In Central and South American nations, which have a fairly large Christian population, the Nativity or Manger Scene is the main decoration in homes at Christmas time. In Mexico, a Christmas tree may also be set up in some homes along with the Nativity scene or Nacimiento. The Christmas tree is usually a small artificial tree, called arbolito. It can also be as simple as a branch cut from a special type of tree or a type of shrub that is then minimally decorated. The primary Christmas celebration in Mexico is called La Posada. It is a religious procession that dramatizes how Joseph and Mary tried to find a place where Jesus could be born. During the procession, the participants carry images of Mary and Joseph and go from house to house seeking a place to stay. During Midnight Mass, which is called la misa del gallo or ‘rooster’s mass,’ those in attendance sing lullabies to Jesus. On Christmas Day children receive gifts as well as candies that are stuffed into a piñata. This may be one or more sculptures made of papier mache that are hung from the ceiling. Children are blindfolded and take turns hitting the piñata until it breaks and scatters the candies on the floor. All the children then scamper around as they try to get as much candy as they can. Children also receive a gift on Jan. 6 from the Three Wise Men, if they were good.
People in Venezuela usually put out pesebres, which show the Nativity scene, on Dec. 16. Early morning church services, called Misa de Aguinaldo, are also common from Dec. 16 to Christmas Eve. After Mass on Christmas Eve, a grand dinner is traditionally enjoyed.
In Argentina, red and white garlands are used to decorate houses. After attending Midnight Mass, Argentinians have a meal, toast each other, dance and go out to see fireworks. The meal may be roasted pork or turkey, stuffed tomatoes, mince pies, Christmas bread and puddings. Drinks such as cider and juice made from different fruits are used for the toast. Christmas gifts are opened on Christmas Eve just before the family retires to bed.
In Chile, Santa Claus is Father Christmas and is known as ‘Viejito Pascuero.’ He arrives in a similar but slightly different manner than Santa Claus because his reindeer is pulled by a taxicab. Chileans use small figures made from clay to place near the Christmas tree in a display called pesebre to show the Nativity story. The traditional Christmas dinner includes chicken soup with stuffed potatoes, onions and corn on the cob. Another favorite item is a Christmas bread that is called pan de pasqua and which is made with candies and fruits.
Christmas customs in Brazil originate from the many different ethnic groups who make up the country. The Nativity scene is called the Presepio and can commonly be found displayed in homes, churches and stores. Papai Noel, or Father Noel, resides in Greenland and brings gifts at Christmas. He is said to wear silk clothing because Christmas occurs during summer when it is very hot in Brazil. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is called Missa do Gallo, because the coming day is announced by the rooster and the Mass finishes at 1 am on the following day. A traditional Christmas dinner, called Ceia de Natal, includes ham, turkey, colored rice, a variety of vegetables and fruit dishes. Christmas Day Mass at Catholic churches are mainly held in the late afternoon because people enjoy sleeping late or going to the beach after having Christmas dinner. Christmas festivities, which include folk dancing and singing, continue until January 6th, which is called Three Kings Day.