Latin American Christmas Traditions: Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras

Erika De Paz

The holidays are here, the best time to share our customs. Discover different Latin American Christmas traditions from three different Latin American countries.

One of the most beautiful times of the year is, without a doubt, Christmas. Beyond the lights, the decorations, and the excessive amount of food we eat through December, there are way more powerful reasons to love the holidays that aren’t exactly the Christmas carols and the presents.

Christmas has the ability to unite families, and it’s the perfect excuse for sharing and celebrating. In Latin America, we love to use this time to enjoy with those we love, but also to honor our traditions and teach them to new generations.

On this part of planet Earth, we have many Christmas traditions. And though some of them are alike, each country has its particular customs. For example, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras celebrate the Holidays in style! Discover what people do on each of these places during Christianity’s most important holiday.

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Christmas traditions in Colombia: las velitas

In Colombia, Christmas “formally” starts on December 7th with the Noche de las Velitas (Night of the Candles). On this day, families gather to light candles or lanterns in their home’s doorways and in town squares.

With this spectacle of light (where fireworks are also present) people seek the blessing of the virgin Mary. But Colombians also use this day as an excuse for gathering with friends and family, sharing and eating natillas and buñuelos.

Other one of the Christmas traditions in this country is the Novena de Aguinaldos: nine days before Christmas, families gather around the nativity scene and the Christmas tree to pray while typical carols fill the air.

On Christmas eve at midnight, just as Christmas day begins, they open the presents that the Niño Dios has brought. Depending on the region, the typical dish can vary. Though generally speaking, you can always find ajiaco, pernil, turkey, tamales and, of course, traditional sweets.

Christmas traditions in Costa Rica: A la Tica

Costa Rican Christmas traditions start on the  first day of December and end 2 months later on February 2nd. The three most important celebrations during this time are the Misa del Gallo, the fiestas de Zapote and the Tope Nacional in San José.

The Misa de Gallo is a midnight mass celebrated on the 25th of December, and it’s very common in several Latin American countries. The people who go, tend to do so after Christmas dinner.

The fiestas de Zapote, on the other hand,  take place in the city of San José. They begin on December 25 and last until the first week of January. Among the most popular attractions during the festivities is the bullring (the redondel de Zapote), where bull-fighting “a la Tica” takes place, along with several other traditional shows where no harm is done to the animals.

December 26th is when El Tope takes place. It’s a horse parade where there are also clowns and dancers, and where horse riders are dressed like cowboys.

On Christmas Eve the dine with corn tamales (wrapped in plantain leaves) and papas aplastadas, along with rompope (a beverage made with egg yolks, milk, and hard liquor). Nativity scenes are called portales or pasitos, and it’s a tradition for families set them up together.

Since there are no pine trees in Costa Rica, the Christmas tree is set up with a cypress tree. Gifts are laid at its feet and children open the, normally, on the morning of December 25th.

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Cypress trees. Photo by Investiga TEC

Christmas traditions in Honduras: a masked holiday

For catrachos, as people from Honduras are colloquially called, Christmas starts on the 24th of December. The Warini is the one that welcomes the holidays. He is a character that dances from door to door wearing a mask. He is accompanied by singers and drummers. Then, they are absent until January 6th, when they come again to announce the ending of the holidays.

In some Honduran cities, people celebrate the posadas for twelve days before December 24th. As in many other places of Latin America, Hondurans also decorate a tree and set up nativities. It’s also very common to exchange gifts (Secret Santa style), a tradition that is known as cuchumbos.

During Christmas dinner, they usually eat corn tamales (called nacatamales) and drink rompope, just like in Costa Rica. They also serve stuffed turkey and piglet. For dessert, Hondurans eat torrejas (bread slices soaked in milk, covered in an egg batter and fried).

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Nacatamales. Photo by Erika Brenner.

There are many Christmas traditions we can share during this time. Let’s make the most of the time of union to remember our roots. Never stop passing on your beautiful customs. After all, it’s the only way to make them last over time.

Discover more beautiful Latin American Christmas traditions here.

Merry Christmas!