The holidays across Latin America celebrate faith, family, and community in an edgy, often humorous style. The traditions range from waking the people with festive Christmas music at the end of the night to carving giant radishes to burning effigies to help ward off harmful spirits accumulated from the year that has just ended.
Over the past five centuries, since Spanish colonizers came to the Western Hemisphere, the Roman Catholic Church has played a significant part in developing Latin American cultural traditions. The ceremonies celebrating Christ’s birth Jesus Christ cram the holiday program, ranging from midnight Masses to the reenactment of biblical nativity stories.
Even when early Spanish clergy and missionaries attempted to stifle the sacred rituals associated with African and Indigenous peoples, certain traditions survived, usually by being integrated into the Church’s celebrations.
As many of these traditions have been emigrated to Spain into Latin America, some have also been able to migrate to Latinx communities in North America.
For nine nights beginning December 16th, a group of people dressed like Mary or Joseph (often including Mary riding donkeys) take a parade of Christians through cities and towns throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and parts of the Southwest U.S., reenacting the couple’s journey before Jesus’s birth in the manger of Bethlehem.
Each night of las Posadas -which means “inns” in English singing procession will be escorted out of homes on the way and eventually arrive at one that welcomes them for a night of music with scripture, food, and entertainment, with pinatas with a star design for children. On the ninth day of the “pilgrimage,” festivities and fireworks are plentiful, and, in certain places, they even go on to an evening of Christmas Mass.
The tradition was initiated by missionaries in Mexico over 40 years earlier, then later codified through the Papal Bull; this custom blended Roman Catholic observations around the birth of Christ alongside the well-known Aztec winter solstice holiday as well as the celebration of Aztec Mother Goddess Tonantzin.
Tonantzin is an Indigenous pre-Hispanic god who was integrated into the popular consciousness with the renowned Virgin of Guadalupe following the time an Indian peasant witnessed an appearance of the Brown-skinned Virgin Mary on the hill that Tonantzin’s temple.
Horseradish Festival in Oaxaca
In the Noche de Rabanos, December 23rd, people line up to wait for hours on the square in Oaxaca, Mexico, to see the massive radishes intricately cut into anything from nativity scenes to pictures of Oaxacan folklore to the newest political cartoon.
The story goes from the latter half of the nineteenth century. Legend says that two friars dragged giant misshaped radishes left in the ground for too long, and the farmers cut the radishes into figures to display at their Christmas markets. In 1897, Mayor Francisco Vasconcelos took what had been a marketing gimmick in an area that has long been known for its vibrant carvings on wood and launched the formal competition for radish carving, which is now a showcase for people of any age and in various categories.
The Novena of Aguinaldos
Communities and families in Colombia, Ecuador, and parts of Venezuela are gathered for nine nights of feasts, prayers, and songs of religious significance, known as villancicos, in anticipation of Christ’s birth date on December 25. Many homes host nights. The faithful are also gathered to pray in churches. Some dress in Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus costumes, taking along animals featured in Nativity scenes.
A Franciscan Missionary from the 18th century, Fernando de Jesus Larrea, created the prayers recited each night of the Novena of Aguinaldos, or the novena dedicated to the baby Jesus. They were published in 1743. were revised and updated during the late 19 19th century by a religious nun called Maria Ignacia, who added the verses known as the Los Gozos, usually sung to the beat that was played by guitars as well as harps to conclude every night of the novena.
Midnight Mass – La Misa de Gallo
To commemorate Christ’s birth, millions of Catholics across Latin America and throughout the world gather in church for the midnight Mass on December 25 or a few hours earlier, the celebration of Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). It is known throughout Latin America as the Misa de Gallo, which means “the rooster’s mass,” it’s a collective celebration of Christ’s birth. Christ.
At the end of the 5th century, Pope Sixtus III created the custom of observing the midnight Mass at the nativity set in front of the Rome altar’s Santa Maria Maggiore basilica. Beginning the vigil by the time of “crow of the rooster,” an old Roman expression that signifies the beginning of a new day around midnight, gave the particular Mass the name.
In some countries, prayers and joyful music of the midnight Mass are broadcast on television or radio, like the one provided by Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
Parrandas can be described as the best roving party, creating a sense of community throughout the holiday season. However, when it comes to Cuba as well as Puerto Rico, the traditions are quite different.
In a few towns in Cuba, las parrandas are carnival-like celebrations filled with light entertainment, floats, and fireworks shows. This tradition is said to have been established during the 19th century in Remedios, a town in the 19th century. Remedios when an untrained priest attempted to increase church attendance by putting children on street corners to create noise.
In Puerto Rico, by contrast, parranda is a traditional type of celebration. The groups that carry trumpets, guitars, percussion instruments, and hand drums, known as panderetas or panderos, are invited to a person’s house at night or awake them at the wee in the morning singing and playing music at their front door until their host lets them in. Hosts serve the traditional Puerto Rican refreshments while the party continues. They change between classic Christmas songs known as Aguinaldos and festive, improvised lyrics of chatter about the year’s troubles or how they’ll cry if they don’t have drinks.