Christmas Traditions from Central and South America

Posted on December 3, 2013

Mexican NutcrackerAnd you thought that Christmas and Navidad were basically the same thing!

In our Spanish classes when we ask students the difference between Christmas and Navidad, the response is usually along these lines…“Navidad es la palabra para decir Christmas en español.”  However as we delve a little deeper into the various Navidad traditions around the Spanish speaking world. It turns out Christmas traditions might be more culture-specific than you think! Certainly there are other variations in holiday traditions between North Americans and Central & South Americans, but here is information about 3 big ones.

A little side note before you read about the 3 traditions below…I have some great holiday materials for you to use in your classroom; including a two day lesson plan on Las Posadas and FREE, authentic readings and comprehension questions about Las Posadas Navideñas and Día de los Reyes Magos from our contributor Rosben Olivera reporting from DF, México.  Log-in to our resource page to get this information to use in your classroom!

Christmas Tradition #1: Las Posadas

Basic Facts: Las Posadas is a 9-day tradition (remembering 9 months of pregnancy) that remembers and reenacts that night in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay and there was no room for them anywhere in town except that humble stable.  Una Posada is an inn or lodge in Spanish.  And if you’re pidiendo posada, you’re looking for a place to stay – lodging. Las Posadas is celebrated by Spanish speakers in Spain and all over Latin America. Neighbors get together every evening in the streets and form a procession while singing and knocking on neighbors’ doors.  Each neighbor answers their door and turns them away until the final house realizes that they are the holy family and accepts them in with excitement. Conveniently, this is the house in the neighborhood that is hosting the party as well. Christmas eve is the final Posada reenactment which is followed by midnight mass and Christmas on the next day.  Log-in here to get the full lesson plan with an authentic reading, comprehension questions and videos to use in your classroom.

Christmas Tradition #2: Los Tres Reyes

Basic Facts: El día de los 3 Reyes Magos is celebrated on January 6th every year.  This is the traditional gift giving time both in Spain and Latin America, and coincides with the idea that the 3 Wise Men came to worship baby Jesus and give him gifts after he was born. The Santa Claus tradition is gaining ground of course, and there is currently a shift in culture to celebrate Christmas day instead of 3 Reyes, but 3 Reyes is still central to the Christmas holiday in Spanish speaking countries.  Much like North American children writing letters to Santa, children in Spain and Latin America write letters to the 3 Wise Men, or their favorite one: Gaspar, Melchor, or Baltasar. Get the full article in Spanish with comprehension questions here!

Christmas Tradition #3: Tamales

Basic Facts: What do you eat at your Christmas dinner?  Maybe turkey, ham, prime rib, lamb?  All throughout Central and South America, people eat tamales.  North and south of the tropics, tamales tend to be wrapped in corn husks, but in the tropics they’re wrapped in banana leaves. Test out some of these recetas deliciosas!

Mexican Christmas RecipesKid’s Recipes

I hope that you enjoy this information and find it useful.  We love to hear your ideas also.  Please add them in the comments below.  íHasta la próxima vez!

¡Feliz Navidad!


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