Back
Christmas_Turron_shutterstock_539695366

Hugo Lesser is an Anglo-South American living in Salta in north west Argentina and is the founder of Estados, which sells beautiful Argentine leather goods. Here he shares how people across South America celebrate Christmas.

The first and probably most significant difference between Christmas in South America and in Europe and North America is the season it happens in: throughout South America, it’s hot at Christmas time. This changes everything. Christmas jumpers, roaring fires, and roast food are out, and sun cream, flip flops, and barbecues are more likely to be in.

PER_Lima_Christmas_shutterstock_395279917

This doesn’t stop fake snow putting in an appearance throughout the continent, particularly in shops and shopping centres, typically sprayed over plastic Christmas trees. This is just one of many ways that South America’s historical European connections and North America’s cultural influence are very much in evidence at Christmas.

Another major difference, again relating to South America’s European colonial past, is that Christmas is primarily still a religious rather than commercial festival. This is particularly noticeable in the absence of the long, commercially driven build-up we see particularly in the UK and the States. Nativity scenes are ubiquitous in almost all churches as well as many town centres. In the Andean countries these often include llamas, rather than (or alongside) sheep, and the shepherds and three kings may well be dressed in colourful Andean clothes. Throughout South America though, Christmas is focussed on the traditional twelve days of Christmas, rather than starting months earlier and more or less wrapping up (pun intended) on Boxing Day.

Christmas_Nativity_shutterstock_348217412

Father Christmas is a relative newcomer to South American Christmas, a cultural import from North America. Previously, children would receive presents from the three kings on 6th December, the feast of the Epiphany. Nowadays, lucky South American children often get presents from both. In Chile, Father Christmas is said to come in through the window, which is left ajar so he can get in, rather than down the chimney, as, if there is one (and in many houses there isn’t), he wouldn’t fit. Makes sense, really.

Like in continental Europe, Christmas in South America is celebrated on Christmas Eve. It typically starts with Mass, either at midnight or earlier, followed by a feast with extended family. Foods vary depending on where you are, but often include pork and/or beef. Children stay up late with the rest of the family, falling asleep on sofas and chairs after they have opened their presents. In Argentina, people often drink apple cider at Christmas, and at midnight, as in Colombia, they set off fireworks and Chinese lanterns in their gardens. In Bolivia meanwhile, people set off firecrackers at midnight instead, and eat a soup called Picana which contains chicken meat, beef, corn and spices, and eat Turrón, nougat made from honey, sugar, egg white and almonds.

Christmas_Turron_shutterstock_539695366

In Ecuador, children write to Baby Jesus asking for presents, instead of Father Christmas, a great example of a European tradition adapted to fit a local South American culture.
In Brazil, the typical nativity play is called ‘The Shepherds’ and it includes a whole gang of shepherds and shepherdesses, as well a subplot involving a dastardly gypsy that tries to kidnap Jesus.

In Venezuela meanwhile, Christmas songs called ‘Aguinaldos’ are sung throughout advent, played on guitars and accompanied by a small drum.

In general though, while there are many local variations and customs, the fundamentals remain the same, in terms of a traditional European Christmas at any rate. Church, gifts, and a family get-together and feast are at the heart of the celebration, and while the hot weather seems strange to start with for those used to mid-winter, and the plastic Christmas trees sprayed with fake snow bonkers, it doesn’t take long at all to start appreciating the warm, relaxed Christmas. So much so in fact, that for many it’s hard to go back.

If you'd like to visit Latin America over your Christmas break, get in touch with us and one of our experts will be happy to chat about your perfect trip.

Tailor-made holidays

Flexible, custom-made holidays to Latin America created to match your exact requirements: our tailor-made itineraries are as unique as the clients for whom they are designed.

Design my trip

Papagaio

Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

View Extraordinary Inspiration
Bartolome, Galápagos

Meet our team

Real Latin american experts

  • Alex Walker
    Alex Walker - Travel Expert

    A globetrotter since her childhood, Alex spent a year studying abroad in Guadalajara and has returned to Latin America countless times since then.

  • Juliet
    Juliet Ellwood - Travel Expert

    After graduating with a degree in Anthropology and History and having been fascinated by Latin America since childhood by the book featuring photos of Nazca, Juliet first visited the region in 2003. Since then, Juliet has visited the majority of countries in Latin America but has particularly extensive experience with Peru, a country she loves for many reasons but not least, its incredible archaeological richness and delicious food!

  • Lina
    Lina Fuller - Travel Expert

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Millie
    Millie Davies - Travel Expert

    Having caught the travel bug as a child, Millie has travelled all over Latin America before making her home in Buenos Aires for 3 years.

  • Sophie
    Sophie Barber - Travel Expert

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia and beyond to Antarctica.

  • Hannah
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Expert

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

0 1 2 3 4 5