Christmas in the Spanish-Speaking World

Quick Answer

Merry Christmas! = ¡Feliz Navidad!

Christmas is an immensely popular holiday in Spanish-speaking countries. In this article, we’ll explore the key dates of the Christmas season and give you insight into how Christmas is celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

poinsettia

This nochebuena(poinsettia) has beautiful leaves that look like the petals of a flower. The poinsettia plant is native to Mexico and Central America. The plant’s name, flor de nochebuena, was inspired by a Mexican folktale. This tale claims that a little girl named Pepita wanted to give a present to baby Jesus at her church, but she couldn’t afford to. One version of the legend says she gathered a bouquet of roadside weeds, and upon presenting it to the baby Jesus in the Nativity scene, the leaves of the improvised bouquet turned into bright red Cuetlaxochitl (what the Aztecs called poinsettias) leaves!

The Christmas Season in Spanish-Speaking Countries

DateEventDescription
December 16th-24th
Las Posadas
Chiefly celebrated by communities in Mexico and the United States, this nine-day celebration kicks off the Christmas season by commemorating Joseph and Mary’s journey to Belén(Bethlehem).
December 22ndLotería de Navidad(Spanish Christmas Lottery)El Gordo(the Fat One), as many call it, is considered the biggest lottery jackpot worldwide. In 2019, the prize pot was $2.64 billion!
December 24thNochebuena(Christmas Eve)Many celebrate by feasting on traditional foods with their families and attending Misa del Gallo(Midnight Mass). Fuegos artificiales(fireworks) are also common on Nochebuena!
December 25thDía de Navidad(Christmas Day)El día de Navidadis a day spent with family. Many families eat the sobras(leftovers) from the previous night’s meal.
December 28thDía de los Santos Inocentes(Holy Innocents' Day)This holiday is the cultural equivalent of April Fools’ Day in Spanish-speaking countries.
January 6thDía de los Reyes Magos(Epiphany)This holiday represents the day the Three Wise Men gave gifts to Jesus Christ.

Children in Spanish-speaking countries don't traditionally receive presents from Santa Claus. Instead, they receive their gifts on January 6th from the Reyes Magos(Three Wise Men). However, in many places this tradition is changing, and children receive some gifts on December 25th and the rest on January 6th.

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Carols

Los villancicos(Christmas carols) are also a big part of the holiday season in Spanish-speaking countries. In the Middle Ages, villancicos were sung poems about rural life, often without instrumental accompaniment. Nowadays, the term refers to traditional Christmas songs.

If you go to a Spanish-speaking country during Christmastime, you will hear familiar favorites translated into Spanish like Noche de paz(Silent Night). You’ll also hear unique carols like Los peces en el río(The Fish in the River).

Nativity Scenes and Plays

Another important Christmas tradition throughout the Spanish-speaking world is the decoration of homes and public spaces with pesebres(nativity scenes). Intricate nativity scenes are created, frequently by hand, and displayed to commemorate the birth of Jesus.

In Spain, nativity scene translates as belén.

In Mexico, people perform in pastorelas(nativity plays). Pastorelas are traditional plays about the shepherds’ trials and tribulations on the way to see baby Jesus.

Christmas Sweets

While traditions around what to eat during the Christmas season can vary greatly between countries, there is one sweet food that is common in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world. People in many countries eat rosca de Reyeson January 6th to celebrate Epiphany. This sweet bread is baked in a circular shape and decorated with fruit to resemble a bejeweled crown.

In Spain, this dessert is called roscón de Reyes.

Other Christmas sweets include turrón(nougat), polvorones(shortbread cookies), and mazapán(marzipan).

Unique Traditions Around the Spanish-Speaking World

Let's take a look at some unique Christmas traditions in Spanish-speaking countries!

CountryTradition
CubaMany Cubans celebrate Christmas with a backyard barbecue featuring lechón(suckling pig).
MexicoThroughout Las Posadas, people have parties where children break piñatas.
PeruIn Peru, people hold chocolatadaswhere they share hot chocolate and sweets like panettone with others—often children—in the spirit of sharing at Christmastime.
SpainCaga Tió is a Catalonian tradition which involves singing special songs and beating on a blanket-covered log until the log “poops out” presents. Children feed their Caga Tió throughout the Advent period. The strategy is to feed it as much as possible because the more Caga Tió eats, the more presents he’ll poop out on nochebuena!

Christmas Vocabulary

Here is a list of Christmas-related vocabulary in Spanish!

SpanishEnglishSpanishEnglish
el acebo
holly
la galleta de Navidad
Christmas cookie
el adorno
ornament
las luces
lights
el ángel
angel
el mercado navideño
Christmas market
el árbol de Navidad
Christmas tree
el muérdago
mistletoe
el calcetín de Navidad
stocking
Papá Noel
Santa Claus
la campana
bell
el regalo
gift
la corona
wreath
el reno
reindeer
el duende
elf
la tarjeta de Navidad
Christmas card
la estrella
star
la vela
candle