A local tells travellers how to celebrate Christmas in Guatemala, just as a Guatemalan would.
Many Christmas traditions have been globalized. People around the world tend to follow a lot of the same traditions. But, at the same time, in each country those traditions meld with the old ones, making the Christmas season somewhat unique in each country.
Guatemala is no exception. It is a place where you will find Christmas trees as well as a lot of lights and decorations during the holiday season. But there are a few things that are slightly different in this part of Latin America.
Guatemalan Christmas Traditions:
Religious Traditions in Guatemala
It all starts on December 7th with the Quema del Diablo “burning of the devil”. This is a religious celebration where Guatemalans put up bonfires on the streets and even burn Piñatas shaped as little devils.
In places such as La Antigua, Guatemala, it is a huge party where tons of Catholics gather on the street. After setting a large image of the devil on fire, they party all night long!
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It is said that this tradition comes from the ancient belief that fire cleans everything that is bad. So by burning stuff that isn’t needed anymore around the house, the family is getting rid of any negative energies and cleaning their souls as preparation for when baby Jesus is born.
Then there are posadas in Guatemala.
These consist of a small procession with the images of Joseph and Mary, it is taken from house to house each night until December 24th. People follow it with colourful lanterns, playing music and singing. Once the procession gets to the designated house where it is going to spend the night, the party starts. Everyone is let in and the hosts serve food and beverages to everyone. These small holiday parades start on December 16.
Related Reading: Your Travel Guide to Antigua, Guatemala.
Guatemala Christmas Decorations
When it comes to decorations, Guatemalans like the traditional Christmas tree and lights as well as all sorts of ornaments. But there is also a place of the house is dedicated to a nativity scene with lots of lights and decorations. These can be small and simple, but other elaborate nativity scenes can take up a whole room of the house! They can feature an entire town, rivers, lakes, mountains, animals and of course, tons of lights.
Some people even open up their homes to the public so they can see their giant Christmas nativity scenes. Competitions for the best one also take place. They have become an art form.
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Guatemalan Christmas Food
Food is also important when it comes to having a traditional Guatemalan Christmas celebration. In each home you will find the traditional Guatemalan Tamales. These are made of corn dough, a red sauce and a piece of meat inside. They come wrapped in banana leaves.
If you prefer something warm to drink, try the Ponche de Frutas. It is made by boiling pieces of apple, pear, pineapple and papaya with a bit of sugar, raisins and cinnamon.
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Christmas Eve in Guatemala
In Guatemala, the 24th and 25th of December are public holidays so that families can celebrate together.
In a lot of places around the world, everyone waits until the morning of December 25 to open up their gifts and start the celebration. However, in Guatemala, the celebrations start on the night of the 24th. This is when families come together for a tasty Christmas dinner. Then they spend all night chatting, drinking, playing and having fun while waiting for midnight.
Although Santa Claus is not a prominent figure in Guatemala, you may just find him enjoying a bit of sun in Guatemala City.
When midnight finally comes, a crazy show of fireworks goes off. Tons of families go to the street. Everyone burns firecrackers and fireworks while they hug and wish everyone a Happy Christmas.
But it doesn’t end there. It is now time to get back into the house, open up the presents. In some cases, there is even a second dinner while Guatemalan children play with their new toys. At around 3 or 4 am, it is finally time to go to bed!
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Christmas Day in Guatemala
Because everyone went to bed so late (or early, depending on how you want to see it), if you go out on Christmas morning, it will appear as a ghost town. There is no one around until around noon. This is a day to stay home on your pj’s eating leftovers from the previous day.
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Feliz Navidad! And enjoy your Christmas in Guatemala now that you know how to celebrate like a local.
Guest post by Lourdes Diaz, a Guatemalan local and avid hiker.