Christmas in the Dominican Republic is something memorable. Not many countries celebrate the holidays like the DR, and I'm sure you are going to like it. From decorations to gifts to their unique customs, the Dominicans are known to make the most out of any holiday and Christmas is no exception.
As a matter of fact, the season is one of the most important occasions for Dominicans, and they go out of their way to turn it into a full-blown celebration that reverberates all around the country. They love it so much that the season extends all the way from the October to January. That's three months of festivities, and delectable traditional dishes.
That said, Dominicans love to have fun regardless of the time
of the year, but the holidays are when they fully express themselves.
Christmas Eve, New Years, and the Three Kings Day are at the core of
the season, and all of them are celebrated in a grand manner.
The Dominican Republic has its way of celebrating Christmas;
however, in recent decades the country has acquired a few customs from
the United States and other countries. This can be attributed to
Dominicans that have left the country to expand their horizons, and
when they come back to visit their relatives, they bring all kinds of
stories and new traditions with them.
The real celebration begins on December 24th also known as Christmas Eve or Noche Buena. On this day, almost no one is thinking about their work as all they can think about is the fun they are going to have at night. Preparations for dinner begin several days prior as the older females gather all the ingredients and materials necessary for the big event. Putting it off until the last moment is a big no-no as many businesses won't bother staying open beyond noon.As the night approaches, the locals gather at their homes to get ready for the grand feast of the year. Close friends and relatives that have arrived from far way are also part of the get-together that celebrates the birth of Jesus. The dinner encompasses typical dishes such as pasteles en hoja, roasted pork, rice with beans, sancocho, and much more. They also have drinks such as eggnog with rum, coffee, and jengibre (a non-alcoholic beverage made from ginger root).
Today, the children also receive gifts on this day; however,
it didn't use to be that way. Gifts were only given to children on
January 5th (the eve of the Three Kings Day).
You haven't seen anything until you experience how the locals go all out with their fireworks. Firecrackers, rockets, roman candles, sparklers, and comet-like flames are just an example of the pyrotechnic display taking place almost every day of this joyful season.
These fun but dangerous gadgets can be found in stalls
everywhere by all those looking to add extra zest to the Holidays.
Now, during October, there are fireworks once in a while. But
as time goes by, the number grows exponentially until December 31, when
Dominicans show the best they have got. It is at this point that the
prevalence of fireworks starts to decrease until January 6th, which is
the Three Kings Day and the last day of the season.
Feasts and gifts aren't exactly cheap. That's why most
employers are generous and give a Christmas bonus to their staff known
sueldo. This is an extra cash given to employees
to offset the spending that accompanies the holidays. The money is used
to buy gifts for the children and acquire all kinds of foods and drinks
to rejoice in the grandest way possible. Everybody loves getting the
doble sueldo as it makes the Christmas season much more enjoyable.
One religious custom deeply ingrained in the hearts of
Dominicans is the misa de gallo. This
is a special mass celebrated at midnight during Christmas Eve. Families
and friends alike often go to church once the big dinner is over.
Sometimes they might come back to continue the celebration after the
mass is over. For those that can't go, other masses are offered during
Christmas Day, for example, in the morning, midday and/or evening.
No Christmas is complete without the angelito. So what is
this? It is a secret gift exchange that encourages one person to give
small gifts to another for several weeks during the holiday season. It
is done the following way; a group of friends or relatives put their
names on pieces of paper and toss them in a box. Each person grabs one
and looks at the name on it. The person whose name is written on will
be the angelito of the other person. To make it fun, names shouldn't be
disclosed to anyone. The last day of the exchange, each person
confesses who his/her angelito is and occasionally have a small party
Not many traditions infuse the holidays with such an exquisite
feeling like the pericos ripiaos. You could say they are small
improvised bands of 3 to 4 performers playing native Dominican tunes.
