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I asked my Twitter followers the other day to name one thing they thought made Navidad in Latin America much more special than Christmas in the US.
The response was overwhelming. People from all over filled the thread with mentions of tamales, coquito, ponche, posadas, buñuelos, and piñatas—none of which I came to associate with Christmas during the more than twenty years I lived in the US.
Food, of course, is a huge part of Latin American Navidad. But my fellow Latinos also touched on one of my favorite Latin Christmas-themed facts: no matter what part of Latin America we all hail from, there’s one thing that seems to unite us all. What Latinos call “Navidad” is something we celebrate on the night of December 24, even though the rest of the world insists on calling it “Christmas Eve” because actual Christmas falls on the 25th.
I kid you not. It is a firm belief among my people (i.e., Latin Americans) that “La Navidad” falls on December 24, never the day after. That is non-negotiable and we feel very strongly about it.
“Navidad is the 24th. Presents at midnight. Christmas day is for sleeping and playing with your new toys,” one of my followers, Maria wrote.
So now you know it. Don’t ever tell a Latino that December 24 is not Navidad, because you will probably get into trouble.
WARNING: Before you keep reading and/or ask this writer to get a calendar, get her dates right, and stop slandering Christmas, please remember this column was conceived to be handled with a serious dose of humor.
Move Over, Santa Claus. Here Come the Posadas.
While it’s a fact that Navidad is the Spanish word for Christmas, for many Latinos it’s almost as if those two words had completely different meanings. And that’s because for those of us born and raised south of the US border, Navidad has a totally different vibe than the Christmas we came to know years later, after moving to the States.
Navidad has a very special scent, sound, and taste. It smells of jícamas, tejocotes, colación candy, and sugar canes stuffed in clay piñatas. It tastes like tamales, coquito, rompope, spicy cod fish, and turkey in mole sauce.
And it has a sound too: it sounds like the verses we sing in chorus when reenacting Mary and Joseph’s quest for shelter in Bethlehem during a traditional posada.
Back in New York City, where I lived for a full twenty-two years before moving back to Mexico, Christmas was a lot different. It didn’t smell or taste the same and, to be honest, I was never a fan. I always felt Christmas in the US was more like a monthlong TV commercial, featuring reindeers, chubby white men dressed in red, and snow-covered things that were quite foreign to me.
Then there were the ubiquitous (i.e., annoying) Christmas carols that would greet me all the time. Everywhere. No matter what.
I know they were supposed to get us up to the whole Christmas spirit, but I was like, nah.
Navidad in Latin America is also unique because it’s always been an interesting blend between Spanish traditions and rituals that are rooted in our Indigenous past. As one of my followers Esteban wrote when I asked about what made Navidad more special than Christmas:
“The syncretism. Religious celebrations in Mexico and other parts of latin america are boosted with traditional indigenous rituals and foods.”
Luckily, during all the years I lived in New York City, I was able to escape the sounds and sights of “Anglo Christmas” thanks to living in a heavily Latino neighborhood, where you could walk less than five blocks to find amazing tamales and champurrado—and even buy a real clay piñata, if you were on the mood for that. It was easier to be transported back to the colorful Mexican Navidad I grew up celebrating.
Still, it was never the same. No matter how much we could replicate a Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Peruvian, or Colombian Christmas in the US, there was always one key missing ingredient to make Navidad a true holiday for many of us immigrants: family.
And for that, my friends, I couldn’t be more grateful. After so many Christmas Eves in the US, I’ll get to celebrate Navidad back home—on December 24, of course.
Stay tuned for Laura Martinez’s next Hisplaining column, which will tackle other key biz terms and jargon and help leaders everywhere smoothly navigate the multicultural business world. In the meantime, send us tips and ideas for other terms and jargon that you’d like to see us feature. And remember: Don’t panic . . . it’s just his-PANIC!