Christmas Traditions in Guatemala

christmas in guatemala

The Christmas traditions in Guatemala are further evidence of the rich culture found in the communities throughout this country. With Christianity deeply ingrained into their society, it is no surprise that Guatemalans have some extravagant traditions to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The natives bring this annual holiday to life with an abundance of lights, decorations, and community gatherings. The significance of Christmas in Guatemala is not to be underestimated.

La Quema del Diablo

The Burning of The Devil

Every year, on December 7th at 6:00 PM sharp, people gather in the streets across Guatemala for great bonfires featuring pinatas and figures representing the devil. According to tradition, bad energy can be stored in garbage as well as any unnecessary or unused household items. By burning trash and other unneeded items from around the house, in addition to depictions of the devil, they are cleansing all evil energies from their lives and their homes.

The event was originally held in October but was moved to December to coincide with the Feast Of The Immaculate Conception. This way, the cleansing of all bad energies was timed right before the initiation of many other festivities.

El Nacimiento

The Nativity

When the Christmas season rolls around, families begin to craft their own nativity scenes to place underneath the Christmas tree. These dioramas depict the manger where Jesus was born with figures of Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, and various small animals surrounding them. Sometimes these scenes are crafted large enough to include natural landscapes of trees, rivers, and mountains. Though, even the simplest of nacimientos feature vibrant arrays of lights and colorfully dyed sawdust. They’re beautiful pieces of art.

Posadas

Processions

From the 16th to the 24th of December, people in Guatemala hold nightly processions carrying depictions of Joseph and Mary through the streets to be left at a new house every evening. The sounds of festive songs and instruments ring throughout the night air as entire communities gather to parade through the streets.

This tradition symbolizes the journey taken by Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus. After the final night of processions, a small baby Jesus is placed on display to represent the birth of Jesus.

Noche Buena

Christmas Eve

Finally, time for the main event. All the burning, parading, and crafting leads up to the evening of December 24th, when the major festivities occur. Guatemalans refer to this evening as “Noche Buena,” which translates to “Good Night” in English.

Although Christmas Dinner is held on the afternoon of the 25th for many cultures, for Guatemalan Christmas, people enjoy their feast the night before the holiday. These grand meals typically include several traditional dishes, including tamales and sweet breads. The tamales served are usually meat and red sauce encased inside a corn dough shell, all wrapped in banana leaves. Numerous sweet and savory variations of the recipe are made for the holiday as well. Served alongside Christmas dinner is a traditional hot fruity beverage called “ponche,” which quite simply translates to “punch.”

Typical Christmas Eve celebrations don’t end with dinner, though. When the clock strikes midnight in Guatemala, the sky is illuminated with an incredible display of fireworks. The only other sounds that can be heard over the firecrackers are the echoes of singing and cheering throughout the streets.

While the majority of Christmas traditions involve children waking up on Christmas morning to find and open gifts, children in Guatemala don’t wait until morning. Right after the midnight fireworks are over, families go back inside to exchange gifts and finally go to bed. Since everyone goes to bed pretty late, Christmas morning is usually spent sleeping in. At noon, they set off one more firework show, and then spend the rest of the holiday in reflection and prayer.

See it for Yourself!

Christmas in Guatemala consists of a series of festivities unlike any other. The magnitude of the celebrations reflects the Christian values deeply rooted in the culture. If you want to experience these rich Christmas traditions yourself, see how you can get involved with Buena Onda and help the Guatemalan communities continue to celebrate their favorite holiday.

Posted in Guatemala.