The peoples of South America are a religious lot and the Christmas traditions of South America are celebrated in a deeply religious way.
Central to the Christmas traditions of South America is the manger or presepio in an elaborate display of people or doll-figures in local costumes that sometimes take up as much as a whole room in homes, church and stores. Variations in the scenes include the hills with sheep and shepherd, the Wise Men on camels, and many other designs. Winter Xmas is a US elaboration but here the Christ Child is wrapped only in swaddling clothes as it would have been in hot weathered Bethlehem. The celebration extends to Epiphany and the Three Wise Men as recognized feast days in Roman Catholicism.
The presepio, or nativity scenes, in the Christmas traditions of South America, is part of a series of novenas, public gatherings of worship in the form of prayer, hymns, and religious poetry usually in a nine-day period or morning church services, or re-enactment plays and pageants of the nativity scenes recalling the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem under the guidance of a star and angels. The other characters such as the three kings, shepherds and costumed children also join the parade on their special feast days or part of the plays. These are sometimes in the form of floats carried around by the clergy during processions.
Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus – the gift bringer in one form or another, is an accepted part of the Christmas traditions of South America, which, like the plays, carols and other celebrations, are made in religious and ritualistic reverence.
The Xmas Eve and Xmas Day are crucial celebrations in the Christmas traditions of South America. During the midnight mass of Xmas Eve, huge numbers of believers flock the churches. Food and feast wait in the homes where the families sit together after the church services. Christmas Day is a family day wherein the families and children visit their relatives for gifts and food. Because Christmas celebrations include Epiphany, even New Year’s Day is imbued with religious mood.