Any binational family faces at least once a year the question where to celebrate the most important family holiday. For some it might be Hanukkah, for others Eid Al-Adha, for others Holi and for others like us it is Christmas. Since our daughter was born last year on Christmas Morning, we also face the difficulty to decide where to celebrate her birthday (by the way, if you might wonder if there is ANYTHING beneficial on being born on Christmas, check out the 5 advantages of being born on Christmas).
So this year we decided to spent Christmas holidays in Paraguay, my husband’s home country. It would be also the first time as a family of three.
Although both of our home countries’ cultures are based on Christian believes, Christmas is celebrated very differently in Paraguay and for me as a German it is every time something new and special.
Preparing for Navidad
Already in November the cities, shopping centres and homes are getting ready for Christmas and are decorated with all kinds of lights. During December, people go more often to church, in particularly during the nine days before the 8th of December (so called “novenario”), the local holiday of the Virgin of Caacupe that is worshipped all over Paraguay.
Christmas time is family and friends time and it is common to visit all of your beloved during these days of December. Mostly, people just step by without advising you before and with the pretext to see the houses’ Christmas crib. The Christmas crib is something every household cares a lot about and which must be just perfect. As Paraguay is a tropical country, the crib is decorated with palm tree leaves and other tropical plants. So it rather reminds one of a cottage in the middle of the jungle than of the dry earth of Jerusalem.
Christmas Crib in Paraguayan Family
Those spontaneous visits are very normal in Paraguay among friends and families and for me it represents a lot of the Paraguayan culture in general. At the end, there will be always some family member at home and something in the fridge to serve. Coming from a country where visits are mostly planned very much in advance and planned and prepared very carefully (like our German family’s Christmas “Stollen” meetings), I find these kinds of meetings very relaxed.
Christmas Eve in Paraguay
Christmas is a public holiday in Paraguay and so families have time to prepare everything for the Holy Night (Noche Buena) during the day. And as the whole family usually comes together, this means a lot of preparation. At my husbands’ family for example the “inner circle” counts around 50 persons (in Germany, my family’s “inner circle” now counts five…)!
As Paraguay is located on the southern side of the equator it is very hot during Christmas. So tables, chairs, food, often even the TV or radio, everything is prepared outside in the garden, underneath the mango trees.
Paraguay is a very Catholic country and so most families go to church (at least) in the evening. After mess all family members meet at one family members’ home (usually the parents’ home) and start with the Christmas dinner.
There is no typical Christmas dish but most families prepare the famous Paraguayan beef and make a delicious barbecue. Beside the meat every family brings something to drink, a salad, salty pastries (for instance “Sopa Paraguaya”, see the recipe below) or a dessert. As it is very hot in Paraguay during Christmas time, people prefer to drink cool beverages. Whilst today the most common drink is (very) cool beer, the more traditional one is a cooled punch with fruits and wine (in case you live in a country where Christmas is usually cold, you could also try the traditional but warm Paraguayan drink, “cocido“.)
The most important part of Christmas is at midnight, when the birthday of Jesus is celebrated. We as a family gather together close by the Christmas crib and pray together. Mostly it’s the older generation (in particular women) who leads the prayer. We pray for Jesus’ birthday, we pray for the worlds’ peace and we pray for our family and all the other families in this world. That we might stay united and in peace with each other.
Then there are fireworks for the kids and plays in the garden until late. Usually there are no gifts and if any, there are only small presents for the kids.
Christmas Morning in Paraguay
The day after Noche Buena is usually used to eat up all the leftovers of the night. One after the other, family members showing up, eat and help to clean up. In the night, most people go to mess again, where often leftovers are brought for the poor.
Christmas dishes in Paraguay
As mentioned before, there is no “official” Christmas dish and people rather eat what they most like to eat on special days: beef with salty pastry. One of these salty pastries is the so called “Sopa Paraguaya” (Paraguayan soup).
1. Paraguayan Christmas dish: Sopa Paraguaya
The legend says that once upon a time a very important person came to a noble house in Paraguay. The kitchen maid should cook him a delicious, nutritious Paraguayan soup that should raise his energy after the long journey. By mistake, the soup turned out to be very sticky and so the maid added more corn wheat and claimed that it was the traditional soup of Paraguay, a salty pastry. Since than, this corn pastry is a tradition dish in Paraguay and very common in any dinner, in particular in combination with a delicious “asado” (Spanish for “barbecue”).
Here is the recipe:
300 g corn wheat
300 g Queso Paraguayo (certain cheese that has the contecture of mozarella cheese and has a quite intense savor) – if you don’t have
Queso Paraguayo you can also use Gouda cheese
1 tee spoon olive oil (or alternatively you can also use 1 table spoon of whipped cream)
½ cup of milk
1 teespoon baking powder
Cut the onions very fine, better is to liquor them so the
y aren’t felt so much afterwards. Add the rest of the ingredients expect
the white of the egg. Beat the egg white until the peaks are stiff. Then mix the egg white with the rest.
Preheat the oven to 160 °C. Put the mix into a casserole and bake it for about 40 minutes in the oven until the Sopa is golden brown.
You can now serve the Sopa Paraguaya for instance with green salad or (as in the photo) with red bean salad.
If at the end you stayed curious how we finally decided to celebrate the birthday of our daughter, here we go: We are going to celebrate it twice. Once “officially” a week before as a big children party (fiesta infantil) and then again on her actual birthday on the 25th of December with all the family members and a cake.
Welcome to our fourth annual Christmas in Different Lands series! This year each participating blogger will focus on a different country, sharing a traditional dish and more about Christmas in that country. For even more glimpses of global Christmas celebrations, see our series from previous years (2013, 2014, and 2015), plus follow our Christmas board on Pinterest!
Crafty Moms Share: Nigeria
English Wife Indian Life: India
Living Ideas: Indonesia
Creative World of Varya: Lebanon
the piri-piri lexicon: Portugal
Raising a Trilingual Child: Italy
Let the Journey Begin: Latvia
Pack-n-Go Girls: Austria
Spanish Monkey: Spain
Multicultural Baby: Paraguay
La Clase de Sra. DuFault: Chile
Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes: Puerto Rico
All Done Monkey: Haiti