Some things take getting used to, and for anyone accustomed to the cold December climes of North America and Europe, Christmas Eve lazing by a rooftop pool under the sun is certainly one of them.
But there’s more to a classic Chilean Christmas than piling on the sunblock. Chileans eat, drink and make merry with the best of them, with some unusual twists to the old traditions that put a refreshing spin on the holidays for foreign visitors spending the season in South America. Read our guide below – and feliz navidad!
Santa Claus is coming to town
Chileans call Santa ‘Viejito Pascuero’, or ‘Old Man Christmas’. A familiar figure throughout South America, he travels by sleigh and reindeer and brings toys and gifts to good boys and girls. Traditionally, he climbs down the chimney or through the window to deliver his presents.
Deck the halls
People get ready for the big day by decorating: families put up Christmas trees and decorations, businesses get in on the fun with trees and nativity scenes, and Christmas displays appear around city centers, such as a huge Christmas Tree in Santiago’s Plaza de Armas. In recent years Christmas lights, once the preserve of wealthier families, have become hugely popular and can be seen along city streets and on houses and balconies.
Eat, drink and be merry
The big family dinner is held on Christmas Eve, with parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins gathering to celebrate together. Roast turkey is now common, although beef and other meats are possible, accompanied by traditional Chilean foods – potatoes, vegetables, sometimes rice.
Adults toast the season with Chile’s famed red wine and a traditional drink called ‘Cola de Mono’ or ’Monkey’s Tail’ is served during Christmas and New Year’s. Fruity ‘Pan de Pascua’, the Chilean Christmas cake, is eaten as ‘onces’ (‘elevenses’) throughout the season.
All I want for Christmas…
Gifts are laid out under the Christmas Tree and exchanged and opened at midnight on Christmas Eve. Kids sometimes head straight out to friends’ houses or into the streets to show off new toys, while adults stay up late celebrating.
A more relaxed day than in North America or Europe, Christmas Day is a time to enjoy gifts, play with new toys and visit friends and family. Some families make the most of the southern summer by heading to the pool or beach on Christmas Day, while Christmas films and shows are shown on TV for those who prefer to spend time at home.