As a predominantly Catholic country, Christmas (Navidad in Spanish) is widely celebrated in Bolivia. Traditions are similar to those in the west although there are some differences. It is celebrated in more or less the same fashion across the different states and provinces.
In the month leading up to Christmas the decorations start to go up. The government erects huge trees and colourful lights in the main plazas and public spaces. Most families get into the spirit by decorating their apartments inside and out with an abundance of flashing lights. The light show is particularly spectacular when viewed at night from the Teleferico (cable car system). Thousands of mutlicoloured blinking lights can be seen across the entire valley, from one end of the city to another.
Father Christmas is known as Papa Noel over here. He’s pretty much the same; a fat, jolly old man in a red suit who gives presents to children. Talking photos of him under a Christmas tree in a shopping mall or town plaza is a popular attraction for families.
Smaller towns celebrate in much the same way although with less extravagance due to their a harsher economic situation. A small number of indigenous Bolivians reject Christianity altogether and prefer to focus on their own beliefs and traditions instead.
The 24th of December is the important day in Bolivia, as it is in most of Europe. Bolivian families get together and share a traditional dinner called Picana which is a hearty soup consisting of beef, chicken, lamb, pork, potatoes, corn and various other vegetables and spices. It tastes surprisingly good (despite it’s appearance), but it doesn’t compare to the huge turkey with all the trimmings feasts that are common in the west.
Most families have a serious religious session after dinner. It is Jesus´ birthday after all. This typically consists of singing, praying or reading the bible.
As midnight approaches, people start to congratulate each other and wish each other a Merry Christmas. Some families even do a count down, similar to what westerners do for New Years. Then they begin with the fireworks. From the rooftop of our hosts house in Santa Cruz we could see the whole city letting off their fireworks at once. It´s mayhem for about 10 minutes or so but then dies down. People still let off the odd cracker into the wee hours of the morning however.
After the fireworks display the adults enjoy a well deserved drink or ten, while the kids frantically open their presents. Many families stay up well into the night drinking and socialising.
The 25th is basically just a rest day to relax and recover from hangovers. Pretty much what we do on boxing day.