When you’re in Panama, it’s very likely you’ll want to celebrate Christmas and New Years like a Panamanian. Holidays are a festive event, and start in mid-November when the stores start putting out their decorations. December holidays are such a big event, some Panamanians save all year for their holiday decorations, parties, and gifts. You will find that much of the food you expect in the United States or Canada over the holidays present in Panama at Christmas, but with a Panamanian twist. Keep reading to learn more about Christmas and New Years in Panama.
Starting the holidays on December 8 with Mother’s Day, Panamanians decorate and even paint their houses for the festivities. December 8 is, of course, the celebration of the Immaculate Conception and Mother’s Day. There’s a parade and little girls dressed as angels, and a statue of the Blessed Virgin is carried through the streets. Children also take their first communion on December 8.
The week after Mother’s Day, starting on the 16th of December and ending on the 24th, is what is known as “posada.” Panamanians celebrate the birth of Jesus by setting up homemade “inns” built out of palm leaves, and the family acts as inn keepers. Every night during this time the children leave the community church and lead a procession toward a posada. Candies are given away. On the very last day of the posada, on Christmas Eve, the procession will visit all of the “inns.”
While you will be able to find fresh-cut Christmas trees for your own use, not all Panamanians have adopted the Christmas tree tradition.
The entire day of the 24th is spent preparing food and cleaning the house to get ready for guests. Traditional foods like tamales, turkey and stuffing, and fruitcake are prepared. Panamanians listen to music and wait for midnight to enjoy their feast and visit with friends and family. Afterwards it isn’t uncommon to find people dancing in the streets.
Some Panama locals and expats head to midnight Mass to celebrate Christmas. Fireworks go off starting at midnight Christmas and you’ll hear them sporadically off and on until the middle of January.
On Christmas Day most Panamanians go to church in the morning and then spend the rest of the day visiting with friends and family and eating some more.
New Year’s Eve in Panama is the time to celebrate the year just past and to prepare for the upcoming year. Locals have several rituals and superstitions meant to bring good luck in the New Year. Just six of these are:
Wear something red to bring romance and love.
Yellow underwear brings good fortune.
For wealth, hold money when the clock strikes midnight.
Walk around the house with a suitcase to bring travels in the New Year.
Eat 12 grapes at midnight. As you eat each one, make a wish for the New Year. Spit out the grape seeds and count them. Use the number of seeds to figure out your lucky lottery numbers.
Hang a bunch of oranges, wheat, and rice behind the front door to bring prosperity, health, and work.
For looking back, locals create, and then destroy, a muńeco, an effigy (doll) that is meant to represent bad memories from the past year. These dolls are made out of old clothes and stuffed with leaves, somewhat like a scarecrow. At midnight those participating burn the muńecos, some even stuffing them with firecrackers. As the effigy burns it takes the hardships and misfortune of the past year and allows its creator to start the new year fresh.
If ringing in the New Year at a night club, pub, or discotheque, you can go to the beach to celebrate under the stars.
Street parties are common where street performers, musicians, face painters, dancers, stilt walkers, and many other artists participate.
Extravagant drinking parties are very common among both locals and ex-pats. This allows attendees to go on drinking all night.
At midnight there is a fireworks show over the Gulf of Mexico and those present celebrate by cheering and dancing to live music.
January 6 is Three Kings Day or El Día de los Reyes, otherwise known as Epiphany. The children also get presents on this day. Celebrations end on the 12th Day of Christmas, which is Feast of the Epiphany which marks the adoration of baby Jesus by the Three Kings.