Latino Celebrations During the Holidays
By. Wendy Davila
Christmas in America seems to be a two day event, while in Latin households it’s a celebration that starts from the very first day of December. Going to the supermarket to buy supplies, figuring out where to host the parties and who will play what part in reenactments fills up everyone’s calendar, and it’s only the start. Every region of Mexico, countries in Central and South America have their own traditions, but there are some that are customary for the majority.
From the 16th to the 24th of December, people engage in Las Posadas which is a nine day celebration of religious observance. The tradition first started 400 years ago in Mexico and is now seen in parts of Guatemala as well as the United States. These nine days are meant for families to learn about the bible and the scriptures that it hosts, and everyone has a role to play. “Posadas” is Spanish for “loading” and people participate in them to tell the story of Joseph and Mary and their journey looking for a place to stay before baby Jesus came into the world. Children and adults dress up as Mary and Joseph, angels and anyone else who would end up in a procession, singing and asking for a palace to stay. Some make their way around neighborhoods with candles in their hands, singing their joyful songs over and over again until they end at shelter. Once there, the people making the “pilgrimage” sing a song only to be met with the host singing a verse back, after all is done, the people making the voyage are welcomed with open arms to food, dance and pinatas shaped as the Christmas star.
Most Americans spend their Christmas Eve wrapping presents and prepping their milk and cookies for Santa to come while Latinos spend it finishing up the tamales they spent all day making. Nochebuena is Christmas Eve, and it’s the day that Latinos get together to celebrate the day of baby Jesus. The night starts with music, games, tamales, pozole and lots of champurrado. Some prefer to go to the evening mass before they get their party going Once midnight strikes, we start to open our gifts and celebrate Christmas Day. If there is still energy, those who didn't go to mass the evening before will go to midnight mass or what comes after. Nochebuena is the day that kicks off the true celebrations of Christmas for many Latinos.
New Year means new slate, but something that we forget to do is get rid of all of the negative energy that held on to us during the year. December 31st is known as New Years Eve but in South America it is Ano Viejo, the old year. People gather large cardboards, dolls and anything that represents their negative energy of the year and burns them. The dolls symbolize everything that made the year bad and needs expelling of, it’s a literal way of letting go and making new things. Some take it upon themselves to get creative with their dolls and cardboards and decorate them as famous people who they did not agree with and still burn them in the fire that was created. As they say, out with old, in with the new!
If you haven’t noticed yet, symbolism is key when it comes to the holidays and even more on New Years Eve. Once the negative energy is thrown out, it’s time to set intentions for the new years. Latinos set the tone by participating in activities that may seem odd at first glance.
Eating 12 Grapes: A soon as the clock strikes midnight people race to eat their 12 grapes. The grapes represent each month of the year and people hope to bring in good luck by eating each one.
Picking the perfect pair of underwear: As odd as it sounds, underwerwear is part of the wardrobe choice for new years eve because it signifies what you hope to bring in for the new year. Yellow means good luck, red is associated with love and if you dare wear black well...except some bad luck throughout the year.
Bring out the Suitcase: If you hope to travel in the new year take out your favorite suitcase and walk circles...seriously! It’s thought to bring good luck so if you see people running around don’t be alarmed, they just want to travel. Some even leave the bags in front of their door to welcome in travel for the year.
Lentils for dinner: Tamales can be a staple for the new years but most of the time they are set aside so lentils can make their grand debut. Lentil soup is believed to bring in a prosperous year. Some even place them in every corner of the house and in their wallets to bring in good fortune.
Sweeping: If you haven’t sweeped all month long this is the perfect day to do so, a good sweep is believed to get out of the negativity the house has accumulated and makes room for the positive.
Whatever your traditions may be, make sure to wear as much yellow, red or white as possible. I know black is sleek but for the new years, it’s just asking for the negativity.
Día de los Reyes Magos
After New Years, families start to prepare for January 6th which is El Dia de los Reyes Magos. It translates to The Three Kings day, this day is sometimes more important in some Spanish-speaking countries, the wise men are to be honoured this day. Kids are told to leave their shoes at the door so the wise men can leave gifts for them on this day. Families gather to join in on a tamale feast and break into the “Rosca de Reyes” which is a traditional bread. The sweet bread is in the shape of a circle, to symbolize the crown of a king. Oftentimes the bread is sprinkled with little baby dolls and whoever finds one in their slice of bread has to be part of next year's Dia de los Reyes Magos feast!
Wendy Davila is an editorial intern who is knowledgeable in all things environment, sustainability and arts and culture.