Reporting by Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager and the ChildFund Americas communications team
The holidays often bring back sweet memories from our childhood. The smell of cookies coming right out of the oven, the sound of bells from the Christmas songs, figuring out what Santa left for us under the tree and the moment we all waited for in my family: Aunt Paula bringing a huge, sizzling turkey to the beautifully decorated Christmas table.
By working abroad, one gets to enjoy and learn about the holiday traditions in many places. The dishes, the weather and the customs may vary, but one thing remains the same: This is the time of the year when adults get to feel like children again, and when many of us renew our hearts with joy and the feeling that everything will be better in the year to come.
In the Americas, sponsored children in ChildFund programs are celebrating with their families in many different ways.
“Christmas for me is to forgive and find joy without much,” says Beatriz, 10, who is from Brazil. This year she worked with her aunt to decorate a tree in her backyard. “We used disposable bottles to decorate it, added twinkling lights, sparkles, dolls and ornaments. We used everything we had at home, because we couldn’t afford to buy new ones. The tree looks very beautiful,” Beatriz says.
“For me, Christmas is all the lights of different colors and the music. I share with my family, we go to sleep after midnight and we eat tamales and tortillas,” says Yennifer, 6, of Guatemala.
In most Latin American countries, traditions are centered on Christian beliefs; from Dec. 16 to 24, families in Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras celebrate the posadas by gathering to pray and wait for the arrival of baby Jesus. Children participate by re-enacting the nativity scene and remembering what Mary and Joseph had to endure until the day Jesus was born. Then families gather and eat traditional foods like tamales, buñuelos, pristiños and tortillas.
“I like to get dressed as Virgin Mary and help with decorating of our streets with lights,” says Carmen, 12, of Honduras.
In Ecuador, communities celebrate the birth of Jesus with little parades known as “El Paso del Niño,” in which children wear costumes, dance, sing and pray. In Bolivia, families create small altars in their homes, and children dress as shepherds, dance and sing villancicos, or carols, to baby Jesus.
“What I like the most about this season are the stories and typical foods such as turkey and Christmas cake with fruits and also to see my family together, with love and affection,” says Taynara, 11, of Brazil.
On the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, the main tradition is the Nine Mornings, a festival that occurs the nine mornings before Christmas and includes parades, dancing, sea bathing, singing, joking and all kinds of contests. Although some believe that this tradition started earlier, most likely the Nine Mornings started in the 1920s and ’30s as part of early-morning window shopping when people would try to be first in line to buy hot bread and butter.
In the United States, Santa visits parties and hands out gifts from sponsors to children, and in Texas, many sponsored children celebrate the posadas tradition from Mexico.
Christmas trees and Santa Claus are also popular in Latin America, although most children are told by their families that Jesus brings gifts, not Santa. In Bolivia, for example, instead of leaving cookies and milk for Santa, children leave their shoes by their beds so that Jesus can put gifts inside.
“We celebrate the holidays with my family gathered at home and at church,” says Alicia, 8, of Brazil. “New Year´s is a very joyful day because we hope for a new year filled with peace, health and a new life for all.”