Christmas in Guatemala: Christmas Eve and Day
Many Guatemalans choose to spend December 24 at home with their families. Others participate in public festivities. In the city of Antigua the clanging of church bells at midday kicks off the Christmas Eve celebrations. As the afternoon wears on, the air begins to ring with the sound of firecrackers and other explosives. Men wearing the traditional costumes and oversized pasteboard heads of the gigantes and cabezudos ("giants” and "big-heads”) march through the main streets accompanied by folk musicians. In the evening performers dressed as bulls with fireworks strapped to their backs entertain the crowds. When the fuses are lit these men, called toritos ("little bulls”), charge through the streets like their namesakes. A formal fireworks display follows. At night a procession wends its way towards the cathedral for the celebration of Midnight Mass.
Traditionally, Guatemalans waited until after Midnight Mass to enjoy their Christmas dinner, although nowadays some people dine earlier. Children open their presents on Christmas Eve after dinner. Parents and other adults generally wait until New Year’s Day to exchange gifts. A traditional Christmas dinner includes tamales, bundles of corn dough wrapped around a filling of meat and sauce, and ponche, or "punch,” a sweet made from plums, raisins, dates, brown sugar, and liquor. According to folk beliefs, Jesus was born at the stroke of twelve on Christmas Eve (see also Misa de Gallo). Therefore, fireworks explode at midnight, commemorating the moment of the holy birth. On Christmas Day fireworks and celebrations begin again at noon.