Christmas in Latin America involves Christmas trees looking out of every window through white and colored blinking fairy lights as they wait for children to come rushing down the stairs on Christmas Day to open the gifts that Santa left there for them.
Celebrating Christmas with red and white stockings hang full of treats while the scent of pine and peppermint fill the house is just the perfect tradition.
Everybody hopes for a white Christmas, for a light dusting of snow that drifts slowly down from the sky and coats the bare trees, browned grass, and shingled rooftops and turns everything into a magical winter wonderland.
Christmas music flows out from every radio as people rush in and out of shops to find the perfect gift for everyone.
Celebrating Christmas that way for 25 years and was therefore not prepared for the way it’s done in Latin America.
First of all, although they say Christmas is the 25th, they don’t celebrate it on the 25th. Instead, everybody has that day off as a holiday and mostly just hangs out at home or else goes to the beach.
Alternatively, the big day to celebrate this holiday in Central America is what North Americans call Christmas Eve, the 24th of December by carrying out all the Christmas traditions in America.
Most people work on Christmas Eve, but once night hits, the festivities start. Families gather around the dinner table around 11 pm to eat a big meal, usually stuffed ham or pork, tamales, or Christmas chicken.
Then at midnight they hit the streets to light their fireworks or watch the ones that are going up all around the city. There’s yelling and screaming that can be heard as people welcome Christmas Day.
And the gifts? There are probably some families that exchange gifts, but many just do not. Those that do rarely have a large pile beneath the tree. They may have one or two gifts that they give to others, but that’s it.
Instead, the focus of the holiday is more on spending that time with family and the excitement of the fireworks.
Depending on where you are, you may or may not see Christmas lights. With electricity taking up a much more significant portion of a family’s paycheck in a regular month, most families can’t afford to put up trees or lights outside of their home.
Some cities will decorate lavishly with views, while others look about the same as they always do.
Managua, Nicaragua, for example, has some huge roundabouts throughout the city that gets filled with hanging icicle lights, lit up reindeer pulling sleighs, and significant bright-colored gifts and other Christmas-themed shapes.
At night, if you drive around with the A/C blasting, it’s easy to get lost in the lights and feel like you’re back in North America for the holiday season.
They also half shut down an entire stretch of road for an elaborate Christmas display.
Substantially elevated shows are created by businesses, organizations, and government branches and feature life-size nativity sets that are sometimes as simple as containing beautifully-painted wooden cutouts and sometimes as elaborate as featuring running water that forms waterfalls and rivers that wind through the display.
Although these things make it easy to get into the holiday spirit, the weather certainly makes it difficult for someone from Michigan. You only need one hand to count the number of times it’s snowed in all of Central America in all of recorded history.
Although some areas get cooler, like the villages high in the mountains or near the Pacific Ocean, but most places rarely dip below 80 degrees during the day.
Now that I’ve celebrated Christmas in 3 different countries, I can’t say that one way is necessarily better than the other. They’re just different, is all.
Of course, as this Christmas draws near, I think back to all the Christmases I spent in Michigan and the magic that they contained. But, at the end of the day, Christmas to me is about family, so as long as I’m celebrating with family, that’s all that matters.
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