Christmas is the most important celebration for Venezuelan people. It is the time to gather with friends and family to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. In every corner of the country, there are traditions that all Venezuelans have. On Christmas Eve, patinatas (street party where people eat and dance, while the kids ride their new bikes and skates), presents are exchanged, traditional Venezuelan Christmas foods like hallacas, ham bread and chicken salad are consumed. The Christmas Tree and the Nativity Scene, Venezuelan Christmas Carols, Midnight Mass, fireworks and firecrackers on New Year’s Eve. Spanish, African and Indigenous cultures influence the way Christmas is celebrated in the various states of Venezuela, which goes from November to February.
In Zulia state, Christmas starts on Nov 18, with the celebration of their patron Saint Chinita. It is a festival that last for days and locals organise precessions and listen to their regional music called Gaitas Zulianas. They play musical instruments that Venezuelan people use during this time of the year, the maracas, the Cuatro (The Venezuelan guitar with 4 strings) and the Furruco (a drum originally from Andalusia that is used to play Villancicos, Spanish Carols)
In the Andes, at the beginning of January, people celebrate La Paradura del Niño, a religious festival for Jesus Baby. Locals create the largest and most artistic Nativity Scenes in the whole country. In a theatrical play, one person will steal the image of Baby Jesus and the other characters will have to find it.
Venezuela adopted, from its European heritage, the tradition of wearing costumes and masks, as well as doing interchanging characters roles of authority and gender. In many states and in different ways, On December 28, Venezuelan people celebrate Fools Day. One of them is Los Locos y Locaínas (The Mad People) that take place in Mérida, Trujillo y Portuguesa states. They organise a theatrical play where the characters that play the crazy people wear dirty cloths and masks. The women usually dress like men, the children like old people and vice versa. They recreate funny scenes accompanied by live music.
In Lara state, locals commemorate the same festival, but it is more religious. They organise processions, prayers and children’s performances while playing their own Merengues Larenses music.
On the same day, in Monagas state the locals have La Fiesta del Mono (The Monkey party), which originates from an indigenous ritual. The person that does the character of the monkey dances and plays around, making a conga line around the whole town.
Also on Vargas state, some of the towns celebrate el Gobierno de las Mujeres (The Women’s Government). Women will dress like men, representing the authorities on the streets, while the men will stay at home cleaning, cooking and looking after the children.
In Caracas, Christmas starts when a massive cross lights up on top of the Avila Mountain, from December 1st to January 6. It measures 37 metres in length and 18 metres in width. Both, the cross and the mountain are iconic symbols for the city. In Bolivar and Nueva Esparta states, the Christmas festivals are related to their daily life of hunting and fishing.
As people who celebrate Christmas, it does not matter where we are or where we come from. We should bring along our spirit everywhere we go. We should know that there is nothing like celebrating with family and friends, singing and dancing our music, eating our traditional dishes, making the traditions of other countries ours, like in Venezuela we buy natural pine trees imported all the way from Canada. We also have some beliefs that other cultures would think we are superstitious, eating 12 grapes and lentils, having money in the pockets, wear yellow clothing and crossing the road with a suitcase just after 12am on New Year’s, so we could have health, abundance, luck and vacation on the coming year.
Let’s celebrate life and bring it on every year!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all of you from Sentir Venezuela-Dance Group!
By Carla Soto
Photos source: google.com