Christmas in Venezuela is a cultural and religious celebration, but it's also about family and food. Learning about Venezuelan Christmas traditions lets you incorporate some of these meaningful and mouth-watering customs into your own holiday celebrations.
Venezuelans honor similar traditional customs as other parts of the world but also add traditions steeped in heritage. From mass to music, this country has some rich and unique customs surrounding the holiday.
Christmas Celebrations in Venezuela
Christmas is a religious holiday in many countries, but this may be even more true in Venezuela. It's estimated that about 96% of Venezuelans practice Catholicism. As a result, many of their Christmas celebrations center on the birth of Christ.
From December 16th through December 23rd, many Venezuelan Catholics, especially in small towns, go to morning mass. During this time, children go to sleep earlier than usual each night to be rested for morning mass.
Mass isn't all serious business. Venezuelans light firecrackers and ring bells each morning to awaken worshippers. It's not unusual for streets to be filled with worshippers on roller skates making their way to mass.
On December 24th, a special midnight mass, known as Misa de Gallo ("rooster's mass" in Spanish), is observed. Folklore states that the mass got its eclectic name because the rooster was the first creature to call worshippers to honor the newborn Christ child on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve is a big deal in Venezuela, too. Venezuelans observe several traditions to prepare for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, known as Nochebuena or Noche Buena. The entire family attends midnight mass and returns home to enjoy a meal to celebrate Christ's birth. The meal includes some totally tempting traditional Venezuelan foods:
- Hallacas - Chicken or beef wrapped in plantain leaves
- Pan de jamon - Bread filled with raisins and ham
- Dulce de colchinito - A slow-cooked brown sugar and green papaya dessert
- Ponche crema - A drink made with Venezuelan rum, condensed milk, eggs, and sugar
The Christmas Eve table may also include more modern dishes, such as turkey, cold vegetable salad, and chicken with fruit.
Nativity scenes trump Christmas trees in Venezuela, although some families put trees up. The scenes, known as nacimientos, are often elaborate and may include not only the Holy Family and manger, but the entire landscape of Bethlehem. The more elaborate scenes are known as pesebres. Though the scenes go up well before Christmas, many families wait to place Baby Jesus in the pesebre until midnight on Christmas Eve.
Some towns have competitions on who has the best nativity scene, which is a fun way to add even more excitement to an already fascinating tradition. Some Venezuelans also decorate the inside and outside of their homes with light strings to bring some extra magic.
Christmas Music Traditions
The Gaita is Venezuela's traditional Christmas music, which is based on folk music. Rhyming vocals accompanied by four-string guitars and maracas make up this music style. Although religion is a big part of the holiday for many Venezuelans, not all Venezuelan Christmas music is religious.
Just like our tradition of caroling, Venezuela has a similar custom involving sharing Christmas music as a community. Revelers sing Christmas carols, known as aguinaldos, door-to-door parranda-style and are rewarded with food and drinks.
Lots of Venezuelan celebrations include cultural dances like the salsa, merengue, and Venezuela's native dance called the Joropo, a couples dance. If you visit the country during the holiday season, don't be surprised if you find people dancing at Christmas celebrations, too.
Gift-giving is a part of Christmas in Venezuela, too, but it looks a little different. Baby Jesus plays the role of Santa Claus, bringing gifts for children on Christmas Eve. On January 6, some Venezuelans celebrate Three Kings Day (Epiphany), known as El Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos.
Three Kings Day celebrates the three wise men who brought gifts to Baby Jesus. The celebration of Three King's Day in Venezuela has died out, although some people still observe the tradition. On the evening of January 5, children place three wise men in their nativity scenes. They leave straw beside their beds to resemble a stable, hoping the wise men will bring gifts. The next morning, they awaken to find toys and candy beside their beds instead of straw.
Another Three Kings Day tradition is the Rosca de Reyes. This is a sweet bread shaped like a wreath with a small Baby Jesus figure baked inside. The person who finds the figure inside their serving of bread must host the traditional Candlemas celebration in February.
Other Christmas Traditions
In the Andean region of Venezuela, people pay homage to the Christ child, known as paradura del niño, by singing to him in front of the nativity. The Baby Jesus is taken from the manger and kissed by each participant before being returned in an upright position.
Some Venezuelans celebrate the Day of the Innocents on December 28 to mark the slaughter of male babies by King Herod after Christ's birth. Town festivals are held with music and dancing, and children dress up in costumes and play practical jokes.
A Rich Cultural Holiday in Venezuela
Venezuelans embrace a full range of Christmas customs, from mass and decorations to food, music, and gift giving. Christmas is an important Venezuelan holiday, just as it is in many countries around the world. What's great about these customs is that anyone can add them to their own family traditions. You don't have to be of Venezuelan heritage to incorporate some Venezuelan Christmas traditions into your holiday celebrations.