¡Feliz Navidad! Latin Christmas traditions

Published on Chanhassen Villager, January 2013 -article by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard.  Latin Christmas traditions center around family and faith. Posadas are popular in Mexico and Guatemala and have been around for hundreds of years. Posadas are religious processions that center on the Catholic faith, a practice that came to Latin America through Spain.

In Guatemala, children carry faroles (handmade colorful lanterns). A child or an adult beat on a turtle shell with a stick to the rhythm of tu-cu-ti-cu-tu throughout the whole procession to signal to neighborhoods that the procession is going by.

Posadas run from Dec 16 through the birth of Christ and are visits to homes requesting lodging culminating with the last visit to the church. Posadas portray nine visits or the months that Mary was pregnant with baby Jesus. The visits include prayers and caroling and in some instances piñata breaking.

Other traditions of the season with uncertain origins and possibly dating to the colonial period practiced in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela are the simulated stealing of baby Jesus by an anonymous thief and his accomplices (usually friends of the family) during a friendly visit to their home. This is usually between Christmas and New Year’s.

When the alleged theft is discovered, the affected family commissions a search party to find the offender, or the offender reveals himself or herself to the family after a few days. When the return is arranged, this event is followed by a ritual that varies by country and region that culminates in a party, often times organized by the offender.

During the celebration people drink and eat treats typical of the season, including Ponche de Piña or Ponche de Frutas (fresh pineapple or fruits hot punch) and Tamales Navideños (Christmas tamales). Then people dance (sometimes to live music) and may drink more punch spiked with aguardiente (sugar cane spirits) or rum. Ponche de Frutas is a cozy and delicious Christmas hot drink from Guatemala.


Fresh Pineapple and Dried Fruits Hot Holiday Punch

The aromas that permeate the kitchen when you’re making ponche de frutas scream, “Christmas!” You can make this punch with just pineapple or with other fresh and dried fruits. Some adults like to spike it with Guatemalan aguardiente or rum. There’s no more festive and scrumptious drink for entertaining guests or serving with Tamales Navideños (Christmas tamales) during the holidays. It keeps for days in the refrigerator.

Serves 4 to 6 people


Bolsita de Especias (Spice Sachet)

1/2 canela stick (Ceylon cinnamon)

1 star anise

6 allspice berries

6 cloves

6 black peppercorns

3 cups water

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup finely chopped pineapple

1/4 cup diced apples

1/4 cup diced peaches

1/2 cup sliced dried fruits

2 tablespoons raisins

6 sliced dried pitted prunes

Guatemalan dark rum or Indita (Guatemalan

sugarcane aguardiente) or other rum of

choice (optional)

1. Enclose all the spices in a 4×4-inch piece of cheesecloth. Tie with kitchen twine, leaving long string. Tie the string to the handle of a medium saucepan and place the sachet inside the pan.

2. Add the water and sugar to the pan and bring to a quick boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until aromatic (about 10 minutes).

3. Add all the fresh and dried fruits and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust sweetness or spices, if needed.

4. Serve the punch in mugs with bits of fruit and some rum, if you like.

Amalia’s Note: You can make this punch in a crock-pot. Simply combine all ingredients in the crock-pot and set it on high. When the punch is aromatic, adjust the heat to the lowest setting, and let it sit until you’re ready to serve it. The punch tastes even better on day two.

Amalia Moreno-Damgaard is an Eden Prairie-based professional chef and author who specializes in Latin and Spanish cuisine and culture, and is a frequent contributor to the Chanhassen Villager. Amalia uses cuisine as a platform to educate others about cultural synergies in Latin America. Learn more about her at www.AmaliaLLC.com, or contact her at [email protected].