Now, the music they play isn't your average merengue. It is the one
from the rural areas of the country with rustic instruments like the
accordion, the drum, and the güira. This rhythm is considered to be the
original merengue and contains a piece of the Dominicans' soul. If you
find yourself in the DR and want to get some merriment, take a stroll
around town, it won't be long before you find some pericos ripiaos and start dancing.
The following video shows how an example of a perico ripiao:
Most of the locals in the Dominican Republic love to party, and they will do whatever it takes to spread that partying everywhere they go. Often, small groups of people fully-equipped with musical instruments decide to visit a specific house while singing, dancing, and partaking in the food and beverages that are offered to them as soon as the residents open their doors. This is known as the aguinaldos.
However, before arriving at their set destination, the groups might decide to stop in a few extra homes that are on their way. They will sing their lungs out Christmas carols until they are welcomed in each of the approached homes.
Once inside, the residents will offer them coffee, jengibre, or any
other drink they might have in addition to any traditional dishes that
may be available. As they go from house to house, the crowd gradually
becomes bigger, until the bunch visiting the last residence is 3 to 4
times the one that started.
One of the most popular drinks in the DR is the jengibre. It
is done by mixing a few ginger roots with pieces of fruit in
water. The beverage can be quite spicy to the palate, but it is perfect
for any occasion.
As the holidays approach, entire families that have been
separated for a long time come together. Hundreds of flights arrive to
the DR bringing the loved ones of those who patiently await to rejoice
on this festivity. It is at this time that aguinaldos become the
perfect opportunity to surprise unsuspecting families.
Getting rid of all the dust and junk from the house during the
Christmas season is a custom shared by most of the locals. This is a
custom that symbolizes the welcoming of newer and better things by
removing everything that is old and useless. Once that is done, the
shopping begins. Going on a shopping spree is something that Dominicans
enjoy after taking the obsolete out of the house. Of course, it isn't
something that many can do lavishly, but nonetheless, grabbing
something new does the trick. It is a tradition they feel attracts good
fortune into their lives, while providing an invigorating sense of
Why do People decorate for the holidays? Well, it helps them to get in the mood and feel better when participating in the festivities. In the Dominican Republic, the locals love to use white for their trees and other decorations.
As you may imagine, the white color symbolizes a snowy
Christmas (the result of the American influence). Of course, real snow
isn't possible in the Dominican Republic, but people enjoy hearing
stories about the snowy weather as they share a cup of hot chocolate or
Adorning a home with a flor
de pascua during Christmas is popular
in the DR and all over the world. The custom dates back to the 17th
century when Franciscan friars decided to include this plant as part of
a Christmas tradition. The flower is also known as estrella de navidad
due to its star-shaped appearance and red color symbolizing the blood
of Jesus Christ spilled at the crucifixion.
One form of art that immediately catches the eye of any
bystander during Christmas is the charamicos. These marvelously
crafted masterpieces are made from dry tree branches and straw. They
are created in all kinds of shapes like angels, trees, flowers, camels,
and anything else you can think of. You can see vendors on the street
and in some resorts selling them for various prices. Sometimes you
might even get lucky, and for the right price, they will make a
customized Christmas decoration to your taste. They typically come in
white (to evoke the feeling of snow and cold weather) and are garnished
with ribbons, garlands, and wreaths.
One key difference between the Dominican Republic and other countries' Christmas is the Nativity scene present in most houses and even stores. This deep Christian devotion of Dominicans can be felt as soon as you set foot in any store or home. Almost everywhere, you can find a small stable with tiny figurines of Joseph, Mary, and the recently born baby Jesus accompanied by shepherds and the three magi. It is usually set at the side or the bottom of the Christmas tree close to where gifts are placed.
The Dominican Republic is an amazing place all year round, but
it is during the Christmas season that you can truly appreciate the
essence of its people. Give it a try and pay a visit to this exotic
country during December. Your life will be deeply enriched by the
culture, and who knows, you might even want to become a permanent
resident when you get the true
feeling of a Dominican Christmas.