South America is a very traditional continent, and Christmas celebrations are very religious and diverge from country to country. There are processions and re-enactments of the birth of Jesus but there are also recitals, dances, and rituals which are more in tune with ancient pagan traditions, like making wishes in a candle lantern.
The main celebration occurs on the evening of the 24th December, called the Noche Buena. In the South American Christmas, is a time when families converge for hearty meals, open presents brought in some cases by the baby Jesus, in some countries by Santa Claus and in some countries they just open presents with the family.
Latin Americans have great parties with traditional music and attend Missa de Gallo (Misa do Galo in Brazil), a late-night mass which is said to be such a long and drawn-out affair that most people don’t get home until the rooster crows. Galo means rooster in both Spanish and Portuguese. The 25th December, families get together to enjoy another delicious feast with the extended families.
The most relevant seasonal dishes in Latin America are Pan de Pascua in Chile (Bread filled with fruits and nuts), Tamales in Peru (seasoned meat and maize flour steamed or baked in maize husks), Moros y Cristianos in Cuba (White rice and black beans), Hallacas in Venezuela (corn dough stuffed with a stew of beef, pork, and chicken, folded in plantain leaves, tied with strings, and boiled), Peru in Brazil (Turkey in Portuguese) served with potato salad.
The Epiphany, which falls on the 6th January every year, is the official last day of Christmas celebrations in most of South America. This is the day when the Latino world celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings bearing gifts for Jesus. The Dia de los Reyes Magos, or day of the Three Wise Men, is yet another day of festivities and culminates in the removal of all Christmas decorations.