Christmas in Chile is very warm as it’s in the middle of summer! However, it shares many of the same Christmas customs as the USA.
People like to decorate their houses with Christmas Trees and lights. Having Christmas lights is a fairly recent development with more people being able to afford them. Sometimes neighbors compete to see who can have the best and most lights!
Nativity Scenes are also an important decoration. They have little clay figures (called ‘pesebre’) in them.
Many Catholics in Chile celebrate Advent and also go to special church services for nine days before Christmas. These services are known as a Novena.
Christmas Eve is the most important day over Christmas. Families and friends gather together for a big meal in the evening, eaten about 9pm or 10pm. Many people like to have ‘asado’ (barbecue) and chicken, turkey and pork. The Chilean Christmas Cake is ‘Pan de Pascua’ which is quite like Panettone.
A popular Christmas drink is ‘Cola de Mono’ (or monkey’s tail) which is made from coffee, milk, liquor, cinnamon and sugar.
After the meal, some people like to go to a church service.
At midnight everyone opens their presents! Children sometimes go round each others houses with their new toys – even in the middle of the night!
In Chile, Santa is called ‘Viejito Pascuero’ (Old Man Christmas) or sometimes ‘Papa Noel’ (Father Christmas).
Christmas In Chile
The Chilean Christmas celebrations are quite similar to the U.S. observance of the occassion, though the weather is quite unlike the temperature Americans experience during December. Naturally, Chileans have a really “warm” Christmas celebration as opposed to cold weather festivities in most Western nations.
The Chilean Christmas celebration is a spiritual affair and is held much in accordance with the true Christian way. Church services are held on a daily basis throughout the entire Christmas season but the actual holy observances begin from nine days before Christmas Day, when Chileans begin a special prayer service along with spiritual preparation known as “Novena” – a Roman Catholic ritual. For the entire nine-day period leading to Christmas, prayers are observed by every pious Christian in the country. A visit to the local churches are made, carols are sung and passages related to the nativity are also read from the Holy Bible. On Christmas Eve, Catholics attend the Midnight Mass followed by a sumptuous dinner with the extended members of their family. Christmas is a time for family reunions and many Chileans seize this opportunity to visit their relatives in distant places and be with them during the festive days.
Prepartions for Christmas start nearly a month prior to the actual festive day. Chileans love adorning their homes with brilliant lights and balloons on Christmas. The Christmas tree is set up one or two days before the festive day and decorated with tiny clay figures known as ‘pesebre’. Elaborate scenes from the nativity are put up and clay/wooden figures are used to represent the Holy Family and other religious characters.
The Christmas festivities are incomplete without good food and a plethora of mouthwatering dishes form the items of the Christmas menu. The Christmas Eve dinner traditionally delicacies like “Azuela de ave” (a special chicken soup), “Pan de pasqua” (bread stuffed with candied fruit). “Rompon” and “Cola de Mono”, a.k.a. Monkey’s Tail are the customary drinks to have on Xmas Eve.
The Chilean version of Santa Clause, “Viejito Pascuero” (Old Man Christmas), is believed to visit every house in Chile on Christmas Eve, riding his sleigh pulled by flying reindeers. As per popular legend, he isa small-sized man who goes down through chimneys or enters through windows to leave goodies inside the stockings of good children and nice presents for them under the Xmas tree.
This is also the day when many people enjoy the nature. The warm climate makes it possible for most to take a break at the beaches, go on rock-climbing or surfing, or even making a short trip to the nearest holiday spots. Everyone wishes another ‘Feliz Navidad’ (meaning Merry Christmas) on this day!
Ah, the most wonderful day of the year! After staying up so late the night before, Christmas Day is a relaxed occasion, with families spending the day together enjoying their new gifts, going to the beach or pool, and watching Christmas specials on TV. A late afternoon, leisurely lunch usually consists of tasty leftovers from the previous night’s turkey dinner.
Say, what’s in this drink?
