After all these years of traveling and living in Latin America, I’ve enjoyed many unique holiday traditions.
Some festivals are well known like Day of Dead in Mexico, others are fairly unknown like the Carnival in Peru.
With so many different holidays and festivals happening all around the world, I’ve selected my top 5 most fun and amazing traditions in Latin America which you should be part of at least once in your life.
1. NICARAGUA: La Purisima (Griteria)
La Purisima is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for Nicaraguans, celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
The city of Leon has the tradition of throwing the best La Purisima festivities in the country. And I can assure you that it is crazy fun celebrating this holiday in this city!
The festival starts in front of the cathedral since this is a catholic holiday. Then the bishop is the first one to scream: “What is the cause of so much joy?” and everyone answers: “The Conception of Mary”, and then it is time to go to the streets.
The holiday is also known as The Yelling (La Griteria) because for hours people just yell on the streets these two sentences:
– ¿Quien causa tanta alegría? (What is the cause of so much joy?)
– La concepción de María (The Conception of Mary)
People build altars of the Virgin Mary inside their houses to honor her, they open their door and children and adults visit the decorations by walking all afternoon and yelling hoorays for the virgin.
While visiting the houses and screaming for Mary, the owners give all sorts of random presents, especially to children, from candy, rice, toys to kitchen utensils. It’s like trick-or-treating.
The first time I celebrated La Purisima in Leon, I ended up with a mix of unexpected gifts after hours of walking house to house, besides snacks and drinks, I also was given frijoles (beans), colored pencils, plates and spoons, and a broom. It was great!
La Purisima is a time to give and receive. It’s a party, yes, but it is a happy celebration and people spread joy (or maybe is the Virgin Mary). It is definitely a unique holiday tradition and my favorite to experience in Nicaragua.
2. PERU: Carnival
Forget about any carnival celebration you have in mind; Carnival in Peru has nothing similar to the Brazilian carnival or a mascarade. Peruvian carnival is tradition, faith and an indigenous celebration.
Carnival is usually celebrated in February and is the week before Lent. It is one of the most celebrated holidays in all of Peru, but the North of the country has the best celebrations like Huaraz, Huancayo or Cajamarca.
Cajamarca is actually known as the Capital of the Carnival. Cajamarca’s streets come to life, groups sign carnival songs wearing traditional costumes. It is a carnival queen, parades with floats, contests, more music and a lot of happy people.
One of the traditions during Carnival is throwing water at people. No one is safe on the streets. Children carrying water balloons or water guns and fight on the streets, they become small armies. There are some cities that had to put a schedule to these water fights because a lot of people ended soaking wet just going to work.
Carnival is celebrated in a lot of Peruvian regions and share similar customs and traditions. It’s a time to dance, be surrounded by friends and have a lot of fun.
3. MEXICO: Day of the dead
The Day of the Dead (or Día de los muertos) is by far the most known holiday on this list, and probably around the world. And there is a reason for that, you must experience this tradition in Mexico once in a lifetime.
Since I lived in Mexico for a while I was lucky to celebrate this holiday in several parts of the country, none of them disappointed and most of them have something unique.
Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st. Although, this date is marked as a holiday throughout Latin America and Spain. Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico.
This day the families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration. It is actually a happy celebration!
Cool fact, in 2008, UNESCO included this celebration in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
My first time celebrating this day, I went to a small town close to Cuernavaca city. I didn’t know what to expect, especially when I see my Mexican friends entering a house of a stranger, but that’s part of the tradition.
All around town, we were able to respectfully visit houses where families have built a big altar, commonly known as ofrendas, where they put the favorite food and drinks of the deceased, pictures, flowers and music. I cannot think of a better way to honor the people who pass away than with their favorite things.
This tradition is specially done in small towns and after visiting the ofrendas, you are also offered some food, hot cocoa, a drink or some sweets.
The streets are also full of colors with flowers and pierced papers (papel cortado), skeletons (calacas) and the most known catrinas, skulls decorated and painted with beautiful make-up and traditional dresses. And who haven’t seen the incredible make-ups during this celebration, these are a work of art.
Whatever you walk during these days you will see color and ofrendas, music and food. Mexico City organizes a huge parade this day with live music, too magnificent to absorb visually at once.
What is a celebration without typical food for this day? Pan de Muerto, or bread of the dead, is a typical sweet bread, often cook with anise seeds and the dough on top reminds of bones.
4. GUATEMALA: Flower festival
Imagine the beautiful colve streets in the colonial town of Antigua and millions of colorful flowers around everything.
My mind thinks immediately of good smell and magical sceneries. That’s basically what happens in Antigua during the Flower Festival.
Spring arrives in November, the flowers bloom and it’s the perfect time to walk around this town. Antigua is apparently also known as the “City of Perpetual Roses”, so the festival is a perfect fit for this city.
They organize floral competitions, and stores and houses put flowers everywhere, in the doorways, bicycles, cars, house patios. It is a way of celebrating art and spring at the same time.
Antigua is a beautiful city on its own, but full of flowers it’s gorgeous.
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5. CENTRAL AMERICA: Fiestas Patrias
Every year on the days surrounding September 15th, Central Americans celebrate the time in history when Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador declared their freedom from Spain. These holidays are called “Fiestas Patrias,” which literally translates to “patriotic holidays”.
Mexico also celebrates this holiday the same month on the 16th.
The schools organize performances, traditional dances and parades that go around town. Most of the big stores and businesses close to celebrate too.
Don’t be surprised if the road is suddenly closed because of a parade these days, they usually came with music, cultural displays and a lot of celebration.
September is a month of freedom celebration, but mostly it’s the time they celebrate the cultural and national heritage, their rich and awesome history.
There’s no better time to be in a foreign land than during the festivals because when a country comes out to celebrate, it lets you into the heart and mind of its culture.
Every culture has its own festivities and celebrations. Some of these fiestas find their origin in mythological legends, some are fairly new, but all are so incredible that the entire world wishes to be part of them.
Have you celebrated any of these holidays? Do you have more tips to enjoy them better? Let me know in the comments!
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