• Yoshika Lowe

Christmas in Latin America

Latin America is the area of the Americas where Spanish or Portuguese are the prevalent language. Latin America can be divided into four common sub-regions: North America, Central America, Caribbean and South America. Since all Latin American countries were colonized at some point by various European powers, they share many of the same customs as their European colonizers.

The noche buena (poinsettia); photo credit: Tony Hisgett

Throughout Latin America, Christmas is one of the most important celebrations of the year. People decorate with nativity scenes and lights. Although most people in the US feast and open presents on Christmas Day, many Hispanic families celebrate on Christmas Eve, called Nochebuena. Though traditions vary from country to country, all involve celebrating with food, music, family and friends.

After the Nochebuena meal, many children play with sparklers and various other fireworks. Presents are opened at midnight and Papá Noel brings presents for good boys and girls. As predominantly Catholic and Christian countries, church attendance is an important part of celebrating and remembering the reason for Christmas. For Catholic families, the church service is a midnight mass called misa de gallo, or “rooster’s mass."

During the period between 1900-1960, 90% of Latin Americans were Catholic. However, the most recent Pew Research survey* indicates that now only 69% of adults profess to be Catholic. In nearly every Latin American country that was surveyed, people have been switching from Catholicism to Protestantism or rejecting church altogether. The survey also indicated that Protestants attend church more frequently and pray more often than their Catholic counterparts. They were also more likely to read their Bibles outside of religious services. Despite the large numbers of the faithful, there are many countries in Latin America that are plagued by gang violence, drug trafficking and guerrillas.

Prayer Point

Pray for the people of Latin America. Pray against the increasing power and violence of gangs and drug traffickers. Pray for the dissolution of guerrillas and paramilitary groups. Pray for the hearts and minds of young men who are gang members to be set free from the anger and hatred that drives them. Many of these groups persecute and kill Christians who speak out against them. Pray for the persecuted church all across Latin America. Pray for strength, protection and guidance of the Christians who endure daily attacks from grangs, drug traffickers, guerrillas and paramilitary groups.

*2014, Pew Research