Many of our customers live away from their family and familiar ways of life. They moved away to find better economic opportunities. While this sacrifice is made in order to improve the lives of them and their loved ones, it doesn’t make it any less difficult to be so far away from the culture and traditions that helped shape them. This is especially true during the holidays.

In honor of the selflessness of our customers, we want to highlight and celebrate some of their home countries’ upcoming holiday traditions.

Looking at the countries of South America, there are a variety of ways people celebrate the Christmas and winter holidays. And with over 3 million South American immigrants in the United States alone, there are bound to be people around the world feeling homesick for their familiar holiday traditions.

Here we’ll take a look at just a few of these traditions across the continent to provide a taste of how varied holiday traditions can be within a handful of countries, and to highlight some ways immigrant communities from South America can celebrate to remind them of home in the upcoming season.

Regionwide: Nativity scenes on display

Known as nacimientos or pesebres in most Spanish-speaking countries and presepio in Brazil, nativity scenes are generally a big part of the Christmas season throughout South America. They are often hand-crafted to reflect the local or regional style. The scenes often stay up for weeks from the days of Advent through Epiphany (January 6th).

The baby Jesus of the nativity scene is typically put in his place at midnight on Christmas Eve, since most churchgoers in South American countries attend a late supper and mass that day.

Colombia: La Alborada & Día de las Velitas

La Alborada is a relatively new festival in Medellín, Colombia, that started in 2003. It occurs on the night of November 30th, welcoming the month of December with fireworks all over the city.

Medellín also puts on a fantastic, internationally recognized display of Christmas lights throughout the entire month of December.

Before La Alborada became popular, Día de las Velitas—or Night of the Little Candles—was the official start to the Christmas season in Colombia. It is still a special occasion for many people throughout the country.

Día de las Velitas celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, on the night of December 7th and into the morning of December 8th. Families place candles outside their homes and along streets to light the path that the Virgin Mary will travel, and masses and rosaries are said. 

Chile: A unique Christmas feast for warm weather

In Chile—as in some other Caribbean countries and the Philippines—people often refer to the Christmas season as Pascua, which in other Spanish-speaking countries (and in English, when translated) usually means Easter rather than Christmas. However, Pascua can also mean any solemn and holy day on the Christian calendar, which is why it’s used for the Christmas feast in certain countries.

A typical Christmas feast in Chile occurs later on Christmas Eve—probably 9 PM or later—and includes such dishes as roasted turkey with chestnuts, potato salad, cola de mono punch, and pan de Pascua for dessert.

Argentina: Hanukkah celebrations in Buenos Aires and beyond

Argentina is home to a Jewish community of about 250,000 strong, making it the largest in Latin America and sixth-largest in the world.

The eight days of Hanukkah—from December 2-10 in 2018—are an important time to celebrate the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. Jewish synagogues and communities celebrate this sacred occasion with a number of festivities.

These include: lighting one candle each day on the menorah lamp; reading special sections of the Torah; eating special dishes, such as fried foods that recognize the importance of oil in the Jewish tradition; and giving money to children as a way to encourage good behavior and works of charity.

Here is a clip that shows some of the festivities and ceremony surrounding a previous year’s public Hanukkah candle lighting in Buenos Aires:

Perú: Santuranticuy Christmas Market in Cusco

Each Christmas Eve, the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Perú is covered by the colorful display of the largest Christmas artisan market in the country. The folk art tradition of Santuranticuy began in the era of Spanish colonization and spread of the Catholic religion in Perú, and it comes from the Quechua words Santu (“saints”) and ticuy (“to sell”).

In Cusco, a city with a rich and deep Quechua tradition, Andean crafts such as wood, ceramic, and silver celebrate the holiday season at this annual market. Ponche and other refreshments are typically sold in the evening.

Brazil: High-energy New Year’s celebrations

Brazil is home to a huge New Year’s celebration called Réveillon. The biggest events in large cities like Rio de Janeiro have hosted millions in recent years, with huge fireworks displays and musical performances.

If you can’t make it to Brazil this year for New Year’s, here’s a look at the firework display from last NYE!

Panettone: A winter treat throughout Latin America and beyond

If you travel throughout South American countries during the advent, Christmas, and New Year seasons, you’ll likely to come across a common delicacy: panetón (or panettone), which is enjoyed during many of the winter feast days.

Originally from Italy, this pastry typically filled with dried fruits is also a huge favorite in South America. Perú is the world’s number two consumer of the pastry after Italy!  

If you’re interested in giving panetón a try at home for the holidays to get a taste of home wherever you are, here are a couple of links that explain the recipe process (in Spanish).

We at Remitly honor and celebrate the diverse holiday traditions of our South American customers and their families. No matter where you are and the holiday festivities you celebrate, we wish you a happy, restful, and prosperous holiday and a happy new year.

If you aren’t able to be home with your family to celebrate, you can send the holiday spirit from wherever you are with a gift using Remitly.

What South American traditions do you plan on celebrating this year? Let us know in the comments!