Latin America and Spain are vibrant and exciting places, especially when it’s time for holiday celebrations and festivities. Here is a list of the top five Hispanic traditions that accompany Christmas and other important holidays.
- Día de Los Reyes Magos
While many people celebrate Christmas on one single day, the Hispanics spread this very important holiday over several weeks, placing big celebrations on certain days before the 25th of December and even into the first week of January. In Spanish-speaking areas, the sixth of January is special for the tradition called Feast of the Epiphany or “Día de Los Reyes Magos.” It is celebrated to commemorate the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem. Hispanic children wait in great anticipation for this day because they will wake up to gifts in their own house, which are delivered by Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) themselves. They receive small gifts from Santa on December 25th, but January sixth is generally a favorite because of King Baltasar, who presumably rides on his donkey to deliver the gifts.
- Las Posadas
Las Posadas refer to a nine-day, pre-Christmas series of short skits, performed by both adults and children, that reenact the arduous journey of Joseph and Mary (“The Pilgrims”) to Bethlehem in their hopes of finding lodging or “una posada” (an inn). These mini-plays are performed every evening from December 16th until December 24th in a designated neighborhood home. At dusk, the guests — with the children dressed as angels, shepherds, Mary, and Joseph and the adults following behind with lighted candles — congregate outside the house. The “pilgrims” sing a traditional song, asking the hosts for una posada (“pedir posada”), and the hosts respond with another song to welcome all the guests into their home. The night is finalized with delicious foods such as hot tamales and fried rosette cookies (“buñuelos”) and jolly festivities that include a candy-stuffed piñata shaped like the Christmas star. The tradition of Las Posadas is most popular in Guatemala, Mexico, and areas of the southwest United States of America.
- Semana Santa
The Hispanic Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the equivalent of the American holiday known as Easter, and it is celebrated in Spain as well as Mexico and all of Latin America. For the Spanish, Semana Santa is the holiest week of the year. The spirit of this Catholic holiday is a unique blend of serious solemnity and mirthful frivolity. Its celebration is characterized by religious emotion, colorful art, presentations of biblical scenes, and lavish parades. The festivities commence on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and end on Lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday). This week is busy and energetic, filled with prayer, church masses, and other preparations for the rebirth of Jesus Christ. One of the custom Hispanic features of this holiday in the United States is an activity with cascarones (“shells”), eggs filled with confetti, very much like the American Easter egg, which are cracked on someone’s head as an entertaining and jocular surprise.
- Día de Muertos
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) originated in Mexico, but it is celebrated throughout Latin America. This holiday is often celebrated in correlation with El Día de Todos Los Santos (All Saints’ Day), which is celebrated on November first. Día de Muertos is observed the day after, on November second, and unlike its title may first seem to indicate, it is a celebration and commemoration of family members, friends, and historical figures who have passed away. Essentially, it is a celebration of life. This holiday offers the opportunity to remember loved ones and those who are important to us. The tradition of El Día de Muertos comes from Spanish Catholic ritual customs that were practiced prior to the Columbian Exchange. One of the traditions that accompany this holiday is a public altar activity, in which people write the names of their deceased loved ones on a popsicle stick or similar item and attach it to the altar.
- Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo (“The Fifth of May”) commemorates the victory of the Mexicans over the French army during the Franco-Mexican War at the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5th, 1862. However, it is important to note that Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration of Mexico’s Independence, which is celebrated four months later on September 16th. It is also interesting to observe that this holiday became popular in the United States in 1933 after President Franklin Roosevelt sanctioned the “Good Neighbor Policy” as a legislative development to improve relations with Latin American countries.
Today, the world’s largest Cinco de Mayo fiesta takes place in Los Angeles, California, where sprawling street fairs, lively music, delicious tacos, and stupendous performances characterize this annual experience of Hispanic splendor and pride. Other American cities that are known for their celebrations of Cinco de Mayo are New York, Denver, Houston, and Phoenix. Guacamole is a scrumptious addition to the festivities, and Chihuahua races are a common Cinco de Mayo tradition in Chandler, Arizona, and Vancouver. Ultimately, Cinco de Mayo is a rich and invigorating cultural experience you won’t want to miss.
Hopefully, by reading this list, you received at least a little taste of the special holiday spirit that is an important part of both Latin America and Spain. The Hispanic culture is vibrant and exciting unlike any other, and it creates an aura of frivolity, mystery, and respectful solemnity depending on the occasion. However, despite their times of due solemnity and commemoration, the Hispanics certainly know how to ramp up a mirthful spirit in their flamboyant fiestas and festivals. Their holiday traditions will always be a source of anticipatory wonder throughout each and every season.