Christmas in Nicaragua

Christmas in Nicaragua resembles Christmas elsewhere in that it varies much with the individual and family. For some it is deeply religious, for others it is a more secular holiday that provides an excuse for family gatherings, and for others still it`s a giant exercise in hyper-consumerism.

You see some families sponsoring prayer sessions in their homes or yards and people going to services in their church or cathedral. People often travel from across the country or from abroad to visit relatives. Big family dinners are a big part of these reunions. Downtown is crowded with both vehicles and pedestrians, and here in Esteli they give a lot of publicity to extended business hours at the stores. Firecrackers and public drunkenness also somehow fit into the celebrations.

The biggest difference I noticed from Christmas in the United States is that Christmas dinner here is a rather informal thing that takes place at midnight on the 24th instead of a formal dinner on the afternoon of Christmas day. I`m sure it varies from family to family, with the Evangelicals being the odd man out because they don`t drink, but Christmas here seems like a drunken wingding like New Years in the States. Many people stay up drinking heavily, often with the women talking in one part of the house and the men drinking in another.

New Years has its parties, too, but I think a little tamer than in the United States--probably too soon after the big Xmas blowout.

On the practical level, taxis and international buses are running, but ordinarios and expressos will be shut down for one day. These buses will also tend to be humongously crowded before and after the holiday. Here in the North, some restaurants and hotels will be closed for the 24th and 25th. Banks will be shut and very crowded before and after. Government offices are shut down for many days and will be semi-functional when they reopen.

December is a good time to travel in Nicaragua because the weather tends to be pleasant--cool, sunny, and calm. Just have your reservations and try to be in place before the holiday rush.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


To follow up the above by Billy Bob, which contains excellent information, here are some of my random thoughts:

As in most Latin cultures, Christmas is actually not that much of a big deal in Nicaragua. Easter week (Semana Santa) is the major annual holiday and plays the same role here that X-mas plays in North America and western Europe. Christmas is almost an afterthought. For most Nicaraguans, the X-mas season is basically not much more than a time to take advantage of the fact that you don't have to pretend to go to work for a whole week.

The common practice here is for extended families to gather on the afternoon of X-mas eve for dinner. The traditional dish for this holiday is Relleno Navideño, a time-consuming, labour-intensive, milky stew of various murky chicken and pork cuts, spices, herbs and dried fruits. Here is an authentic recipe for this dish:

My beloved cooks this dish for me every X-mas eve. The first taste of it makes me nauseous I but don't have the heart to tell her. I hope that one day she gives up and makes me pre-fab stovetop stuffing from a package.

The few Nicaraguan Catholics who remain truly pious and devout make an extra effort to go to mass on the morning of X-mas eve. Beyond that, there ain't much goin' on at the local basilica. In most other Latin countries, the RC church holds a special midnight X-mas eve mass that is remarkably beautiful and moving. The Nica RC churches make a stab at it too but I am told these masses are poorly-attended and not nearly as aesthetic. Most Nicaraguans can't stay up that late at night because they all like to get up in the wee hours of the morning so that they can get an early start on doing nothing for the rest of the day.

On X-mas day the cities and large towns empty out and are dead, dead, dead. Large extended family groups pack into trucks, taxis and rented buses to head to the beaches and rivers to party hearty for days on end. Many of them sleep on the beaches and use them as their personal latrines and garbage dumps. Fly-specked food and liquor vendors pop up on the beaches like mushrooms after a cold, hard rain. They advertise their wares by playing ear-splitting hip-hop selections on ghetto boxes cranked up to the highest setting, well past the point where reverb distortion kicks in, 24 hours a day.

The bootleg, methanol-infused liquor flows like wine and the beaches are gaily decorated by streamers of soiled toilet paper. Don't forget to bring a rusty machete to settle scores with your wife's youngest brother who's being making google-eyes lately at at the luscious, adolescent, nubile young niece you've been trying to cut out of the family harem for a whole year so that you can have her all to yourself when she finally comes into heat!

The large and growing number of Nicaraguan evangelical Christians want nothing to do with celebrating Christmas. They associate all traditional X-mas celebrations with the corruption, paganism, sexual perversion, substance abuse and overall degeneracy of everyday life in Nicaragua, which they associate (unkindly but not inaccurately) with Catholicism. Their approach is to lock themselves up in their cultos starting in the early in the afternoon of X-Mas eve and stay there into the wee hours of X-mas morning, praying and moaning to themselves as if to shut out the noise and drunken disorder of a Nicaraguan holiday in the post-civil-war era.

Some practical considerations:

Most businesses stay open for extended hours leading up until X-mas and then shut down early in the afternoon of X-mas eve. Then it's back to full business on the day after Christmas.

In the run-up to X-mas, the Walmart-owned Pali supermarkets become even more crowded, filthy and out-of-stock; and as hard as it is to believe, their cashiers become even more surly, abusive and incompetent than usual. This is one of the times of year when I envy people who live in cities that are big enough to support higher-end supermarkets such as La Union or Colonia, or cities like Estelí, which have a range of independent supermarkets.

As an alternative, most of the food stalls in the open-air markets shut down shortly after noon on the day before X-mas but there are always several that stay open all day and re-open on X-mas day.