Instead of cradling giants cups of hot cocoa with fluffy white marshmallows, Chileans must find a way to battle the summer heat when it comes to their holiday drinks. But you won’t find any egg-nog stocked on grocery shelves (sorry, nog lovers!). Instead, you’ll get to enjoy the cool smoothness of cola de mono, or monkey’s tail. Similar to a White Russian, the drink is made with aguardiente, coffee, milk, sugar, and cloves. Most people make their own homemade version, and it’s also regularly drunk on New Year’s Eve as well.
Another drink gracing the holiday table is borgona, a chilled red wine and strawberry mixture. This festive libation (red drink to match all the red and green decorations!) is a perfect concoction for the summer months, filled with fresh and delicious seasonal strawberries, and featuring Chile’s signature red wines.
A Christmas Feast
While chestnuts roasting on an open fire are in short supply, Chileans whip up plenty of other delicious treats for the holidays.
In addition to the cookies, chocolates, and candies traditional of most Christmases around the world, one seasonal food item you’re almost guaranteed to find in every Chilean’s home during the holidays is “pan de Pascua” or Easter Bread. This chewy bread, filled with dried or candied fruits and nuts, has a similar taste and texture to fruitcake, but pan de pascua usually has more prevalent flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg. These cakes are one of the most iconic parts of the Chilean Christmas, and can be found in supermarkets and bakeries starting as early as late November.
Besides pan de pascua, Chileans know how to make a proper Christmas Eve spread! The night before Christmas is marked with either a large family dinner of roasted turkey (or chicken) with sides of potatoes balls and vegetables, or a traditional Chilean asado (barbecue).
Seasons greetings from Cascada Expediciones! Have a safe and wonderful holiday.
Christmas is celebrated in many ways across the varied landscapes and diverse families in Chile. I experienced a Chilean Christmas twice during my time in Santiago and central Chile.
Since Chile sits in the southern hemisphere, Christmas arrives in the middle of summer. The kids have finished their year of school and enjoy the warmer temperatures and the long summer days.
Chileans call Santa “Viejito Pascuero” (meaning Old Man Christmas) or even “Papa Noel.” Just like around the world, he travels by sleigh and reindeer and brings toys and gifts to good boys and girls. Traditionally he will come in the chimney or climb through the window to deliver his presents.
Christmas is a time when families come together to enjoy each other’s company and some home cooking. Many Chilean households consist of several generations and these numbers are augmented at Christmas as other relatives come to visit. People send Christmas cards and buy gifts for friends and loved ones.
Christmas Tree and Decorations
Chileans and Chilean businesses get ready for the big day by decorating. Families put up Christmas trees and decorations. Besides the traditional Christmas tree, you’ll see nativity scenes with baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, animals, and the three wise men.
Families usually gather together by late afternoon on Christmas Eve to begin the celebrations. A large dinner is served in the late evening. This consists of typical Chilean foods, oven roasted chicken, turkey, or other special meal. Pan de Pascua, a sweet fruit cake dessert, is always a staple for this holiday.
A traditional drink called “Cola de Mono” or “Monkey’s Tail,” made from coffee, milk, liquor, cinnamon, and sugar is served during Christmas time and New Year’s.
Near midnight gifts are exchanged and opened. Kids will take their new bikes or other toys and head out into the streets to show them off and to play with friends. This excitement is carried over to adults who often stay up late on Christmas Eve celebrating with friends and family.
Gifts are enjoyed and the children will take their new toys out and play. You will see lots of kids on new bikes and skates. People will also go and visit friends and family during the day. Some families have the tradition of going to the pool or beach on Christmas. For those at home, television channels’ programming is filled up with Christmas movies and cartoons.
Christmas is about Christ
Most Chileans don’t forget that Christmas is centered around Jesus Christ. Many will attend church services including the traditional Christmas Eve mass. Carols are sung and families often read the Bible passages recounting the birth of Jesus.
Christmas is one of many holidays that Chileans celebrate, learn more in the Gringo’s Culture Guide to Chile.