Exploring Christmas in El Salvador, the Heartwarming Spirit of Navidad in El Salvador

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Dec 28th, 2023
Christmas in El SalvadorChristmas Celebrations in San Salvador.

Christmas in El Salvador is celebrated on December 24th and 25th. It is a holiday rich with festive customs and traditions that Salvadoran families enjoy. Christmas rituals vary from family to family but include family gatherings, holiday foods, fireworks, a Christmas tree, and a nativity scene display.

Salvadorans celebrate Christmas primarily on December 24th at midnight, but the festivities occur throughout December, making it a month-long celebration.

Christmas traditions are an integral part of El Salvador’s culture, passed down through generations. While customs may vary between families, most celebrate with food, drinks, and a decorated tree.

Christmas in El Salvador
San Salvador Historic Downtown. Image by @MITURElSalvador

How is Christmas celebrated in El Salvador?

Traditional Christmas celebrations in El Salvador are all about customs and traditions. Some popular rituals during this holiday are family gatherings, cooking unique foods, setting fireworks, and creating nativity scenes (Los Nacimientos.)

Another popular custom in the country for Christmas Eve is “El Estreno,” which is just wearing something new: shoes, pants, shirts, skirts, dresses, etc.

Christmas celebrations in El Salvador are a time for gathering with family and close friends, enjoying a traditional dinner, talking, drinking, setting off fireworks, dancing, and exchanging presents at midnight.

Salvadoran Catholics engage in all the activities mentioned previously; however, they also attend mass before midnight. Also, before opening presents, they hold an image of baby Jesus to give thanks for the year and pray for the new one.

Christmas in El Salvador
Christmas Celebrations in San Salvador.

Family gathering during the Christmas holidays

Family gatherings are one of the best Salvadoran traditions during the Christmas holidays. Salvadorans travel long distances to be with loved ones during these holiday celebrations.

During December, the International Airport in El Salvador gets extra busy. Salvadorans living abroad take this time to travel to the country and spend time with family and friends.

Families do different things during Christmas gatherings. For example, some families attend religious activities together; others stay at home, play traditional music, dance, hang out, and talk to each other.

By the way, Christmas family gatherings provide an opportunity to reunite with relatives whom you haven’t seen in a while. Also, these family gatherings are not exclusive to the 24th and 25th; they do happen throughout December.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador Holidays and Celebrations: Exploring El Salvador’s Colorful Festivities!

Christmas Celebrations in El Salvador
Divine Savior of the world monument. Image by Roma.

Traditional and unique foods for Christmas

Another popular aspect of Salvadoran Christmas traditions is cooking typical foods and unique family recipes. Families go out of their way to cook these tasty foods throughout the December holidays.

Some traditional foods prepared for Christmas are Tamales, Pan con Pollo, and Quesadillas; these foods are prepared in larger quantities as they serve a few purposes.

These foods, prepared in large quantities, are there for anyone visiting during the holidays. Showing up unannounced at friends’ or relatives’ homes is customary in Salvadoran culture. Also, these foods are given as gifts to relatives and neighbors.

SEE ALSO: 20 Traditional Salvadoran Foods to Try Today. The Culinary Treasures of El Salvador

On the other hand, specific or unique family recipes are prepared in lesser quantities and shared with the immediate family and close friends. Most families eat this meal together at dinner on the 24th. Some examples of these recipes are Lomo Relleno, Lasagna, Roasted Chicken, etc.

When it comes to specific foods for Christmas dinner, each family decides what they want to prepare. The cooking of these traditional Salvadoran foods is a tradition that makes this holiday better in El Salvador.

The fireworks during Christmas celebrations

Fireworks are an integral part of Christmas celebrations in El Salvador. They are set off at various times throughout December, and the country has very few restrictions on their use.

The sound of fireworks going off during December is a normal thing to hear during the year-end holidays. Salvadorans set up fireworks all over the country and at all hours.

The grand Christmas celebration, complete with traditional fireworks, takes place on Christmas Eve, just before midnight.