A wise strategy would be to plan to avoid the Palis for 3 or 4 days leading up to the X-mas rush. My advice is to stock up and refrigerate foods that no-one in his right mind would buy in the open-air markets, such as meats and dairy, several days before X-mas Eve. Otherwise, you can pick up just about any basic foodstuffs you want right through X-mas day and beyond in the open-air markets. Vegetarians should have no trouble putting together a meal from stuff they buy in the open-air markets on X-mas day.

As Billy Bob notes, all the banks close for a couple of days. For whatever reason, their ATMS also lose tend to lose the will to live and shut down at some point around noon on the day before X-mas and may not re-open until several days after X-mas. This means you have to stock up on cash in advance to see you through these days.

Forget about getting any service from government offices between the week before X-mas and Tues. Jan. 8.

Do not under any circumstances hit the road between the morning of X-mas eve and the day after X-mas, whether you are taking public transit or driving. The roads will be so clogged you won't get anywhere, and 50% of the other drivers will be more drunk than a Sandinista government functionary on a free junket to Cuba to attend a memorial service to commemorate Muammar Gaddafi's contributions to anti-colonialism.

Now let's talk turkey: You can get these frozen butterball things at just about any supermarket but don't forget that they can take as long as 4 days in the frig to dethaw and another day to cook. Buy one at least 5 days in advance.

OK I'm done. Feliz Navidad!

Christmas dinner

I had the chance a few years back to buy the Christmas Dinner meat and asked my Nica family that I was staying with what they prefered ham or turkey? Oh pavo please, I was waitng for the prices to go down at Pali as the date got closer and it did the day before and I bought one, when I returned with it they said they had something to tell me. OK what is it? We don't know how to cook one. I took it for granted that they have had turkey before, but like many things I learned that this was not the case. So I said it so happens I do. I went back to the store to find stuffing and tried some other stores and none was to be found, so I grabbed some nacatomale mix (masa mix) cut up and added vegtables and chicken broth and stuffed the thing, made a baste out of 1/2 honey and pineapple juice with fresh peices of pineaple on top held on with some wooden picks, I could not find tooth pics. We had the midnight dinner and everyone seemed to like it. The next day I thought we would be eating left overs, but didn't see the turkey in the fridge and non was being served, but later found it still in the oven and thought they didn't like it, but in the end they liked it so much they didn't want some of the others staying there to know about it? So I guess it worked out OK in the end.

Just a note on ...

"The bootleg, methanol-infused liquor flows like wine..." It's not that I don't recognize sarcasm laid down with poetic license, but gross misinformation in an otherwise factual context needs correction. Methanol in guaro was a one time tragedy that killed some 45 people here in Leon & Poneloya. My neighbor, a handsome, young man from a prominent family, survived albeit permanently brain-damaged. Extending homemade rum with methanol was a stupid mistake (aimed at boosting profit) that arose from honest ignorance. Methanol is delivered by tank truck from ships that dock in Corinto to a foam manufacturer in Tipitapa. With paperwork reading methyl alcohol, so like ethyl alcohol, one wonders if the 'm' wasn't legible or 'they' just read no further than 'alcohol'. From whaterever private germ of stupidity, a driver worked out a deal with bootleggers in nearby Chichigalpa, to siphon off a couple hundred gallons to be blended with their usual distillate for local distribution. It's sold out of 55-gal plastic drums with ladle & funnel for a buck a liter (bring your own jug). No one intended to kill their own best customers. Many went to jail. And guaro was hard to buy for a couple months.

Most of the stuff sold by hawkers on the beaches during feriada is cheap off-brands like Perla, Caballo & Ron Plata, not Pellas' FdC. Cane field workers can't afford aged FdC.

Lest any gringo mistakenly nurture a superiority complex to 'those dumb Nicas', remember all those north American kids that die or become disfunctional schizoids from poorly cooked meth, doped (or excess) oxycotin, ecstasy, smack, crack, &c., &c. in vain attempts to temporarily relieve the pains of life in the modern world. (Not to mention the bums & derelicts deliberately drinking photocopy toner &/or spoons of Sterno - both direct sources of methanol.)

What I've heard regarding Christmas stealing around here

It's a combination of traveling pros and coffee workers who have now run through the money they made last season. Getting a lump sum or a couple of big payouts during coffee cutting season -- it's not easy to budget big money all at once that well (writers actually have a same problem, but are a bit more likely to be able to borrow against the next contract).

The stealing season around here apparently is over in February when the coffee money starts up again. Or so I was told.

Rebecca Brown

good advice..

i used to enjoy xmas down there trying real hard to commercialize it ..pricesmart and the malls had xmas stuff.out in sept..bahhhhh

One interesting thing

is that I read a history of the Jacksonian period (early 1800s) in the US and it said that the per capita alcohol consumption was 3 times the current rate in the US. Pretty amazing when you consider that in that time the US was a ``poor, third world`` country of small farmers with little cash.

"Anything that is complex is not useful and anything that is useful is simple. This has been my whole life's motto."

Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian inventor

the water was bad..

had to have something safe to drink


poor farmers didn't need to buy alcohol.

Discovery Channel