Christmas in Venezuela is one of the most colorful in Latin America and the whole world! Firework shows are very popular.
Some traditional Christmas music in Venezuela is ‘Gaita’ music. This is a type of folk music from the Zulia state. It’s played on several instruments including the ‘Cuatro’ (a guitar with four strings) a ‘Tambora’ (a Venezuelan drum), the ‘Furro’ (a type of drum but it has a stick coming up through the middle of the skin of the drum – this can make it have some different sounds) and the ‘Charrasca’ (a ribbed tube that you rub a stick up and down). The singers are known as ‘Gaiteros’. Another type of music in Venezuela is called ‘Aguinaldos y Parrandas’. This style is also popular at Christmas as the songs are like carols.
Some homes will have a Christmas Tree, but they’re normally artificial ones as pine and fir trees aren’t common in Venezuela. Nativity Scenes (Nacimiento) are very popular and in some regions they are more common than Christmas Trees.
Going to Midnight Mass (Misas de Aguinaldo) is very popular and there many other masses and church services in the days before Christmas. In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, there’s a tradition of people rollerskating to the early morning church services from 16th to 24th December. The roads are often closed to traffic by 8.00am to make it safe for people to skate!
Traditional Venezuelan Christmas foods include ‘Hallacas’ – a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins, and olives that is wrapped in maize and plantain leaves and tied up with string into a parcel and then boiled or steamed afterwards; the Pan de Jamón – a type of bread that’s made with puff pastry, filled up with ham, raisins, olives and bacon and shaped like a ‘swiss roll’! Chicken Salad and Pernil (a leg of pork).
Some people also celebrate Santa Barbara’s day on December 4th. The real Christmas celebrations start on December 21st. Another important day, is Epiphany or ‘El Dia de los Reyes Magos’ (the day of The Three Kings) on January 6th.
Main presents are given at midnight on Christmas Eve. In Venezuela presents are brought by ‘San Nicolás’ (St. Nicholas) & ‘Niño Jesús’ (Baby Jesus).
It was also a tradition for people to paint their houses two to four weeks before Christmas, so it was all nice and smart and ready to be decorated for Christmas. Many people have new clothes for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Many people believe that if you wear yellow on New Year’s Eve you will have good lu.
In Venezuela, Christmas is celebrated with a number of religious and traditional customs. As a predominantly Catholic country, Christmas festivities celebrate the birth of the child Jesus. The religious celebrations begin on the 16th of December with masses said every morning until December 24th, when the religious service is held at midnight (Misa de Gallo).
The main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, “Noche Buena” as it is called in Spanish. Families get together to enjoy the traditional holiday meal: “hallacas,” “pan de jamón,” “dulce de lechoza.” The pan de “jamón” is a long bread filled with cooked ham and raisins. The “dulce de lechoza” is a dessert made of green papaya and brown sugar, slowly cooked for hours and served cold.
Many homes put up a Christmas tree but the most authentic Venezuelan custom is to display a nacimiento (Nativity scene). A more sophisticated nacimiento is the pesebre. This represents an entire region with mountains, hills, plains and valleys. The central point is a replica of the manger at Bethlehem. The structure is a framework covered with canvas and painted accordingly. Often, the pesebre becomes a real work of art.
On December 25 children awake to find their gifts around the Nacimiento or the Christmas tree. Tradition has it that it is the Child Jesus who brings gifts to the Venezuelan children instead of Santa Claus.
The Christmas festivities come to an official closing on January 6, the Day of the Reyes Magos (the three wise kings who came to visit Mary and the infant Jesus), when children again receive toys and candies. Christmas is, above all, the main holiday during which Venezuelan families get together and rejoice.
Music plays an important role in the celebrations. The traditional songs of this period are called aguinaldos. In the old days the aguinalderos (singers of aguinaldos) would go from home to home singing their songs and playing traditional instruments such as the cuatro (a small, four strings guitar), the maracas (rattle) and the furruco (a small, elongated drum with a wooden stick in the middle. The movement of the stick slightly indented on the drums leather is what produces the sound).