Christmas in Panama

Christmas in Panama is a lively and joyful affair. Everywhere you go, music fills the air, creating an atmosphere where everyone seems ready to dance. The upbeat rhythm of traditional music, such as cumbia and salsa, blends with the sounds of the season, crafting a festive ambiance that fills homes.

Streets are adorned with bright lights, garlands, and colorful nativity scenes depicting the story of Jesus’ birth. Every corner of the city glows, immersing everyone in a cheerful and communal spirit.

Our family tradition involves gathering at Grandma’s house to prepare the feast. She has orchestrated everything, so it’s all hands on deck. We need to start early to be ready in time for mass. Cooking takes place outdoors; we are a large family, and the pots are sizable, but Grandma is a master of proportions and directs the process. The women cook, the men clean, and the children play. Gradually, everyone arrives, and the greetings and hugs seem endless.

The kitchen is the place to be today. On our Christmas menu, you can savor flavors like pineapple, pigeon peas, and corn. What is Panamanian cuisine without a good serving of rice? During this season, you’ll find all kinds of rice combinations. Our family loves rice, so Grandma will prepare at least two different types. To accompany the feast, tamales are a must, and there’s a heated national debate on whether to include raisins in them. There’s still no winner in this argument; it depends on the person making them.

During these festive days, pork, turkey, ham, and fish are cooked. All of this is accompanied by “feria” salad made with potatoes and beets. And, of course, no Christmas celebration is complete without homemade eggnog – rum punch, if it’s homemade, is even better!

Ah, now it truly smells like Christmas!

Devotion to the Virgin Mary is evident in the festivities, especially in the city of Santiago de Veraguas, where the fair of the Virgin of the Conception attracts thousands of faithful from across the country. Colorful and fervent processions fill the streets as participants express their faith through dances and songs. As night falls, we all attend mass together to share with the community before returning home for the festive dinner.

Christmas Eve, on December 24th, is a special evening when the family gathers to share a bountiful dinner and exchange gifts. The table is filled with culinary delights, and the atmosphere is filled with laughter, lively conversations, and, most importantly, the joy of being together.