Colorful Christmas in Bolivia

The Jesuit reduction in San Jose de Chiquitos
••• Getty Images/Christian Ender

Christmas in Bolivia is one of the most important holidays in the country and continues to be rich in tradition and deeply religious. Many Bolivians consider themselves Christian with 95 percent of the population being Roman Catholic and the remaining are Protestants. However, the indigenous heritage of the country makes for interesting traditions, many of which are unique in South America.

Religion

Like in Venezuela, the most important time for this holiday is Christmas Eve when people go to the Misa del Gallo or mass of the rooster, which is affectionately called that because families often return very early in the morning or the time of the rooster.

One of the unique traditions of Christmas in Bolivia involves not only bringing a small Baby Jesus to the church as an offering but also an offering that reflects their profession, so a cobbler may bring small shoes or a baker may bring a small loaf of bread.

The holiday continues through to the Epiphany on January 6 when children receive gifts. The night before children will place their shoes outside their door and the Three Kings bring presents during the night, just as they did originally with Jesus.

With a strong indigenous population in Bolivia, this is also harvested time and is a celebration of Mother Earth, thanking her for the generosity in the past and hope for the future.

Christmas Food in Bolivia

Family celebrations begin when they return home from midnight mass with a traditional Bolivian dinner and festivities.

Unlike North America, Christmas in Bolivia takes place in summer and it is warm so it is common for families to toast with cold drinks.

Dinner consists of picana a soup made with meat and spices accompanied by salad, fruit and roasted meat.

The next morning it is tradition to drink hot chocolate and eat buñuelos pastries.

Christmas Decorations in Bolivia

Although Western traditions are slowly becoming incorporated into Bolivian households it is not common to decorate the outside of homes or have a Christmas tree.

Instead, the most important decoration in a Bolivian home is the pesebre or nativity scene, which is also sometimes called a nacimiento. It is the centerpiece in the family home and also prominent in the church. It is also common to see gourds carved and decorated to create small nativity scenes.

However, as time passes it is becoming more common to see European or North American style decorations accompany the traditional items and Christmas trees are slowly becoming a popular holiday decoration.

Christmas Traditions in Bolivia

Although families are slowly adapting outside Christmas traditions of turkey, Christmas trees and exchanging presents, there are many interesting traditions unique to the country.

Traditionally Bolivians have not exchanged presents over Christmas. Children received gifts on Epiphany on January 6th by leaving shoes outside their door for the Three Kings who would fill them with presents.

One tradition that remains strong is giving a canasta which is a basket of good from an employer to their employees. While simple, it is very large as it is a gift to the employee's family. Each family receives a gift basket with staple foods along with Christmas items such a cookies and candies.

Like many countries in South America, the sound of Christmas in Bolivia is often the bang of firecrackers. As everyone is up and celebrating, the noise can last all night as families enjoy fireworks which often rival the Fourth of July in the US.