Latinos are renowned for their capacity to festejar, but how do they celebrate Navidad? We took a look at a few countries' Christmas traditions and found that, despite some important regional differences, what characterizes most countries and cultures is a focus on food made by and shared with family in ultra-festive celebrations. Join us as we highlight the Christmas holidays in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Back when I lived in Puerto Rico, I found it hard to get into the Christmas spirit during my first year on-island. It was 80-something degrees, with no snow or Christmas tree farm in sight. Old San Juan's Papa Noel was wearing Bermuda shorts and a guayabera!
It didn't take long, though, to get excited about the holiday. First of all, Navidad in Puerto Rico seemed to last forever, starting right around Thanksgiving and running straight into January, when Boricuas celebrate Día de los Reyes on the 5th and 6th. Though Christians around the world recognize the same date as the Epiphany, it's definitely not celebrated with the same kind of gusto.
But before Reyes, there are December's parrandas (traveling Christmas caroling where every house visited joins the party, a party that ends at dawn over breakfast and songs) and pigs--specifically, lechon asado, roasted on a spit—and pasteles (like Mexican tamales but made with a root vegetable dough), typically made by someone's mom or abuela or tia, preferably by the dozens.
And definitely don't forget the coquito, says Jesús Ayala, a Boricua by birth and tour leader for EF Explore America, which offers guided trips around the island. The holiday drink, made in Ayala's family by his wife, Gladys Rosas, is often referred to as Puerto Rican eggnog and is distinguished from traditional eggnog by the addition of a generous pour of rum—Puerto Rican, of course.
It's all festive and family-focused and when life finally resumes its normal schedule in mid-January, you'll either sigh in relief and head to the gym or wonder what you did with your free time before the holidays.
Next up, Mexico and Nicaragua...