Christmas festivities in Latin America are a blend of flavors and traditions that draw from both indigenous and European cultures. To the religious celebrations, add the family ties and the presence of your loved ones around the table. Here, food plays a fundamental role in bringing families together and maintaining traditions.
In Mexico, Christmas celebrations begin on December 16th and end on the 24th. During this period, Mexicans enact the Posadas, a kind of pilgrimage that moves from house to house, emulating Mary’s and Joseph’s search for an inn where they could rest. The Pastorelas are theatrical representations whose principal protagonists are God, the Virgin, and the shepherds who followed the star of Bethlehem to find the Baby Jesus, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.
Mexican families get together on December 24th for Christmas Eve dinner, or Nochebuena. The rich banquet includes traditional dishes such as romeritos (a rosemary-like green) with mole and shrimp, Vizcayan-style codfish, turkey — which is also called guajolote in Mexico — tamales, Christmas salad with its base of apples and cream, a fruit punch known as ponche, and buñuelos. Recreating this special spread at home? There’s no reason why you can’t include avocados on the menu; after all, avocados are grown-year round in Mexico!
In the Dominican Republic, Christmas is celebrated with the tradition of the aguinaldos. Groups of friends go from house to house, where neighbors offer some sort of snack, such as coffee or cookies. Also, musical groups get together in the streets to play perico ripiao, an old form of merengue, in exchange for some type of tip.
Dominican families sit down to enjoy a magnificent Christmas Eve dinner with cerdo a la puya (a pork dish), chicken, or turkey, rice with pigeon peas, bread, Russian salad (made with steamed vegetables, eggs, and mayonnaise), sweets, avocado, and punch, among other traditional dishes.
In Brazil, the Festas de Natal are celebrated with a huge meal on Christmas Eve. At midnight, a bottle of champagne is opened for a toast, fireworks are lit, and Papai Noel, or Santa Claus, brings the presents. On the 25th of December, the festivities are a bit more subdued, and Catholics go to Mass in the afternoon, after the Christmas dinner. Many people head to the beach, taking advantage of the summer heat.
The Brazilian Christmas table includes cod fritters and croquettes (Portuguese in origin); farofa, a flour made of fried manioc root; tender de Natal, a seasoned pork loin; a chicken salad; fresh green salads; slices of bread battered in egg and milk and fried in butter; fresh fruit; and panettone, a sweet bread studded with dried fruit, served as a dessert. Sounds to us like avocado would go great on this table, too!
In Chile, it’s the Viejito Pascuero who brings gifts to children, leaving them at the base of the Christmas tree. The faithful go to the Misa de Gallo on December 24th, which is held at six in the evening, returning home after Mass to enjoy Christmas dinner. On Christmas Day, people get together again for lunch and to spend the day together.
Some Chileans roast a turkey with chestnuts, while others prefer to grill. Accompaniments include potato salad with mayonnaise, celery and avocado salad, or rice with raisins. The traditional drink during the season is cola de mono, a cocktail made with coffee and aguardiente, to which some people add milk, sugar, and spices.
In Argentina, December 8th is a special day because it’s when children decorate the Christmas tree with adult supervision. The Christmas Eve dinner is the biggest celebration, with fireworks and partying that lasts early into the morning. On December 25, family and friends gather for a late lunch, which usually consists of grilled meat and splashing in the pool, followed by rounds of mate in the evening.
As it’s summertime in Argentina, cold dishes such as vitel tonnè-carne de res with a tuna sauce are served, along with a variety of salads and sweet and sour jelly rolls. As an alternative, grilled beef, pork, or chicken can be served, with a fruit salad and ice cream for dessert. At midnight, it’s turron, dried fruit, confits, toasted sweet nuts, walnuts, and sweet bread, along with champagne to toast with. And then, of course, it’s time to open presents!
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