Hispanic Culture: Traditions & Facts

Instructor: Laurie Smith
Interested in learning more about the Spanish-speaking countries and their cultures? In this lesson, we talk about some unique and beautiful traditions all around the Hispanic world.

Living Hispanic Traditions

You've probably seen children having fun with a piñata at a birthday party or admired the colorful skull make-up typical of the Mexican celebration called Día de Muertos. Hispanic culture is full of vibrant traditions and customs that are worth knowing and living.

Let's discover different beautiful and unique traditions all over the Hispanic world. Some of them are shared by many Spanish-speaking countries; others are unique to a specific country. Let's get started!

Let's look at some interesting celebrations and traditions in Spain and Latin America.

Día de Muertos

On November 1 and 2, Mexicans celebrate Día de Muertos (DEE-ah deh MWEHR-tohs), or Day of the Dead, a special holiday honoring deceased relatives and friends who are believed to return from the afterlife to celebrate with them.

People set up colorful altares (ahl-TAH-rehs), altars, decorating them with portraits; flowers; candles; pan de muerto (pahn deh MWEHR-toh), a type of sweet bun; and calaveritas de azúcar (kah-lah-beh-REE-tahs deh ah-SOO-kahr), sugar skulls. Also, Mexicans typically dress up and paint their faces to resemble a skull. The most typical representation of death is La Catrina. This beautiful holiday has been declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve is called Nochevieja (noh-cheh-BYEH-hah), literally 'old night' in Spanish. As in many places around the world, families and friends get together to have dinner and enjoy the last evening of the year. But there is an interesting and unique tradition, or rather, a superstition, taking place at midnight. Everyone eats twelve grapes, called uvas de la suerte (OO-bahs deh lah SWEHR-teh), lucky grapes, one with each stroke of midnight. Every grape symbolizes a lucky and prosperous month ahead.

This tradition is a must in Spain and has been adopted by other countries, such as Mexico, Colombia, and Chile. It's worth trying it just for fun!

Día de Reyes

On January 6, Spain and most Latin American countries celebrate Día de Reyes (DEE-ah deh REH-yehs), or Kings' Day. This is a very special day, especially for children, which marks the end of the Christmas season.

Children go and see the parades to admire and welcome the Three Kings who come from the Middle East accompanied by their pages. They usually get some candy and eagerly await their presents, which will be delivered once they've gone to bed. Before going to bed, everyone leaves a shoe somewhere in the house, where they'll find the presents the Kings have delivered the following morning.

Food & Other Traditions

You might have heard or come across a sign with the words Buen provecho (bwehn proh-BEH-choh) at a restaurant. This is the equivalent of 'Enjoy your meal,' although its literal meaning is 'make the most of it.' Spanish speakers always say this when sitting down at the table or to someone who is about to eat. Let's talk about some interesting gastronomic traditions.

Tapas

Tapas (TAH-pahs) are an icon of the Spanish gastronomy. These are small portions of food or snacks of various types, from olives or cheese to more elaborate dishes, like tortilla, Spanish omelet, or albóndigas, meatballs.

There are many stories about the origin of tapas. According to some people, bartenders used to cover drinks with a saucer to protect them from flies (tapa literally means cover or lid). Then, they started to serve a small snack, like a slice of ham, on top. Customers appreciated this gesture and continued drinking and coming back. Over time, this became a habit and the tapas tradition was born. Today, lots of Spaniards plan to ir de tapas, which means going out and socializing while enjoying different tapas, sometimes from bar to bar.

Tamales

Tamales are a Latin American dish made of corn dough filled with meat and chilies and wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, although there are variations from country to country. This recipe is rooted in the Aztec and Maya civilizations.

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