Las Navidad: What it is and How to Celebrate Virtually This Year

Actress Julissa Calderon gave us her best tips for celebrating the holiday at home.

Every family has their own holiday rituals and traditions. As we cozy up at home this winter, learning about new holidays, especially those from other countries and cultures, is a heartfelt way to embrace the true meaning of the season.

Afro-Latinx actress Julissa Calderon told us all about Las Navidad, the Spanish Christmas tradition that she's been celebrating since she was a child. She shared how her family recognizes the event and gave us tips for turning the celebration virtual whenever illness, schedules, or travel costs prevent us from celebrating together. We're also highlighting her best ideas for incorporating Las Navidad customs into a multicultural celebration. So whether you're embracing your Spanish heritage for the first time or celebrating the holidays as a diverse household, these ideas will help you form your own holiday traditions.

What Is Las Navidad?

Las Navidad (also called la Nochebuena), refers to the single day of Christmas Eve, while Las Navidades means "Christmases" and is a longer celebration. In some countries, the festivities begin mid-December, while others wait until December 24 to celebrate. Las Navidades last until the holiday of Epiphany on January 6, which commemorates the day the wise men finally arrived to meet baby Jesus.

christmas celebration computer
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How Las Navidad Is Celebrated

Family members gather to celebrate Las Navidad by sharing a holiday feast together and exchanging small gifts. In many cultures, gifts are reserved for children, although it's always acceptable to exchange with older family members. While Santa Claus is not a traditional figure of Las Navidad, the custom has become so popular across the world that many families have incorporated Santa into their gift-giving celebrations.

In some countries, gifts are exchanged at midnight as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day, while in other areas it's customary to wait until Christmas morning.

Embrace Multicultural Traditions

Calderon gave us her best tips for combining holiday traditions as a multicultural family. She explained that merging different cultures is a great opportunity for kids (and adults!) to learn about all kinds of holiday celebrations—not just the ones they grew up with. Whether you married into a family that celebrates Las Navidad or simply want to revel alongside a friend, it's never too late to incorporate aspects of this celebration into your own holiday.

If you already celebrate Las Navidad, consider teaching a friend or family member about it, and then ask them to help you experience their holiday rituals for the first time. As Calderon says, "One doesn't take away from the other—if anything, it's twice as nice!"

actress Julissa Calderon
Courtesy of Julissa Calderon

How to Celebrate Las Navidad Across the Miles

Typically, the holiday is celebrated with a huge gathering of friends and family—but bringing everyone together is not always possible. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to incorporate everyone into your favorite family traditions, even if they are miles away. Calderon shared a few of her favorite ways to celebrate the holiday and offered a few tips for throwing a virtual party.

1. Send an Invitation

Hosting a virtual celebration (or incorporating someone far away virtually) is easy, but you'll need to plan ahead a bit. First things first: Send an invite to a Zoom or FaceTime call. Then, make sure the system works for all family members so you don't miss your young family members opening your gifts. Calderon recommends testing out the call in the week before so you can avoid tech issues day-of.

2. Decorate Your Space

Even if you aren't hosting this year, decorating your space for the holidays will help put you in a festive mood. Put up as many classic holiday decorations as you can: Decorate the Christmas tree, hang a few stockings, and drape as much tinsel around your home as you possibly can. In some countries, it's also customary to display colorful paper lanterns outside the home on Las Navidad.

Once the halls of your home are decked, it's time to tackle your virtual space. Set up an ultra-festive area of your home that can be seen from your Zoom call (like this garland tree that can be displayed on your wall), or try out these free virtual holiday Zoom backgrounds from Williams Sonoma.

3. Plan the Food

The traditional celebration involves a large family meal, so whether you are celebrating together or apart, plan a few small things to eat while you catch up with distant loved ones on the Zoom call. Traditional recipes for Las Navidad include roast turkey or pork, homemade tamales (in fact, hosting a holiday tamalada is popular in many Spanish-speaking cultures), and cider or punch—but you can, of course, make whatever you like. If you're looking for a new recipe, try making one of our Mexican-inspired Christmas dishes for the family.

Calderon told us that food is one of the easiest areas to combine traditions if you're having a multicultural celebration: She suggests preparing a mix of traditional Latin recipes with your favorite Christmas treats, like classic Christmas cookies.

4. Explain the Culture

Whether you're celebrating for the first time or teaching young family members about the holiday, Calderon recommends taking a few minutes to explain the cultural traditions and history behind the holiday. This is especially important if you're combining cultural celebrations.

5. Plan Activities

One of Calderon's biggest tips is to plan something for the family to do on the video call. Play traditional Latin music and dance on screen (even if you don't speak Spanish, you'll be able to appreciate the traditional music), or schedule a virtual game for the family to play. This will make it feel more like everyone is a part of the festivities—whether they are in the room or on a screen.

6. Keep the Spirit Alive

Even if you can't all be together, you can still create joyful memories. No matter how you celebrate (or how many households you combine virtually), the most important thing is that you're having fun with family. As Calderon says, it's all about your mindset. "It's okay that things are different, because different doesn't mean bad."

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