How do People Celebrate Christmas in the Dominican Republic

Christmas in the Dominican Republic is something memorable. Not many countries celebrate the holidays like the DR, and I'm sure you are going to like it. From decorations to gifts to their unique customs, the Dominicans are known to make the most out of any holiday and Christmas is no exception.

As a matter of fact, the season is one of the most important occasions for Dominicans, and they go out of their way to turn it into a full-blown celebration that reverberates all around the country. They love it so much that the season extends all the way from the October to January. That's three months of festivities, and delectable traditional dishes.

That said, Dominicans love to have fun regardless of the time of the year, but the holidays are when they fully express themselves. Christmas Eve, New Years, and the Three Kings Day are at the core of the season, and all of them are celebrated in a grand manner.

Christmas Season Customs

The Dominican Republic has its way of celebrating Christmas; however, in recent decades the country has acquired a few customs from the United States and other countries. This can be attributed to Dominicans that have left the country to expand their horizons, and when they come back to visit their relatives, they bring all kinds of stories and new traditions with them.

- Christmas Eve or Noche Buena

The real celebration begins on December 24th also known as Christmas Eve or Noche Buena. On this day, almost no one is thinking about their work as all they can think about is the fun they are going to have at night. Preparations for dinner begin several days prior as the older females gather all the ingredients and materials necessary for the big event. Putting it off until the last moment is a big no-no as many businesses won't bother staying open beyond noon.

As the night approaches, the locals gather at their homes to get ready for the grand feast of the year. Close friends and relatives that have arrived from far way are also part of the get-together that celebrates the birth of Jesus. The dinner encompasses typical dishes such as pasteles en hoja, roasted pork, rice with beans, sancocho, and much more. They also have drinks such as eggnog with rum, coffee, and jengibre (a non-alcoholic beverage made from ginger root).

Rice with beans

Once dinner is over, everybody just chats, drink beer, and relax. Sometimes the ones gathered, might even pay a visit to the neighbors and bring them leftovers.

Today, the children also receive gifts on this day; however, it didn't use to be that way. Gifts were only given to children on January 5th (the eve of the Three Kings Day).

- Fireworks in the Holidays

You haven't seen anything until you experience how the locals go all out with their fireworks. Firecrackers, rockets, roman candles, sparklers, and comet-like flames are just an example of the pyrotechnic display taking place almost every day of this joyful season.

These fun but dangerous gadgets can be found in stalls everywhere by all those looking to add extra zest to the Holidays.

Yellow fireworks

Now, during October, there are fireworks once in a while. But as time goes by, the number grows exponentially until December 31, when Dominicans show the best they have got. It is at this point that the prevalence of fireworks starts to decrease until January 6th, which is the Three Kings Day and the last day of the season.

- Doble Sueldo

Feasts and gifts aren't exactly cheap. That's why most employers are generous and give a Christmas bonus to their staff known as doble sueldo. This is an extra cash given to employees to offset the spending that accompanies the holidays. The money is used to buy gifts for the children and acquire all kinds of foods and drinks to rejoice in the grandest way possible. Everybody loves getting the doble sueldo as it makes the Christmas season much more enjoyable.

- Misa de Gallo

One religious custom deeply ingrained in the hearts of Dominicans is the misa de gallo. This is a special mass celebrated at midnight during Christmas Eve. Families and friends alike often go to church once the big dinner is over. Sometimes they might come back to continue the celebration after the mass is over. For those that can't go, other masses are offered during Christmas Day, for example, in the morning, midday and/or evening.

- Angelito

Gifts ornaments

No Christmas is complete without the angelito. So what is this? It is a secret gift exchange that encourages one person to give small gifts to another for several weeks during the holiday season. It is done the following way; a group of friends or relatives put their names on pieces of paper and toss them in a box. Each person grabs one and looks at the name on it. The person whose name is written on will be the angelito of the other person. To make it fun, names shouldn't be disclosed to anyone. The last day of the exchange, each person confesses who his/her angelito is and occasionally have a small party afterward.

