×
Interested in our Partner Program for businesses or our Local Guide Program for experienced expats and digital nomads? Click here to learn more.
Expat Exchange - Christmas in El Salvador
Expat Exchange
Free MembershipSign In
El Zonte, El Salvador


Christmas in El Salvador

By Betsy Burlingame

SJB Global
SJB Global

Summary: Learn how people celebrate Christmas and the New Year in El Salvador - traditions, food, church, gift exchange and more.

The holiday season in El Salvador is a vibrant time, filled with warmth, color, and a rich tapestry of traditions. For expats and digital nomads spending their first Christmas and New Year's in this Central American nation, the festivities offer a delightful blend of Salvadoran culture and holiday spirit. From the bustling markets to the intimate family gatherings, there's much to experience and enjoy.

Christmas and New Year's Celebrations

In El Salvador, Christmas is a time of joyous celebration, marked by a strong sense of community and family. The festive atmosphere is palpable, with streets and homes adorned with colorful lights and decorations. Fireworks light up the night sky, and the air is filled with the sounds of traditional Salvadoran Christmas carols, known as "villancicos".

New Year's Eve is equally festive, with parties and gatherings that last well into the night. As the clock strikes midnight, fireworks burst into the sky, and families and friends share hugs and well-wishes for the year ahead.

Traditional Holiday Activities

Leading up to the holidays, Salvadorans engage in a variety of activities. One of the most anticipated events is "La Posada," a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem. Neighbors participate in processions, singing carols and asking for "posada" or shelter, culminating in a party at a designated home.

Another popular tradition is the making of elaborate nativity scenes, or "nacimientos," which are often displayed in homes and public spaces. These scenes are a focal point of the holiday décor and a source of pride for those who create them.

The Salvadoran Santa Claus

While Santa Claus is recognized in El Salvador, the traditional gift-giver is "El Niño Dios" (Baby Jesus), who is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve. Families also exchange gifts, with a focus on thoughtful, often handcrafted items that hold personal significance.

Festive Foods and Desserts

Food plays a central role in Salvadoran holiday celebrations. Christmas Eve, known as "Noche Buena," is when families gather for a sumptuous feast. Traditional dishes include "panes con pavo" (turkey sandwiches), "tamales," and "rellenos" (stuffed vegetables). For dessert, "torrejas," a type of sweet bread soaked in syrup, and "quesadilla," a rich cheese-based cake, are popular choices.

New Year's Eve also features special meals, with an emphasis on dishes that are thought to bring good luck, such as lentils or grapes, one for each chime of the clock at midnight.

Christmas Eve and Day Traditions

Christmas Eve is the heart of the holiday celebration in El Salvador. After the family dinner, many attend "La Misa del Gallo" (The Rooster's Mass), a midnight mass that welcomes Christmas Day. Churches are filled with parishioners, and the sense of community is strong.

Christmas Day itself is more subdued, often spent relaxing at home with family, enjoying the leftovers from the previous night's feast, and savoring the company of loved ones.

Destinations for Holiday Festivities

Certain towns and neighborhoods in El Salvador are renowned for their holiday spirit. San Salvador, the capital, is a hub of activity, with the "Festival de Luces y Colores" (Festival of Lights and Colors) transforming the city into a dazzling wonderland. The historic town of Suchitoto is another must-visit, with its cobblestone streets and colonial architecture providing a picturesque backdrop for holiday markets and decorations.

For a truly local experience, the town of La Palma in Chalatenango is known for its artisanal crafts, which make for unique gifts and souvenirs. The town's vibrant murals and hand-painted crafts reflect the joy and creativity of the season.

As the holiday season unfolds in El Salvador, expats and digital nomads will find themselves immersed in a festive atmosphere that is both exotic and familiar. The warmth of the Salvadoran people, the rich cultural traditions, and the joyous celebrations make for an unforgettable holiday experience. Whether it's through the shared laughter at a posada, the taste of a homemade tamale, or the spectacle of fireworks against a tropical night sky, the spirit of Christmas and New Year's in El Salvador is sure to create lasting memories.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


SJB Global
SJB Global

SJB Global
SJB Global

El Zonte, El Salvador

GeoBlue
GeoBlue

Top-quality coverage for people who live, work, study and travel internationally.
Get Quote

GeoBlueGeoBlue

Top-quality coverage for people who live, work, study and travel internationally.
Get Quote

Contribute to El Salvador Network Contribute
Help others in El Salvador by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in El Salvador.

SJB Global
SJB Global

Copyright 1997-2024 Burlingame Interactive, Inc.

Privacy Policy Legal Partners & Local Guides