The best festivities for discovering Christmas in Latin America
In Latin America, Christmastime is especially important in countries like Colombia, where lights fill the streets with cheer. The holiday season is celebrated with impressive parades and colorful festivals that bring together all the joy and fun of the Latin soul.
Christmas celebrations are starting to take place throughout the world, filling streets and homes with decorations. Traditional celebrations include performances, concerts and Christmas markets.
In Latin America, Christmastime is especially important in countries like Colombia, where lights fill the streets with cheer. The holiday season is celebrated with impressive parades and colourful festivals that bring together all the joy and fun of the Latin soul. In the text that follows, we explore several Latin American countries to learn how they celebrate these special holidays.
The 2017 Christmas Season in Latin America
Christmas festivities in Colombia
In Colombia, the celebrations begin on December 7th, the day before the religious festival of the Immaculate Conception, when families come together to light candles on their doorstep to help guide the Virgin Mary so she may bless them.
Christmas lights are the centre of attention in cities such as Bogota and Cali.
This is also the case in the Colombian municipality of Medellin, which has one of the most spectacular Christmas light shows in the world according to National Geographic magazine. This city welcomes Christmas with an extensive calendar in which the lights are the main focus thanks to the renowned Festival of Lights when more than 30 million bulbs of different colours are used to portray traditional paisa scenes. The stunning decorations along Medellin’s streets are topped off with an enormous 82-foot tree and thousands of artisanal figures, including giant-sized versions of the Three Wise Men who guide the arrival of Baby Jesus.
The impressive coloured lights stretch out along the Medellin River from the Guayaquil Bridge to the EPM Smart Building, where they remain in place for a month and a half, starting in late November and through the middle of January, after the Epiphany.
Each year, the holiday calendar includes the Somos Luces (We Are Lights) contest, in which Medellin’s 70 neighbourhoods compete to win the award for the best lights. Other famous concepts are the Parade of Lights through the city’s main avenues and the Race of Lights, a marathon along the course of the Christmas lights.
To fully enjoy the lights during this season, there is a bus tour through the participating areas, although many locals prefer to rent a Chiva—a traditional colourful Colombian bus—and hold a rumba. The finishing touch of the lively festivities can be found at the interactive fountains on Guayaquil Bridge, where children and adults go for a dip surrounded by the colours of Medellin’s unique Christmas.
There are also stunning ancestral celebrations in the towns of the Cauca region. Shawms and troubadours make their way through the streets of these villages, singing carols accompanied by the music of flutes.
Christmas festivities in Brazil
In Brazil, Christmas activities combine the traditions of the nation’s past as a Portuguese colony and those of native America and the ethnic minorities that comprise the nation. The resulting events fill cities like Gramado, located in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, with light. Here, more than two million people come together to witness Natal Luz, which literally means “Christmas of Lights”, an event that lasts 60 days and consists of decorating the streets and stores throughout the city. Holiday parades, plays, concerts and fireworks are part of the celebrations that take place this time of year.
A towering 280-foot Christmas tree, known as Árvore de Natal da Lagoa, is installed in the middle of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Río de Janeiro. The tree, which creates amazing light and sound effects, is the epicentre of the festivities in Río.
In Curitiba, located in southern Brazil, residents adorn their homes with stunning ornaments in a competition to be the most spectacular.
Christmas festivities in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, the holiday season begins on December 1st and lasts through February 2nd, although Christmas Day and the corresponding period are the main focus. On December 25th, fireworks and all types of lights brighten the streets. Christmas fairs with merry-go-rounds, roulettes and other games of chance are set up for kids and adults to have fun. Christmas Eve is celebrated with dinner and dancing until the wee hours.
Christmas lights also take over the capital of Costa Rica to illuminate the city streets and bathe them in the colour that defines Central American countries. Parades featuring colourful floats and masks, fireworks and music fill the Festival of Light in San José with joy, making it one of the year’s most anticipated events. The parade begins with fireworks that are set off from the rooftops of tall buildings in the metropolitan district. The event features a number of floats as well as approximately 15 municipal bands that have auditioned for the honour of playing Christmas carols.
The holiday season wraps up with the arrival of the Three Wise Men and placing their figurines in mangers. However, each family marks the end of Christmas by putting away the ornaments and nativity scene in their home.
Christmas festivities in Mexico
During the nine days before Christmas, the Posadas mark the start of the holiday season in Mexico and in other Central American countries. On these dates, the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph in search of a place to give birth is depicted. Small processions of children carrying a clay nativity visit homes as they request lodging in song. The interesting novena is combined with non-religious traditions as well as those with indirect links to religion. Every procession ends with children breaking open a piñata stuffed with gifts, eating sweets and drinking a traditional chocolate beverage.
The Posada and Piñata Fair in Acolman, located 20.5 miles from Mexico’s capital, is relatively famous since this town is believed to be the origin of the Posada. This may be the reason why it is home to gifted artisans who create the most beautiful piñatas in all of Mexico.
Following the nine days of the Posada festivities, colourful events take centre stage in places like Mexico City. Mariachis provide music for the street parties that take place. Downtown Mexico City hosts a large parade and Zócalo Square becomes a spot where expert and beginner skaters can enjoy an enormous rink under an impressive fir tree with ornaments.
In the Mexican city of Oaxaca, the Night of the Radishes is the most anticipated event of the Christmas season as well as the most unique in the country. It is held on December 23rd and up to 100 participants make carvings of radishes to create Christmas scenes that compete for prizes.
Of Mexico’s holiday season customs, traditional nativity plays are also very important. These theatre productions depict the Annunciation to the shepherds.
Mexico also has stunning light shows, just like other Latin American countries. 2014 was the first year that the Luminasia show was held on Monterrey’s Paseo de Santa Lucía, in which lights and colours are reflected in the river water to create a magical atmosphere.
Christmas festivities in Panama
Panama is another country that also celebrates the Posadas festivity on the days that precede December 24. However, the peak moment of Christmas in Panama is the Misa del Gallo midnight mass, followed by dinner with family and friends.
During the holiday season, nativities, wreaths, lights and Christmas trees decorate Panama City’s neighbourhoods that compete for the best ornamental creations. Christmas markets that sell lovely handicrafts are also commonplace.
The capital of Panama brings together American and Spanish traditions with the special touch of this Central American country, and the highlight is the great parade featuring floats loaded with balloons, accompanied by a number of schools and national bands. Since the early 90s, it has taken place one week before Christmas Eve and it has become so popular that many cities in Panama have created their own version.