During the Christmas period, spirituality and reflection are equally as important as family time. For many Christian nations, going to church is an important marker during this holiday period. There are many ways to get to church: walking, driving, public transport or even cycling. But none are as cool as the skating tradition from… Venezuela!
Venezuelan El Niño Jesus Myth:
In many countries around the world, Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas travel the entire world in one night to deliver presents to well-behaved children. However, unlike other cultures where a jolly old man in red hands out presents; in Venezuela, it is said that El Niño Jesus (Little Baby Jesus) is the one that brings them.
In the Christian religion, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Due to Venezuela’s strong Catholic roots, many households will have ‘pesebres’ (nativity scenes) on display. Representing the manger, all the important figures are represented except the little baby Jesus. He is only placed in the manger on the night of December 24th after midnight. Some regions of Venezuela organise the paranda del niño (The Parade of the Child) during the Novenas (9 days before Christmas) where participants sing, play music and stop by every person’s house for food and drinks. They then end the procession by depositing the baby in a large manger in the town or village square.
« Each year in my town, a family was chosen to take care of the baby Jesus and lead the procession from house to house. As we walked, people would gather and join us. The doors would be closed and we would sing « open your house ». At each stop, we would eat and drink from decorated tables. Though, each town has its own traditions involving the baby Jesus, » explains Cora (61).
On the Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), around midnight, the little baby Jesus places the gifts under or around the children’s beds. Children then wake up the next morning full of joy and excitement at seeing what the baby Jesus has brought them.
For Venezuelans, the Navidad (Christmas) period starts around mid-November with the La Chinita (Virgin Day) celebration. From December 1st onwards, traditional Venezuelan Christmas music will be played. One example is the Gaita. Originally from the Zulia state of Venezuela, this music is played by a special set of string and percussion instruments. Another type of music that is popular for this time of year is the Aguinaldos y Parrandas that sound very similar to carols. In fact, some Venezuelans go singing from house to house during the Navidad period to share the Christmas spirit.
Many of the Venezuelan Navidad traditions revolve around Christ. On December 24th, many Venezuelans will go to midnight mass called Miso de Gallo to commemorate the birth of Christ. One of the most famous and unique traditions is rollerskating to church. Originating from around the sixties, this tradition is still popular in Venezuela today. During the Novenas, from December 16 to 25 people would wake up early, grab their patinadas (skates) and go to a place, usually a plaza, where a mass known as Misa de Aguinaldo would be celebrated. This tradition is so popular that the police block streets from traffic so that people can rollerskate safely.
Cora remembers, « We would wake up at around 1 am, put on our skates and go from house to house to get our friends. As kids, we would sometimes go a long way to get to the 6 am mass. »
Some Venezuelans will also clean their houses before Christmas and repaint the facades so that their houses look fresh and new for the new year.
Venezuelan Christmas Food:
Food and its preparation play a crucial role during the Navidad Period. Not only does it serve to nourish bodies, but also to bring families close together.
Zonia, Cora’s niece explains, « It takes 2 to 3 days to prepare all the food and usually involves 5-6 people. » The whole family would get together, sing songs, listen to music whilst making the food. In Venezuelan culture, everyone has a role, from children to grandparents. On Christmas Eve, after the midnight mass, the family will gather together to enjoy the delicious feast.
Zonia explains that traditional Venezuelan food has some roots from the Spanish colonisation of the country. « The Indigenous people used what they could find after the colonisers took what they wanted. Corn thus became a very important staple in our diet. »
Tables will be garnished with traditional dishes such as Pan de jamón (bread stuffed with ham, green olives and raisins), Pernil (Roasted pork leg marinated for 1 day) and hallacas. Hallacas are a traditional Venezuelan Christmas tamale composed of corn dough, meat, some garnish and then wrapped in plantain leaves before being tied and boiled.
« Every family has their version of hallacas and usually we make enough of them to last a month. It’s funny; everyone says ‘my mother makes the best ones’. When I lived in Venezuela, we would offer each other hallacas as gifts! » notes Cora.
Other foods that you will see on a Venezuelan table include chicken and potato salads, Dulce de Lechosa ( A green papaya jam with pieces of papaya) and a Torta Negra.
The Torta Negra will take a month to make using molasses and candied fruits before being marinated in rum until it looks black.Rum is a very popular liquor in Venezuela and therefore it is unsurprising that it is also used on the Christmas menu! A typical drink that will accompany the meal is Ponche: an eggnog type drink made from… you guessed it! Rum!
Should you ever wander into Venezuela during Navidad, grab a bottle of rum, roll up your sleeves and do not forget your skates! And always remember these magic words: