18 December 2018 | listicles and factfiles | Views:

Christmas Traditions on the Coffee Belt

Christmas. Turkey, tinsel, Love Actually. I mean, in the UK anyway. And even different cities, towns, villages, streets and families have their own traditions. A new pair of pyjamas on Christmas Eve, a post-lunch Wetherspoons visit, no presents opened until after the Queen’s speech - there’s no one way to celebrate the season.

But it makes you wonder - if you were coffee grower Lorving Calderon in Honduras, or Sergio Mantavanni in Brazil, or part of the Duromina Cooperative in Ethiopia, what (if anything) would you be doing this Christmas?

Christmas in…


Like those fresh-pair-of-loungewear gifters, one Honduran tradition is to have a brand new set of clothes to wear at Christmas - they call it their “estreno”. And they’re wearing that on Christmas Eve, the day they actually celebrate, as the 25th is sacred. You’ll know when the day’s arrived, because big firework displays are scheduled exactly for midnight.

But mostly importantly, what are they eating? Catalino, grower of Integral Cipres, says his family celebrate with nacatamales, homemade bread, roasted chicken, fruits and coffee and juice. Sounds good to us!


You might be groaning at Christmas songs on the office playlist even now, but in Colombia officially things start a lot earlier. The 7th December is ‘Dia de las Velitas’, or ‘Day of the Little Candles’ - the streets are lined with lights, fireworks light up the sky and everyone enjoys a good old knees up!

Then while kids in the UK might be circling things in the Argos catalogue and sending a letter to Father Christmas, Colombian children write a ‘Carta a Niño Dios’ - a letter to the baby Jesus himself! No chimneys necessary, they pop their letter in a ‘pesebre’ or crib instead.

The big celebration is on Christmas Eve, when the traditional ‘Cena de Navidad’ meal is eaten - a medley of ‘lechona’ (pork stuffed with rice and peas), ‘ajiaco bogotano’ (chicken soup), ‘buñuelos’ (cheesy fritters), arepas (a thick corn tortilla) and ‘hojuelas’ (fried pastry with sugar and jam).

They might have started Christmas earlier than us, but they keep going for longer too! On the 28th, they celebrate Innocents’ Day - similar to April Fool’s, where jokes and bloopers made throughout the year are shown all over the TV stations


Sergio from the Planalto farm has his own tradition: sending a Christmas gift basket to each of the employees on his farm, filled to the brim with foods his own family will be enjoying - roast turkey, pork, chicken, rice, dried fruit, desserts, beer, wine and whiskey!

Outside of the Planalto estate, though, Brazil has a lot of its own traditions. Not dissimilar to the nativity plays put on in primary schools across the UK, they put on ‘Os Pastores’ (The Shepherds) performances. Though in these retellings, the baby Jesus is almost stolen!

Like Honduras, a big firework display rings in the 25th December - straight after Missa do Galo, or Mass of the Rooster. And the festivities don’t stop there!

While children might be excited to meet Santa, who they call Bom Velhinho or ‘Good Old Man’, there’s a little Brazilian bonus that takes the pressure off for present-buying parents. A common occurrence in Brazil is that companies pay a ‘13th salary’ to their employees - so staff get double pay for the month of December! That’s something a lot of us can get behind…


Outside of the Americas, things aren’t necessarily all that different! Like Brazil, a lot of people in Kenya will head to a midnight service on Christmas Eve. But after the carols nativity scenes, the party really starts… and lasts throughout the night!

After that, it’s a great excuse for nyama choma - a barbecued meal that’s done on special occasion. Goat, sheep, beef and chicken with a hearty helping of rice and flatbread - washing it all down with a healthy portion of home-brewed beer.

In Kenya, Christmas is a time when families try and be together - people travel from cities back to villages, where their family lives. But they aren’t greeting each other with “Merry Christmas”! In Swahili/Kaswahili (a Kenyan language), they say ‘Heri ya Krismasi’, to which people respond ‘Wewe pia’ (‘you also’).


If you find the idea of celebrating Christmas on the 24th troubling in itself, here’s something to shock ya - Christmas falls on the 7th of January in Ethiopia, in line with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They call it Ganna or Genna!

To be fair, things start a long time before that! There’s also an advent fast called Tsome Nebiyat or the ‘Fast of the Prophets’, lasting a whopping 43 days and starting on the 25th November. During this, it’s traditional to eat just one vegan meal a day - no meat, dairy, eggs or wine.

When they do get to Christmas Day, they’re rewarded with ‘wat’ - a spicy stew packed full of meat, veg and eggs served on a spongy injera bread. Worth the wait!


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