GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) – The holidays are a time when families and friends come together to practice their unique Christmas traditions. From decorating cookies or donating toys, traditions bring a sense of unity and consistency to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Hispanic Southern Baptists have many different traditions that bring their culture and faith together in a distinct way. Clara Molina, the women’s team leader with the National Hispanic Baptist Network, grew up practicing some of these traditions with her family. Now, she has passed them on to her grandchildren, who get to experience a piece of both Anglo and Hispanic cultures at Christmastime.
One of Molina’s holiday highlights is a big Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, party.
“In my family … Christmas Day is great. We go to church, we hang out with the family. But the big thing is Christmas Eve. That’s when we make the big cooking. … That’s when we celebrate the whole thing, the night before.” Molina’s family looks forward to the rice, fruit and beef and chicken empanadas that make their appearance at the party each year.
“Sometimes we [play] a game that is called Takeaway, which [is similar to White Elephant] … somebody will read a story to the kids … we’ll dance together. It’s great.”
There are unique characteristics of a Hispanic of Christmas celebration, Molina said.
“Usually in the Hispanic world, Christmas is very influenced by the Catholic traditions. … Usually there’s a church gathering at midnight [called] la misa de gallo (“the rooster mass”). … But it’s more of the Catholic thing. In United States, they do the Christmas Eve service … sometimes they do it at midnight.
There’s a big difference between the exchanging of gifts in Hispanic cultures and what most Americans practice, she said.
“Part of the culture is getting a little Americanized where they have Santa Claus,” she said. “… But the big thing in the Hispanic world is January 6th. Christmas is the gathering and the fun part, but the kids [are waiting for] January 6th. On January 6th, they celebrate what they call The Three Kings, [Los Tres Reyes Magos]. I celebrated that when I was a little girl. … But the history [is] the kids believed that the three kings came into the house with the camels and left the gifts under the bed. We would put under the tree water, grass, cookies and things like that for the three kings and the camels to have something to eat.”
Various Hispanic countries have their own unique customs, Molina said. One example is La Vieja Belén (“Bethlehem Woman”) – a tradition in the Dominican Repubic in which gifts are given to poor children a week after Jan. 6.
“Mexico has something called roca de pan, which is a special bread that they make in a wreath kind of shape. But they only eat it for the 6th of January,” she said. “It’s well known just for that particular day. We [also] have a special music. For example, in Puerto Rico … people actually go to the street and sing to different homes. They go from home to home to sing.”
Hispanic churches often use these traditions as an outreach to their communities, such as giving away toys, hosting a Christmas Eve party for the community or arranging a la misa de gallo service.
“It’s incredible how much attendance at church there is during that particular time of the year,” Molina said, “which is great because we get to share the Gospel. …”
Ultimately, it’s about showing you care, she said.
“One of the things that I think is important is that Christmastime is really a time in the year to show how much you love people,” Molina said. “There is a big concentration of making sure that people have food [and they] gather together as families. There’s also forgiveness [and] a lot of reunions that happen during that time of year. … Christmas is of huge importance in the Hispanic community. It brings people together in a way that doesn’t happen the rest of the year.”