The noise of the fireworks being set up throughout the area can be intimidating at times, but it is an experience best enjoyed in person.

The fireworks fill the air, and the streets become filled with smoke with a strong aroma of burnt powder.

El Salvador Fireworks
Salvadoran Firework store.

Christmas fireworks are a tradition that has caused controversy over the last few years. The country has almost no laws regarding who, where, what type, and when these fireworks can be set off. Therefore, the number of firework-related injuries during Christmas is alarming.

Every year, during the Christmas holidays, many people get injured, especially children. Most of the injuries reported are severe burns; however, more critical injuries occur often, including loss of fingers or even death.

Even with all the controversies, setting off fireworks is a Christmas tradition enjoyed by Salvadorans of any age all over the country.

Christmas in El Salvador
Fireworks during Christmas in El Salvador.

Los Nacimientos or nativity scenes

Salvadoran families take the nativity scenes or Los Nacimientos seriously. Some families spend days setting up their nativity scenes to impress others.

Native scenes are different in each house. They can be modest setups that include images of baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. To complex nativity scenes that include fountains, light shows, and more.

The Salvadoran nativity scenes are a Christmas tradition that makes this holiday more attractive. Additionally, municipalities and catholic churches create their own Nativity scenes.

Nativity Scene El Salvador
Typical Nativity Scene.
Salvadoran Nativity Scene
Salvadoran Nativity Scene.

Sence of community during Christmas in El Salvador

The Christmas Holidays bring a sense of community to El Salvador. During this holiday, members of communities or neighborhoods go the extra mile to be more inclusive of each other.

For instance, many people in these communities give away traditional foods they have prepared to neighbors as gifts. Additionally, at midnight on the 24th, after the customary hug has been shared among family members, people go into the street, hug neighbors, and wish them a merry Christmas.

Although this tradition is in decline, it is still visible, especially in smaller municipalities. Embracing others in the community during Christmas is a pleasant Salvadoran tradition worth doing.

Christmas Holidays
People walking around the divine savior of the world monument. Flickr image by Steven dosRemedios. CC BY-ND 2.0

Other Christmas traditions in El Salvador

El Salvador has many other Christmas traditions that make this holiday even more special. Not everyone in the country follows them; however, they are worth mentioning.

Some of these traditions are El Estreno on Christmas Eve, dancing to La Bala Song, Eating Recalentados for days(Leftover food), going to the Beach on December 25th, and dancing all night long on the 24th.

El Estreno on Christmas Eve

El Estreno is just wearing something new for Christmas eve; it does not matter what it is, shoes, pants, shirts, skirts, dresses, etc. Many Salvadorans will make sure to wear something new (Estrenar) on Christmas eve.

Dancing to La Bala Song

La Bala is a classic song popular on Christmas eve. It is an upbeat song by the “Los Hermanos Flores” group that Salvadorans, especially the older generation like to dance to at some point during the night. Play the following video to hear this popular song.

Eating Recalentados (Leftover food)

Recalentados is a Spanish word for leftover food. Since families prepare so much food for Christma eve; and get food from family or neighbors, there is plenty of excess food to eat for days.

Going to the Beach on December 25th

Salvadorans celebrate Christmas on the 24th at midnight. Therefore, taking a trip to the beach on the 25th is a popular tradition for Salvadorans. The most popular beaches in El Salvador get crowded on December 25th.

Dancing all night long.

Salvadorans love to dance, and most of them take this opportunity to show their dancing moves to family and friends. It is typical for Salvadoran households to play classical dancing Christmas songs throughout the night. The following song by Los Hermanos Flores is a popular song among Salvadorans.

Christmas in El Salvador

Christmas in El Salvador is one of the most popular holidays in the country, and for good reasons. It involves family, friends, and traditions that go back a long time. These traditions are what make Christmas in El Salvador special. They are part of the Salvadoran culture.

Salvadorans of all ages look forward to spending time with family, eating tasty food, and setting off fireworks. Spending Christmas in El Salvador is a fantastic experience.