Christmas in Chile: decorations and traditions

SANTIAGO – As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year … ,” with decorations going up all around and kitchens turning into homes’ nerve-centers, as families prepare for Christmas. In Chile, Christmas is marked by the sweet aroma of Pan de Pasqua, but what are some of the other festive traditions and dishes in the Andean nation? Here is a look at what to expect in Chile at Christmas time.

Located in the Southern Hemisphere, the first notable difference to Northern Hemisphere transplants is that Christmas takes place in summer. Pine trees are hard to come by in the summer, so Chileans get creative: many opt for fake trees or simply decorate their corridors and front yards with Christmas lights and displays. City centers also join in the festivities, placing huge Christmas trees in squares such as Santiago’s Plaza de Armas, which features a tree covered with hundreds of rag dolls.

Given the summer season, it is also not rare to enjoy a barbecue or two around this time of year. Many even opt for the beach, and what’s Christmas without watching a few Christmas specials?! – except you might do so in front a cooling fan and not a cozy fire.

Read more:

An analysis of a Chilean Christmas

Christmas Eve

Perhaps one of the biggest differences to nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States is the day Christmas is celebrated. Here in Chile, you won’t find many families opening presents or having roast dinners on Dec. 25. Instead, the pinnacle of the festivities take place on Christmas Eve.

Presents placed under the Christmas tree are exchanged on Christmas Eve aka La Nochebuena (in English, “the Good Night”). Children often visit their friends after opening gifts, leaving the adults to celebrate late into the night. Many people also head to their local churches to attend Mass and sing carols.

Pan de Pasqua and Cola de mono

At many tables you will find a turkey, but in Chile it is just the opening act to Pan de Pasqua (in English, literally, “Easter bread,” but the connotation here also means “Christmas bread”). 

Originating from early German settlers, the favored dough is made with yeast, marzipan. and crystallized fruit as opposed to dried fruit which the settlers had preferred. Ginger, honey, raisins, walnuts. and almonds are also among the ingredients of Pan de Pascua.

Another delicacy at the Christmas table is “cola de mono” (in English, “monkey’s tail’). This drink replaces eggnog and is enjoyed in other nations, serving as a wonderful accompaniment to Pan de Pasqua. The drink consists of coffee, milk, sugar, and Chilean liquor.

Merry Christmas, Chilean style!

Also read:

Cola de Mono: Grab A Monkey’s Tail This Christmas Eve

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