We understand how difficult it can be to live far away from your family during the holidays. For many of our customers and many people on our own team at Remitly, they’ve moved away to find better opportunities and made a major sacrifice to improve the lives of themselves and their loved ones.
The holiday season is a time to spend with the ones you love, even if the only way is through a video call or a short visit. We want to honor and celebrate the holiday traditions with you and your family no matter where you are in the world.
There are so many ways that people all across Central America celebrate the season. If you’re feeling homesick and want to find ways to celebrate abroad, here are a few traditions you can recreate with your local community or family wherever you are.
December 7: La quema del diablo (the burning of the devil) in Guatemala
This festival in Guatemala takes place on December 7, typically at 6 PM sharp. People burn effigies of Satan outside of their homes and in the streets. The figures representing the devil are often made of trash and other old items that people wish to get rid of. The burning serves as a cleansing process on a metaphorical level: out with the old, and in with the new.
This purification clears the way for the Roman Catholic celebration of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary on the following day, December 8.
December 7 – 8: La Gritería & La Purísima in Nicaragua
In Nicaragua, also on December 7, people prepare for the feast of the Immaculate Conception with a completely different celebration. La Gritería—“the shouting”—is a tradition dating back to 1857.
A common cry goes up throughout churches and cathedrals: “¿Quien causa tanta alegría?” (Who causes so much joy?) to which the communal response goes, “¡La concepción de María!” (The conception of Mary!). Many people take to the streets at 6 PM sharp to shout and sing to the Virgin Mary along with using firecrackers and playing music. Home altars and churches are visited throughout the evening, and gifts and food are given out to the visitors.
Here is a bit of history on La Gritería (in Spanish):
La Purísima—literally meaning “the purest one”—is a celebration that primarily takes place in Nicaragua for the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. Festivities, including novenas and setting up of elaborate home altars, begin in late November around the country and peak on the actual feast day of December 8.
December 8: Mother’s Day in Panamá
Along with the winter holidays, the people of Panamá celebrate Mother’s Day as a national holiday on December 8. This day coincides with the Roman Catholic feast day of the Immaculate Conception that is celebrated in various ways in other countries. On this very popular holiday, families gather to honor and celebrate Mom!
December 16 – 24: Las Posadas regionwide
During this special nine-day holiday of Las Posadas, people across the Central America region in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panamá commemorate Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter and rest before the birth of the baby Jesus.
Children to adults—often dressed as Mary and Joseph—form candlelight processions through the streets of towns and cities, singing traditional verses and knocking on the doors of the posadas (“inns”) that participating neighbors have set up in their homes. It is often a great honor to host Las Posadas at your home.
Here is some news coverage of Las Posadas celebrations in Nicaragua:
When the posadas have finished, it is customary in many places for children to break a piñata to celebrate that Joseph and Mary have found shelter at the host home. The seven points of the star-shaped piñata signify the seven deadly sins, and the blindfolded participants who strike it to get at the treats inside represent of blind faith triumphing over sin in the joyful Christmas season.
December 24 – 25: Midnight Mass and delicious regional dishes
La Misa del Gallo, or midnight mass, is a common way in Central American countries to celebrate Christmas Eve and await the arrival of Christmas Day. Christmas parties and family gatherings are also typical on the night of the 24th—complete with delicious traditional dishes and drinks, of course!
The Christmas Eve dinner often includes pork in various preparations. Just a very few of the delectable holiday foods you may come across include the following:
- Guatemala: traditional tamales, filled with raisins, olives, meat, and other savory fillings and typically wrapped in the native maxán leaf for a unique flavor
- Honduras: pierna de cerdo horneada, or traditional roasted pork leg
- Panamá: arroz con guandú, or rice with pigeon peas (this dish is also sometimes prepared with chicken)
- El Salvador: panes con gallina (French bread with specially prepared chicken)
- Nicaragua: gallina rellena, or stuffed hen, and nacatamales
December 26: El Tope Nacional in Costa Rica
Topes, or mounted processions on horseback, are a celebrated part of Costa Rican culture. Since the 1940s, many towns throughout the country hold their own horseback processions (or multiple ones!) on specified days of the year.
The most important one of all is the Tope Nacional, which has been taking place in San José for nearly 80 years. Thousands of jockeys, horses, and spectators generally attend the activities. In addition to being a great show, it also provides an opportunity for shopping and making memories with friends and family.
While this event is hard to recreate abroad, here’s a video of a Tope Nacional celebration in Costa Rica to help you feel as though you’re there!
January 6: Día de los Reyes, or Three Kings’ Day
Although Santa Claus has become increasingly popular throughout Latin America during the Christmas season, many families in Central American countries have stayed true to the European Catholic tradition of receiving gifts from the three kings.
This happens on the twelfth day of Christmas, on Three Kings’ Day, which is January 6. Children prepare for the Kings’ visit the night before, sometimes leaving out water and straw for their camels. They anticipate receiving their gifts under their beds the next morning.
For this holiday, many communities around the world host toy drives to provide toys to kids in underserved communities, such as this one in Puerto Rico:
These are only a few of the unique holiday customs celebrated during the winter throughout Central America. Although it is impossible to list all of the rich traditions occurring in this area in one short article, hopefully, we’ve reminded you of the ones that help you feel more at home.
Team Remitly wishes you a prosperous and healthy holiday season and new year.
What traditions do you plan on celebrating this year? Let us know in the comments!