Christmas in Chile – Happy Easter!
It’s the time of the year: Christmas is coming!
Around the world, we are all celebrating it, sometimes with religious background, sometimes to just enjoy the holidays or sometimes to be part of a festival filled with joy and warmth. Nevertheless, every culture, every country is celebrating it differently. So be part of a small journey through the Chilean way of celebrating (in my eyes) the most amazing time of the year.
But- Happy Easter?!
Yes, you got it right! The first time someone wished me “Happy Easter” on December 24th, I wasn’t sure who of us already had one Piscola (typical Chilean drink) too much.
It’s obvious: The other most important festival in Chile is Easter. Both are celebrated to honor Jesus. That’s why Chileans are using the same word, when they are talking about Christmas and Easter: “Pascuas”. Buenas Pascuas” or “Pascua feliz para todos” are greetings most likely used in Chile, as well as in Cuba or the Philippines: Merry Christmas!
Dreamy white Christmas?
First of all: Don’t expect snowflakes on Christmas day in Chile: We are in the southern hemisphere here. In fact, Christmas in Chile is even the start of the summer holidays. So be prepared for hot weather, celebrating on the beach and ice cream instead of hot chocolate.
Chileans love to decorate their houses and the streets with lots of lights and Christmas accessoires, all of which are nice and wintery, totally understandable considering the +35 degrees outside. There are even small competitions between neighbours about, which house looks more shiny.
In Santiago for example, the town square (Plaza de Armas) is generally decorated with large Christmas trees a nativity scene, as well as a bunch of sparkling Christmas lights.
Usually families have a decorated Christmas tree, called “Arbol de Pascua” in their houses. Although they are normally plastic trees. – As I said, some things are different in the summer.– Decorating and preparing the house for the holidays is a lot of fun for most Chilenos, although it’s not a typical Chilean tradition. They were more influenced by the Americans and the Europeans during the colonial time.
Chileans’ Santa Claus
Of course all children (small and grown ups) are excited and await for Santa Claus to come, during the whole Christmas season or even the whole year?
Anyways in Chile Santa Claus is called “Viejito Pascuero”, which means Easter old man. This is because the Chilean version of the man bringing all the presents is not based on Sankt Nikolaus or the American Santa Claus. The story is about a German man coming to Chile in the colonial time bringing presents and joy to the children and poor people. Because no one is sure about his name, he is called “Viejito Pascuero”, the Eastern old man.
Like a tradition in the USA, children in Chile are encourage to write letters to the Eastern old man, requesting what they want.
Christmas and the Church
Chile is a very catholic country due to the spanish colonial time and although most Chilenos are not practicing their religion anymore, it’s still a big part of their culture. Especially on Christmas. Some catholics go to church 9 days before Christmas, which is called “Novena” and most Chileans visit the mass at Christmas Eve.
La Noche Buena
Another interesting fact about Chilean Christmas is, that they start celebrating early. Maybe because Chilenos love to party?
The most important part of the holidays is happening on Christmas Eve: Noche Buena.
Christmas is a family celebration in the collective Chile. That’s why it’s very Chilean to share the time with your loved ones and enjoy all the small and big traditions.
On Christmas Eve, the whole family is coming together for a big dinner. Most likely with a big barbeque and all the traditional specialities, everyone is awaiting. Singing “Villancicos” –traditional Christmas songs– and reading the accounts of the birth of Jesus from the Bible are typical traditions at la Noche Buena.
As mentioned most families go to church afterwards to take part in the mass. At midnight the presents, which were left under the Christmas tree by Viejito Pascua are opened. Some families, especially with small children use to wait until the next morning.
As you see, this is the important part of Christmas in Chile. Some cities and municipalities also set off put on firework displays.
Christmas Day starts very relaxed. As Chilenos like to celebrate into the night, families first meet up again for lunch to share all the leftovers from last night. It’s not unusual to go to the beach or relax at home with the family.
Second most important part about Christmas after the presents? True, the food. And Chile has a lot of delicious typical meals and drinks to offer.
First of all, the probably most common dish, the Christmas cake or easter bread: “Pan de Pascua”. It’s a bread similar to a fruit cake, filled with dried and candied fruits and nuts and flavours of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Also very famous for Chilean Christmas is: “Cola de Mono”. Yes, you got it right! It’s called monkey’s tail. This drink is made out of aguardiente, coffee, milk, sugar, and cloves. Most people make their own homemade version. It’s kind of the Chilean version of finding a compromise for a sweet Christmas drink in summer. A hot chocolate on the beach, doesn’t seem appropriate. Cola Mono is also a typical drink for New Years Eve in Chile.
“Borgona” is another drink, you might see on Chilean Christmas tables. It’s kind of a bowl, made out of Chilean red wine and fruits. Chilenos love it and it even represents a bit of Christmas – due to the red colour.
As you may have recognized, for Chilenos Christmas is also a time to celebrate. That’s why there is another typical drink to be mentioned: “Punch de Chirimoya”. It’s a punch made out of wine, sugar and the Chilean fruit Chirimoya (which translated means custard apple).
Usually families as well prepare Christmas cookies for the holidays and a huge plate of seasonal fruits, such as watermelons are very common for dessert on Christmas Eve.
Do you also already hear the Christmas bells ringing? If you ask me, I can’t wait for some cosy family time, a glass of Cola Mono and Christmas lights in the streets.
Pascua feliz para todos!