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What’s Christmas in Central America Like? So Far, a Surprising Bust

I doubt the Mayans ever heard of Santa Claus back when they were building one of the greatest, most advanced civilizations known to man. But it would only be a matter of time before good ol’ Saint Nick would make an appearance, much to the delight of merchants and business-people everywhere.


Today I’m visiting the “Festival Navideño” (Christmas Festival), set up by the government on Guatemala City’s main square, in Zona 1. Apart from the Latin music blaring in the background and the stalls selling traditional Guatemalan sweets, the decorative elements are very much North American in influence.


There are gingerbread houses, made of cardboard:


Christmas in Guatemala

Signs pointing in the direction of the North Pole:


Christmas in Guatemala

A full-fledged outdoor ice skating rink, just like the ones no one used to play in Guatemala when they were kids:


Christmas in Guatemala

And even an ice slide, where kids can practice their sledding techniques:


Christmas in Guatemala

Admittedly, this is all pretty cool when viewed through the eyes of a child.


But I get the nagging feeling that this is “someone else’s” vision of Christmas.  One shaped by TV programming that incorporates elements and experiences that have zero to do with the countries they’re exported to.


Is Christmas synonymous with ice skating, sledding, Santa Claus and gingerbread houses?


That would’ve been news to me as a kid growing up in the Dominican Republic.


My childhood memories of Christmas toys involved  “The Three Wise-men”, not Santa Claus.  And the big day for gifts was January 6th, not December 24th.


I never did sledding on icy, snow covered hills.  I did do “sledding” on palm tree “yaguas”, so maybe that kinda counts.


Gingerbread houses?  Nope.  But we did managed to sneak a few sips of rum-spiked “ponche”, our own version of eggnog.


Chalk up my griping to old age, which seems to be making me crankier as my 35th birthday approaches next week.


I like traditions to stay the way they were.  When it all becomes the same everywhere, travel loses some of its charm.


If I want to see Santa, I’d like to know where to find him, if I ever start to miss him.


Maybe in the coming days I’ll experience what a true Guatemalan Christmas is like, not a cheap American imitation.


Such are the joys that globalization brings.  Until then, I’ll have to wait.


In the meantime, I have to go do a little dancing.


“Gangnam Style” is playing over the loudspeakers.

About Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook.
Currently exploring: Guatemala.


  1. It looks pretty cool! In Flores there is a Christmas tree and that is about it. Oh, and Gangnam Style.

    • Rich Polanco says:

      This is the first year they do it. Quite the sight to see kids lacing up ice skates for the first time and giving it a go.

      They’ve already had a few MASSIVE fireworks shows and a parade featuring with Mariah Carey’s Christmas ballads. Because of the earthquake that happened a few weeks back they held off doing the big Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.


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