Latinos and “The Holidays” are a cultural match made in heaven. Those of you without Hispanic roots likely have a number of usual things you do during the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – office parties, drinks with friends, family Christmas breakfast or dinner, lots of presents and much excitement about opening them, and later the big New Year’s Eve party. You may have long-standing traditions regarding who is hosting which event, the types of food and drinks, how the kids will open the gifts, what games to play, and so on. Often, everyone is so caught up in the excitement and activities that they forget that for Christians, the holiday season is a celebration of the birth of Christ. In Hispanic families, this is especially important and typically plays a large role in the activities.
Latino Holiday Season Traditions
Celebrations vary across Spanish-speaking countries, and those traditions have migrated to the U.S., as well. For Latinos, the holidays have strong cultural and religious connections. In the home, there is often an Arbolito de Navidad (Christmas Tree) and a Pesebre (Nativity Scene) in which the baby Jesus figurine is not added until December 25th in keeping with the biblical stories. There are also Catholic masses to attend and special novenas or prayers throughout the season. You may not be as familiar with some other Latino traditions.
Las Posadas (The Inns) –
This is a celebration typical for those of Mexican heritage of the nine days (December 16-24) leading up to Christmas Day. Each night, there is a parade of children dressed to play the parts of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and angels, knocking on neighborhood doors and singing carols before being symbolically turned away. They eventually arrive at the local church for a celebration of mass after which the children break open piñatas in the traditional shape of a star. On the last night, Christmas Eve, there is a grand celebration including romeritos (baked shrimp), bacalao (dried cod fish), piles of sweet and sugary buñuelos (fried dough), and Christmas rompope (a delicious variation of egg nog), with lots of music, games, and often fireworks.
Nochebuena (Holy Night/Christmas Eve) –
“‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa….” Wait, that’s not quite right! Have some fun listening to this original 1956 Spanglish parody in word and song of the classic Clement C. Moore poem or learn some Spanish vocabulary with this modified Spanglish version. But to truly appreciate Nochebuena for Hispanics, you’ll need to understand that this day may be even more culturally important than Christmas Day. The specifics of the celebration depend on the family’s country of origin with some spending the afternoon with lots of food, drinks, dancing, and games, then going off to the midnight Miso de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), then back home to party well into the early morning hours. Typical foods are similar to those mentioned for Las Posadas, but may also include several types of pork, rice, tamales, tacos, and plenty of desserts. There is also vibrant music and more dancing. And Nochebuena means something else, too, especially for the kids – PRESENTS! It is traditional to exchange gifts this night as part of the fun, meaning Latinos open their presents a day earlier than everyone else!
El Año Viejo (The Old Year) –
While you may be used to hearing about “New Year’s Eve” parties, Latinos have traditions around saying goodbye to the Old Year. Some folks create life-size cardboard dolls that represent the bad times throughout the current year, then set it on fire at midnight to represent burning away the past and ushering in a brighter New Year. Others enjoy eating “The Twelve Grapes,” a tradition that started in Spain and spread throughout Latin America, now becoming popular in the U.S., as well. At the stroke of midnight, one grape is eaten for each of the 12 tolls of the clock representing the months of the year, and a wish is made with each one. The goal is to get all 12 grapes in your mouth for each wish to come true! Pro Tip: Choose small grapes and chew them well! Also remember to wear yellow or red underwear – for good luck all year long. And you can also place a suitcase by your door or walk around the block with it to ensure safe travels in the coming year.
El Año Nuevo (New Year’s)
In the United States, having the day off of work on January 1st is basically the last day of the holiday celebrations. Leave it to Hispanics to extend the season by another whole week and beyond! Hold on – there are more presents and food involved!
Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Day) –
Traditionally known as Epiphany or Epifania, January 6th is another occasion for celebration and gifts. This day represents the end of the 12 days in which the Wise Men traveled to find Jesus after his birth and to bestow their gifts upon him. On January 5th, instead of stockings hung by the fireplace, many children will leave shoes by their beds along with grass and water (for the camels). The Nativity is typically taken down on this day. Of course, more food is required for celebrating, including a Rosca de Reyes (Kings’ Cake). This is usually a sweet bread made in a round shape (to symbolize a crown), decorated with dried and candied fruits (to represent jewels in the crown), with a tiny baby Jesus figurine hidden inside. Whoever finds the figurine when the rosca is served is responsible for hosting yet another celebration – Día de la Candelaria or Candlemas Day, on February 2nd.
Whew! That’s a lot of celebrating! So how can we keep the parties going when we’re also in the middle of a pandemic that experts caution is best dealt with by literally keeping our distance? We noted a few ways in our Thanksgiving Blog. However, while Thanksgiving is a single day and highly centered around close family and food, the HOLIDAY SEASON offers many more opportunities to connect and involves different groups of folks we’ve all been missing lately – officemates, friends and family a few blocks away or even a few states away, maybe even extended family still in their home countries in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, or beyond.
So, in times of stress – How do we stay connected with others while staying apart? If you’re thinking: “Nope! I’m not doing another Zoom call, everyone hates them!” It’s probably not the Zoom call they hate; it’s the BORING Zoom call that they hate. Spice up your virtual holiday fiestas with some of these Latino-flavored ideas from HipLatina. The holidays are all about fun and family, so dig a little deeper this year, get creative, find the fun, and share it across the airwaves.
Another way of sharing and caring is by supporting local small businesses whose very survival is in jeopardy as in-person shopping has severely declined. This year, we are pleased to recommend The Holiday Gift Guide 2020 offered by the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) and their Empowered Women International (EWI) program. The Gift Guide offers something for everyone, from food to wellness, fashion to art, and so much more. Get your whole family in on this by using a name exchange app and then sharing the Gift Guide link. It’s a win for the givers and the receivers! Do it soon – the big day(s) will be here before you know it!
Despite the move toward virtual, many individuals — thinking of our courageous and selfless essential personnel!! — are still working in person. As an employer, foster an inclusive environment by offering scheduling flexibility for Latinos (or anyone celebrating a cultural or religious holiday). And as retailers, leverage your advertising and marketing messages to increase sales—remember that wooing Hispanic consumers through Three Kings’ Day extends your sales by another 12 days!
So plan that Zoom or What’sApp call for Nochebuena or Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos, interact with everyone opening their gifts and enjoying favorite recipes, and appreciate that you and your family and friends are staying safe in your own social bubbles. Look ahead to 2021 with joy and hope for better tomorrows to come. On behalf of the Cool family, we wish you and yours a safe and Feliz Navidad, and a Próspero Año Nuevo (Happy New Year)!