I want to wish you all ¡Feliz Navidad! (Merry Christmas!)
Today, we have a very special piece because I invited some of my YouTube friends from three other Spanish-speaking countries to talk about las diferencias de las Navidades entre países hispanohablantes (the differences in Christmas between Spanish-speaking countries).
I’ll also cover the traditions of my own country, Venezuela, and the country I live in, Argentina. And let me tell you: I’m surprised by the huge similarities that exist between Spanish-speaking countries, but there are also funny differences!
So, whether it is food, music or even the way we give presents, we’re going to go over the most popular traditions and customs around Latin America and Spain, así que ponte el gorro de Navidad (so put on your Christmas hat) and acompáñame!
Christmas in Spain
As our first guest I want to welcome Andy, from Spain. She is well-known for teaching German and also vlogging about her life in Germany on her YouTube Channel AndyGM en Berlin.
I highly recommend you to subscribe to her channel because all her videos are in Spanish and you’ll get some great listening practice there!
We actually did a cool collaboration with her about the differences between Mexican and Castilian Spanish.
Andy tells us what Christmas is like in Spain
Las tradiciones (traditions) change depending on where you are in Spain and how religious you are, but I'm going to tell you mi experiencia (my experience).
The cities light up and are filled with Christmas lights, and families gather to have dinner on December 24, to eat on December 25, and then once again to have dinner on December 31 and to eat on January 1. Yeah, we like to be together this time of year and to have dinner and lunch together.
There’s one very important thing that we do in Spain, and that happens on December 31, Noche Vieja: we eat 12 grapes to the sound of the bells. I mean, honestly, nobody can eat them on time and when it's over… we all look like hamsters… like we store the grapes in our mouth and we all look like hamsters when saying ¡Feliz año nuevo! (Happy New Year!)
Another very nice thing that we have is los Tres Reyes Magos… They come during the night from the 5th to the 6th of January and bring us presents. On January 5 there are also King Horse Ridings throughout Spain… this is amazing!
Some huge cars decorated, lots of lights, music… it's awesome! Each Rey Mago travels in a car and throws away sweets. That is very nice because during the night, they come to our houses and bring us presents.
As regards sweets in Spain, we have very, very specific ones for Christmas: there are polvorones; we also have chocolate ones (they are wonderful!), and we also have turrones… they are delicious, absolutely delicious!
Similarities with Venezuela
Venezuelans also eat grapes on December 31! ¡Qué curioso, ¿no? (Curious, isn’t it?) Venezuelans don’t have turrones or polvorones, though… I’m going to give Andy my address so she can send some of those.
I am from a city called Barquisimeto in Venezuela. As far as traditions go, en Navidad se cantan Aguinaldos (we sing Aguinaldos for Christmas), which are our own version of Jingle Bells, and they’re generally related to the birth of Jesus Christ.
We also listen to Gaitas, which is a folkloric rhythm involving big bands and choirs.
We also have Christmas masses called Misas de Aguinaldo. Lo curioso de estas misas (the curious thing about these masses) es que al final se organizan patinatas navideñas (is that at the end, Christmas skating parties are organized), donde todos los niños salen a patinar en las calles cercanas a la iglesia (where all of the children go out to skate in the streets near the church), y se acompaña con música en la calle y fuegos artificiales and it is accompanied by music in the streets and fireworks). Lindo, ¿no? (Nice, isn't it?)
Christmas in Colombia
Now, Venezuela and Colombia are neighboring countries, so don’t be surprised if we have similar traditions for Christmas!
The cool thing is I have my friend María, from the popular YouTube channel Español con María, where she teaches Spanish. She is going to tell us a little bit about the Christmas traditions in her country, Colombia.
María has tons of videos on her channel, and they’re usually completely in Spanish, so you’ll get some great listening practice by watching her videos.
María tells us what Christmas is like in Colombia
In Colombia, the Christmas season starts on the night of December 7, el Día de las Velitas (the Little Candle Day). On December 8, we celebrate la inmaculada concepción de la virgen María (Mother Mary's holy conception).
Colombia is the only country where people celebrate el Día de las Velitas (the Little Candle Day) and to welcome Mother Mary, we all light up little candles at home with our family and make wishes to the Virgin. That’s how the Christmas season starts in Colombia!
From December 16 to December 24, “Las novenas” take place. This means that the family gets together to pray every day. There is a little book called “Las novenas”, where there is one prayer for each day and it tells the story of the journey that María and José lived to give birth to Baby Jesus. During those “novenas” we sing and we eat Christmas food.
Colombía's typical Christmas dishes include buñuelos, natilla and tamales, so we eat that and on December 24 we celebrate Christmas.
We get together on December 24 and we open the presents at midnight… Colombians believe in Baby Jesus rather than Santa Claus.
Similarities with Venezuela
En Venezuela también se dan regalos a los niños la noche de Navidad, el 24 de diciembre. (In Venezuela, we also give presents to children on Christmas Eve, that is, December 24).
