Christmas is always a very special time of celebration and joy for Latinos. Many celebrations take place, and many moments are shared. Depending on the country, Christmas Eve’s characteristics vary.
In Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama, Christmas celebrations begin with the “Posadas” nine consecutive days before December 25<sup>th</sup>.
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These “Posadas” are rituals to remember Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It is common to break a piñata, give presents and prepare the typical dishes of the country. There are drinks and carols, too. In some countries like Panama, there are Christmas decorations contests.
In other Latin countries, people celebrate the “pastorelas” (Christmas Story). These are recreations of the Nativity in which the plot is the struggle between good and evil. The “pastorelas” also include up-to-date events narrated in a humorous way.
Many Latinos try to keep these traditions alive in the United States. Venezuelans try to eat ham bread, hallacas (kind of tamales stuffed with stew made of beef, raisins, onions, peppers, capers and pork), hen salad (carrots, potatoes, peas, hen, mayonnaise), pork and black cake.
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In Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, people usually eat roast pork, rice with beans, fried green plantains, Spanish nougat and other homemade desserts.
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Although there are differences in the way they celebrate it, Christmas is a time for all Latinos to be with their beloved ones. They remember the best moments of the year, they give love and get prepared to say goodbye to the present year.
<em>When Latinos celebrate Christmas in the United States, the main differences are:</em>
In most of Latin American homes, Christmas dinner takes place just after midnight on Christmas Eve. According to the tradition in each country, people eat turkey, pork, hallacas, tamales or maize stew. Afterwards, they drink hot chocolate, and eat black cake or sweet bread. Christmas Eve is more celebrated than the 25<sup>th</sup>.
In the United States, on the contrary, the 25<sup>th</sup> is more celebrated than Christmas Eve. The special meal is served in the afternoon of the 25<sup>th</sup>. The time varies from family to family, but everyone usually eats between noon and 7 p.m. The main dish is often turkey or ham, which are served with baked potatoes and salad. Dessert is a must: pumpkin pie is very popular.
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Almost every Latino family celebrates the arrival of Baby Jesus and not Santa Claus. Baby Jesus leaves his presents on Christmas Eve at night, so that kids find them on the 25<sup>th</sup> in the morning.
The Magi come on January 6<sup>th</sup>, and many celebrate it as well. The night before, kids leave their shoes to be filled with toys by the three Wise Men. Sometimes, kids also leave water and grass for the camels.
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We find mangers practically everywhere: houses, offices and shops. They may be big or small, but they always include Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, some animals and, sometimes, angels and shepherds as well. However, Baby Jesus does not appear (or he is covered with a blanket) until midnight at the beginning of Christmas day.
Americans put up the manger, too. Nevertheless, we find it only in the churches or in the houses of very religious people.
The big difference is: Americans do not wait until Christmas day to include Baby Jesus in the manger.