is the day of Epiphany, in honor of the three Kings who traveled to meet baby Jesus. If you weren’t one of the kids writing letters to baby Jesus or Santa, then you may remember leaving your hay-filled shoes out for the three Kings’ camels, hoping the Kings in turn would leave you a gift too.
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My favorite part of this day was enjoying the sweet bread Rosca de Reyes, although I never did find the small plastic baby Jesus hidden inside.