Because about 95% of Latin America is Catholic, Christmas is as widely, maybe even more widely, celebrated holiday than in the US.

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Because a majority of Latin Americans live south of the equator, for them Christmas is actually during the summer. As you will see later, this influences some of their holiday traditions.

First let’s talk about Christmas. In Latin America, on Christmas Eve, there is mass (religious worship service) at many Christian churches at 11:00 p.m.

As soon as the preacher or priest finishes speaking, the children run home and wait for Santa Claus, who usually arrives at 12:00 midnight with gifts.

He knocks on the door and brings them right in for the family. (For those of you under age 10 reading our newsletter: Since Santa can’t be at everyone’s home at the same time, he usually gets a neighbor to be his official helper.)

Since they live in a warmer climate, there are fireworks around midnight. Christmas dinner is also after midnight where the main course is a traditional turkey.

Even families who don’t have a lot of money and can’t afford a turkey, save their money long beforehand so they can buy a turkey for Christmas.

If they still don’t have enough money for a turkey, they eat chicken. After dinner, children will usually play with their gifts for a few hours and then go to bed around 3:00 a.m. Needless to say, they sleep-in on Christmas morning.

On New Year’s Eve, they stay up at least until midnight (like we do here in the U.S.) and like Christmas, they again light fireworks.

One thing they do that I found interesting is they build a large doll out of old clothes – usually stuffed with straw. On New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja) [no-chay bee-eh-hah] around midnight they take their large dolls out in the streets, light them on fire, and burn them. (Do not try this at home!) For many people, this represents the end of the “old person” and the beginning of a “new person”.

As with any area of the world, traditions vary slightly family to family and region to region.

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Written by Dave Clark with Try a Free Spanish Lessons

Copyright © 1999-2005 US Institute of Languages All rights reserved.

Note from Scott – Christmas traditions in Costa Rica are very different from these examples above.

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