Venezuela Holiday Traditions: Bright Spots in a Crisis

Venezuelan holiday traditions are fun and colorful, we don’t miss a chance of celebrating and having some fun together with family and friends. No wonder we have so many holidays and free days per year. Christmas is very special, unlike other countries and nationalities we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Halloween, we devote more time, effort, and energy to Christmas than any other holiday.

The Manger

Each home has its own manger, the bigger and more elaborate the better. Some families create full landscapes and mini rivers and fountains, while others use special lights and add grass or sand to make it more real. Those who cannot be left out are Virgin Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. Then you may add the Angel that told Mary she was pregnant, the mule and the ox, the three wise men, some shepherds and some cattle, houses, bridges, bushes and more.

Many families dedicate one day to settle their manger, it is a family activity that involves all the children since they are the ones who enjoy placing the little dolls in the right place the most. On the 25th of December, baby Jesus is born and therefore placed in the manger next to his father and mother in a wooden crib.

Families, especially in the Andean region of the country, celebrate the “Paradura del Niño”, a day in January to worship and sing songs to baby Jesus who is carried from one house to another, receiving kisses and prayers. The manger is sometimes kept until February when baby Jesus was presented to God in the temple. He is then removed and placed carefully in boxes, waiting for next Christmas.

The Hallaca

This is the main Christmas dish. It is similar to Mexican Tamale, but with different ingredients. It is an individual pie made with corn flour, stuffed with pork-chicken-beef stew, wrapped in plantain leaves and then boiled. Apparently, it has the most humble origins imaginable. Slaves in Venezuela would ask for the remains of their Master’s food and which would be served in plantain leaves, this eventually evolved and the Hallaca was born. It may include, according to the region and besides the meat stew, onions, potatoes, olives, egg, chickpeas, almonds, raisins or dried prunes.

The Hallaca is now a very expensive dish and the prices of its ingredients go particularly high in December. This year, in my family, we had our Hallacas without special ingredients, we just had the stew since the price would double if the rest were to be added. Still, it’s one thing that cannot be ignored during Christmas. Celebrating Christmas without Hallaca is one of the things that the Venezuelan diaspora suffer under the most. Being abroad and not having that traditional taste for holidays can pull some people down, so our migrants have decided to look for the ingredients and make their own Hallaca on foreign soil. If you have a Venezuelan friend, you may be invited to try this dish together. If you are, you can consider yourself part of the family.

Something New, Something Old, Something Yellow?

Superstitions are deeply rooted in Venezuelan traditions, especially for New Year’s Eve.

  • Want to have a new boyfriend/girlfriend this year? Jump on a chair.
  • Long for traveling abroad? Take a suitcase and go for a walk around the block.
  • Do you want good luck and money in general? Wear yellow underwear.
  • Do you need abundance in your life? Eat a plate full of lentils.
  • In order for twelve wishes to come true, eat twelve grapes following the rhythm of the countdown to New Years.
  • Wear new clothes on the 24th and 31st to receive the New Year with a new spirit and throw away old and bad things.

Venezuela: Holidays vs. Crisis

It is not easy to continue with family and Christian traditions in the middle of an economic crisis. Hallaca is very difficult to make due to the high prices of the ingredients, for example, olives cost approximately $100 per kilo (a million Bolivars), something we have never seen before. Moods are not at their best and some people have decided to stay at home and not even trying celebrating something that could cost a year worth of salary. Others have decided to just have Hallaca (and forget about pork, cake, wine, etc).

But even during wars, people get married, babies are born and Christmas is celebrated. We cannot forget those moments that are filled with laughter and happiness. The few days to enjoy life and enjoy being alive next to those you love. It is not about living in a bubble and forgetting about reality. Just because you laugh doesn’t mean you don’t care. It is about preserving that family bubble that will give us the strength to keep fighting and resisting until the storm ends and the rainbow may reappear.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

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