The best South American Holiday traditions - Part 2 | Uncover South America

South America | Blog The best South American Holiday traditions you need to know about - Part 2

December 15, 2021


In Colombia, Christmas celebrations begin on the 7th of December with the Día de las Velitas or Day of the Small Candles.  On the night of the seventh, Colombians light candles all through their houses and on windowsills to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. These lanterns and candles sometimes even spill onto the streets settings towns and cities aglow with the soft amber lights. 

A very Catholic country, from the 16th of December Colombians celebrate the Novena de Aguinaldos. Families gather to pray together for the nine days leading up to Christmas. If you have a large family, different members will host the prayer evening for each day and sometimes even neighbours and friends are invited to join. After the prayers are done people gather to eat food and sing carols while enjoying the Christmas spirit. 

Like in other parts of South America, Christmas here is mostly celebrated on the evening of the 24th of December. A traditional meal consisted of lechona which is pork stuffed with rice and peas as well as the traditional turkey or ham. Other popular foods include arepas and a chicken soup called Ajiaco Bogotano. For dessert Colombians serve a fried pastry stuffed with jam and dusted with sugar called hojuelas and a Natilla which is a thick, set custard. 

On the 31st of December, Colombians will make sure that their houses are spotless to welcome the New Year in. It is said that by cleaning your house thoroughly you will get rid of the bad energies of the previous year and have a clean slate to start the next one. On the evening of the 31st, Colombians will eat 12 grapes in the 12 seconds following the stroke of midnight. At each grape eaten you can make a wish, though be warned it is no easy feat. 


In Brazil, Christmas plays are a popular way to celebrate Christmas and bring some cheer to the season. These plays are called ‘Os Pastores’ and depict the birth of baby Jesus however this version varies slightly from the one we know as in this version a woman comes and tries to steal the baby. Children also have their own tradition which consists of leaving a sock near their window which will then be exchanged for a present. The traditional meal on Christmas Eve is made of turkey, rice, vegetables and even a lasagna. 

It is also prevalent in Brazil for companies to double your pay in December to help their employees and boost morale. It also has the effect of helping boost the economy of the country, an all-round beneficial endeavour. 

On New Year’s Eve, Brazilians welcome the new year on the beach going so far as to get into the sea (thankfully the weather is warm) to try and jump seven waves on the stroke of midnight. This is meant to bring good luck and with every successful jump you can make a wish. White is a very popular colour to wear for New Year’s Eve and most everyone follows this tradition. Eating specific foods during the evening have special meanings such as pomegranates equalling wealth however on the other side of the spectrum poultry is avoided as it indicates going backward in life. Finally, Brazilians keep bay leaves in their pocket to bring extra luck. 


In Bolivia, cribs and nativity scenes are very popular and lifesize ones are often seen outside churches. The traditional Christmas meal is called a picana and is a stew made from chicken, beef or pork which is served with potatoes and corn. If a stew is not served then families opt for a roast pork followed by lots of tropical fruit. 

Many companies here follow the same tradition as in Brazil of doubling or tripling your last pay however they also add to this an end of year basket known as ‘canastón de fin de año’ which is a large basket full of food items and a sweet fruit bread called panetón. This is meant to thank employees and celebrate the season. 

On the 31st Bolivia celebrates the new year with many similar traditions as the rest of its South American neighbours. Like in Costa Rica or Chile, Bolivians have a custom of wearing coloured underwear to bring luck in wealth or love however here they start the evening with their underwear backwards and then turn it forward at midnight which symbolises the change of your luck. 



In Argentina, fireworks are extremely popular and are often shot on Christmas Eve at midnight to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some families opt for paper lanterns or globos instead of fireworks illuminating the sky with small floating lanterns. A traditional meal here is vitel toné which are slices of veal in an anchovy and tuna sauce or a torres de panqueques which is a sandwich tower made of several layers of tortillas that each have different fillings. For dessert, puddings are very popular like pan dulce as well as different types of turron

In Buenos Aires, people have the very creative custom of tearing all their old documents that are no longer needed and at noon they throw these shreds of paper out of the window to symbolise leaving the past behind. At midnight, Argentinians will take their first step of the year with their right foot to literally symbolise starting the new year on the right foot. 



In Uruguay during the holidays it is common to head to Mercado del Puerto to take part in the traditional cider fight. People head onto the streets of Montevideo to let go of end of year fears and stress and have some fun. Another tradition is to throw buckets of water down the windows to wash away the past year. Be careful if you're walking along the roads not to get caught up in the festivities and end up soaked! 

As Christmas takes place during the summer months, the Christmas meal tends to be had outside with a barbecue. The most famous of dishes is a lechon, a whole roast suckling pig with lots of vegetables and salads to go along with it. On New Year’s Day a big tango party takes place in Cordón, a neighbourhood of Montevideo. You can either watch the professional dancers or take part in the dancing and is a great way to celebrate the first day of the year. 

We hope you enjoyed this series and that it has taught you new facts and information to brighten your Christmas period. Perhaps it has also inspired you to add some of these traditions to your holiday festivities or made you want to visit some of these countries more. If a trip to South America happens to find its way under your Christmas tree, do get in touch with us so we can create a custom itinerary and plan to make your first trip of the new year a memorable one. 

Feliz Navidad! 


Alexandra Coeln


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