Y, al igual que en Colombia, quien da los regalos es el Niño Jesús, no Santa. (And same as Colombia, Baby Jesus is the one who brings the presents, not Santa.)
Justo antes de las doce se manda a todos los niños a dormir (right before midnight, all the children are sent to bed) y, en eso, viene el Niño Jesús con los regalos (and meanwhile, Baby Jesus comes with the gifts).
Los deja bajo el árbol de Navidad o el pesebre (he leaves them under the Christmas tree or the Nativity Scene) y, luego que se va, llaman a todos los niños y todos celebran viendo cómo abren los regalos y juegan con ellos (and after he leaves, all the children are summoned and everyone celebrates watching them open the gifts and play with them).
And yes, we also put a Christmas tree and decorate it with lights and any personal touches each family may have.
Additionally, in Venezuela we set up something called el pesebre, which is kind of a miniature reenactment of the nativity scene in Bethlehem with Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and Baby Jesus.
It’s great because you get to be creative with it and place some sheep around… and the villagers… and the Power Rangers are there… and Gokú and Vegeta and… What?! What do you mean Goku and Vegeta don’t go in el pesebre? Oh, well! At least we still have the Power Rang… THE POWER RANGERS DON’T GO IN THERE EITHER???!!!
Christmas in Mexico
Now, we have one of our own Spring Spanish teachers: my good friend Mariana, who is going to tell us what Christmas is like in Mexico!
Mariana tells us what Christmas is like in Mexico
En México, la Navidad y el Año Nuevo se celebran de distintas formas. (In Mexico, Christmas and New Year's Eve are celebrated in many different ways.) In general, it's all about food.
Mexicans have their own word to refer to the whole eating experience that takes place from December 12 (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe) until January 6 (Día de los Reyes Magos): Maratón Guadalupe – Reyes. During this “marathon”, people in Mexico eat and drink a lot!
Otra cosa que la gente en México hace para celebrar Navidad y Año Nuevo (another thing that people in Mexico do to celebrate Christmas and New Year) is asking for shelter; this is called “pedir posada”.
From December 16 until December 24, people ask for shelter as if they were Mary and Joseph on the night when Jesus was born. Some people do it within their own family. So, they go to a specific house and then they go from one room to the next asking for shelter while singing a specific song.
So, there’s people outside the room, there’s people inside each room, and then they either reject Mary and Joseph or they welcome them in.
En la noche del 24 de diciembre y del 31 de diciembre (on the night of December 24 and December 31), the whole family gathers —usually at the grandparent’s place— and they have dinner together. Then, they give each other presents until it's past 12 o'clock and then they go to bed and wake up really late the next day.
They gather again the next day for “el recalentado”, which is everything that was left from the night before: people heat it up again and eat it the following day.
Ponche, tamales, buñuelos, atole, and sometimes, hot chocolate are always present in a Mexican household on both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
Yo crecí en el norte de México (I grew up in northern Mexico) and I remember I did ask for shelter every now and then, and I also broke piñatas with my family and friends.
On December 24 and 31, we always go to my grandparent’s house and have dinner with everyone. We give each other presents and open them and go to bed at around 3 in the morning. We usually wake up really late the next day and go back to “el recalentado”, which is always very good, even better than it was the night before.
My grandma is a very religious person, so there is always a nativity scene in her house, but I grew up believing in Santa Claus —rather than the Three Kings or Baby Jesus— as the one who brought me presents. I think that’s the case for most children living in the north of Mexico, while those living in the south believe in the Three Kings as the ones who bring them presents, but that’s until January 6.
Christmas in Argentina
I swear Mexico is so interesting, and that recalentado part sure sounds good! That reminds me, I have a special surprise for you: check out this video to learn more about the traditional dish Venezuelans have for Christmas!
As regards Argentina, I’ve noticed Christmas here can be very different in relation to other parts of Latin America.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Christmas happens during the summer, so the traditional food for December tends to be fresh or even cold, like Vitel Toné, which is cold meat served in mayo and tuna cold gravy with dressings.
They also have sweet bread, turrones and mantecol, which is a peanut-based sweet bar —my favorite sweet from Argentina, actually! Of course, this is Argentina, so you can always get away with an asado for Christmas, which is the traditional Argentinian barbecue.
Santa is known as Papá Noel, just like they do in France, and he’s the one bringing the presents to the children.
What about you guys? What Christmas traditions are there in your country? Are they similar or different? Let me know in the comments!
FREE Spanish Training
So, guys, I hope you now know a little bit more about Spanish-speaking Christmas! I want to thank Andy, María and Mariana for helping me out today, and remember you can access our free Spanish training on our website and discover more about the chunking method we use to have our students speak Spanish fluently without translating in their head and without thinking about grammar all the time.
Hope you all have una feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo (Merry Christmas and Happy new year)! Now if you excuse me, I have a date with that traditional Venezuelan dish…