Some Christmas traditions are shared in many Spanish-speaking countries, but we also have customs that have different names in every country. Let’s discover them!
#1. El Pasito
In Spanish we have lots of words to refer to the representation of the birth of Christ. The most popular terms for this in Spanish are Belén, nacimiento (birth) or pesebre (crib).
However, in Costa Rica they use the word “pasito”, which refers to the group of the five main figures: the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, Baby Jesus, an ox and a donkey.
#2. Mazapán: A world known sweet
I am sure you all know marzipan. It’s a paste consisting of sugar, honey and almond meal. In Spain, it is a very traditional Christmas dessert. The Real Academia Española suggets that mazapán derives from the Hispanic Arabic بسمة pičmáṭ, which is derived from the Greek παξαμάδιον, which means “little cake”.
#3. Nochebuena & Nochebueno
Don’t worry, there is no spelling mistake here!
Apart from the well-known Nochebuena (the equivalent of Christmas Eve in Spanish), we have Nochebueno in the dictionary. A nochebueno can be two things: 1) an oil cake with almonds, pine nuts and spices, and 2) a firewood that is burnt on Christmas day.
Angels are one of the most essential decoration items during Christmas. But in the Dominican Republic, angelito (little angel) has got another meaning.
During the Chrismas holidays, many families and friends juegan al angelito (play the angelito), that is, they exchange little presents without knowing who the giver is. In other Spanish-speaking countries we call this Secret Santa or amigo invisible (invisible friend).
#5. Let’s toast with Cola de Mono!
Drinking spirits and cocktails is one of the most essential Christmas traditions.
Literally, “cola de mono” means “monkey tail”. In Chile, people usually drink this cocktail consisting of brandy, milk, coffee, sugar and spices during the Christmas holidays.
There are several theories about its name, but the most popular suggests that it comes from Anís del Mono, a Spanish alcoholic drink that dates back to the 19th century.
#6. The delicious hallacas
Among all the tasty dishes that we can enjoy during Christmas, we have the famous hallacas.
Hallacas are a traditional dish from Venezuela. It consists of a dough stuffed with a beef of fish stew and other ingredients such as raisins, olives, sliced peppers or fresh onions rings. Hallacas are then folded in banana leaves, tied with strings and boiled. It’s so tasty that many consider it as the national dish of Venezuela!
#7. La Noche de los Rábanos
The night of the 23rd of December is dedicated to radishes in the state of Oaxaca (Mexico). The event is called The Night of Radishes, and many farmers gather to show their sculptures made of this root vegetable. Oaxaca has a long wood carving tradition and farmers began carving radishes into figures as a way to attract customers’ attention at the Christmas market.
The best radish carving can win a prize of 15.000 Mexican pesos (around £640 or 770$). Not bad, right?
#8. Las doce uvas en Nochevieja
One of the most famous Christmas traditions from the Hispanic world is to eat 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve (in Spanish, we call this night “Nochevieja”). But why 12 and not 5 or 10? Well, the reason is simple: each grape and clock bell strike represents each of the coming twelve months.
According to this tradition that dates back to the 19th century, eating the twelve grapes leads to a year of good luck and prosperity.
#9. Tió de Nadal
In the Spanish-speaking world we have many Christmas characters that give presents to children and adults. One of the most interesting ones is Tió de Nadal, a friendly wooden log from Catalonia (Northern Spain).
Tió de Nadal gets decorated and looked after during the Advent period. Children have the duty of feeding him and keeping him warm, as if it was their own pet! Then, on Christmas Eve, children hit him with sticks while singing a song. The objective is that Tió de Nadal poops presents and sweets!
#10. La lotería de Navidad
And last but not least, we have the Spanish Christmas lottery! The special Christmas draw takes place every 22nd of December in Madrid, and it is the biggest and most popular draw of the year. Almost every adult takes part in this Christmas tradition.
The first prize, commonly known as “El Gordo”, is worth up to 4 million euros. What makes this draw even more special is that pupils from the San Ildefonso School (formerly reserved for orphans of public servants) draw the numbers and corresponding prizes, delivering the results in song to the public.