- Pericos Ripiaos

Not many traditions infuse the holidays with such an exquisite feeling like the pericos ripiaos. You could say they are small improvised bands of 3 to 4 performers playing native Dominican tunes. Now, the music they play isn't your average merengue. It is the one from the rural areas of the country with rustic instruments like the accordion, the drum, and the güira. This rhythm is considered to be the original merengue and contains a piece of the Dominicans' soul. If you find yourself in the DR and want to get some merriment, take a stroll around town, it won't be long before you find some pericos ripiaos and start dancing.

The following video shows how an example of a perico ripiao:

- Aguinaldos

Most of the locals in the Dominican Republic love to party, and they will do whatever it takes to spread that partying everywhere they go. Often, small groups of people fully-equipped with musical instruments decide to visit a specific house while singing, dancing, and partaking in the food and beverages that are offered to them as soon as the residents open their doors. This is known as the aguinaldos.

However, before arriving at their set destination, the groups might decide to stop in a few extra homes that are on their way. They will sing their lungs out Christmas carols until they are welcomed in each of the approached homes.

Once inside, the residents will offer them coffee, jengibre, or any other drink they might have in addition to any traditional dishes that may be available. As they go from house to house, the crowd gradually becomes bigger, until the bunch visiting the last residence is 3 to 4 times the one that started.

- Jengibre

Ginger root

One of the most popular drinks in the DR is the jengibre. It is done by mixing a few ginger roots with pieces of fruit in water. The beverage can be quite spicy to the palate, but it is perfect for any occasion.

- Return of the Missed Relatives

As the holidays approach, entire families that have been separated for a long time come together. Hundreds of flights arrive to the DR bringing the loved ones of those who patiently await to rejoice on this festivity. It is at this time that aguinaldos become the perfect opportunity to surprise unsuspecting families.

- Cleaning out the old and Shopping Spree

Getting rid of all the dust and junk from the house during the Christmas season is a custom shared by most of the locals. This is a custom that symbolizes the welcoming of newer and better things by removing everything that is old and useless. Once that is done, the shopping begins. Going on a shopping spree is something that Dominicans enjoy after taking the obsolete out of the house. Of course, it isn't something that many can do lavishly, but nonetheless, grabbing something new does the trick. It is a tradition they feel attracts good fortune into their lives, while providing an invigorating sense of well-being.

Decorations used for Christmas

Why do People decorate for the holidays? Well, it helps them to get in the mood and feel better when participating in the festivities. In the Dominican Republic, the locals love to use white for their trees and other decorations.

As you may imagine, the white color symbolizes a snowy Christmas (the result of the American influence). Of course, real snow isn't possible in the Dominican Republic, but people enjoy hearing stories about the snowy weather as they share a cup of hot chocolate or coffee.

● Flor de Pascua or Poinsettia Flower

Artificial poinsettia flowers

Adorning a home with a flor de pascua during Christmas is popular in the DR and all over the world. The custom dates back to the 17th century when Franciscan friars decided to include this plant as part of a Christmas tradition. The flower is also known as estrella de navidad due to its star-shaped appearance and red color symbolizing the blood of Jesus Christ spilled at the crucifixion.

● Charamicos

One form of art that immediately catches the eye of any bystander during Christmas is the charamicos. These marvelously crafted masterpieces are made from dry tree branches and straw. They are created in all kinds of shapes like angels, trees, flowers, camels, and anything else you can think of. You can see vendors on the street and in some resorts selling them for various prices. Sometimes you might even get lucky, and for the right price, they will make a customized Christmas decoration to your taste. They typically come in white (to evoke the feeling of snow and cold weather) and are garnished with ribbons, garlands, and wreaths.

● Nativity Scene - The Most Important

Nativity scene of Baby Jesus

One key difference between the Dominican Republic and other countries' Christmas is the Nativity scene present in most houses and even stores. This deep Christian devotion of Dominicans can be felt as soon as you set foot in any store or home. Almost everywhere, you can find a small stable with tiny figurines of Joseph, Mary, and the recently born baby Jesus accompanied by shepherds and the three magi. It is usually set at the side or the bottom of the Christmas tree close to where gifts are placed.

The Dominican Republic is an amazing place all year round, but it is during the Christmas season that you can truly appreciate the essence of its people. Give it a try and pay a visit to this exotic country during December. Your life will be deeply enriched by the culture, and who knows, you might even want to become a permanent resident when you get the true feeling of a Dominican Christmas.


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