As you’re learning how to speak Spanish, it’s a great idea to learn about the culture and Spanish traditions at the same time! Here, Honolulu, HI tutor Jinan B. shares 3 important holidays you’ll want to get familiar with…
Learning about Hispanic holidays is a wonderful way to learn specific vocabulary and increase your understanding of the cultural aspects of the Spanish language. The Day of the Dead, the New Year/New Year’s Eve, and Epiphany are three widely-celebrated Hispanic holidays that are important to become familiar with. After reading about these Spanish traditions, you might even be inspired to go practice your Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country and enjoy the festivities at the same time!
1. el Día de los Muertos
The first holiday is the Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), a tradition that you might already be familiar with, as it has spread from Mexico to the United States. On this day, family members gather to honor their deceased loved ones with elaborate celebrations. They create an altar (el altar) within their house that they decorate with photos of the deceased, as well as the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks and a circular bread that represents the cycle of life. Another bread also central to the Day of the Dead is el pan de muertos, which has a sign of the cross on top of it. Family members will also go to the cemetery (el cementerio) to decorate the tombs (decorar las tumbas) with flowers (las flores). They remain there until midnight (medianoche).
2. el Año Nuevo/Nochevieja
The New Year/New Year’s Eve (el Año Nuevo/Nochevieja) is celebrated with festivities throughout the Hispanic world in a variety of ways. Two especially interesting traditions are those of Ecuador and Spain. In Ecuador, larger-than-life figures of key individuals from the previous year are displayed and then burned at midnight. In Spain, people consume 12 grapes (las uvas) with each strike of the clock (el reloj) at midnight. If all of the grapes are consumed in time, it symbolizes 12 months (doce meses) of good luck (buena suerte).
3. el Día de los Reyes
Another interesting Hispanic holiday that is also celebrated in the United States (although to a lesser degree than in the Hispanic world) is Epiphany (el Día de los Reyes). This day recognizes the existence of God (Dios) in the human form as Jesus Christ. What makes this Spanish tradition especially fun is that it relates to children. Just as the three wise men (los reyes magos) visited Jesus Christ as an infant, so do the three wise men visit homes before dawn (el alba) on January 6th (el seis de enero) to leave Christmas gifts (los regalos de Navidad) for children.
Got all that? Here’s a handy infographic for a quick run-down:
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As you continue to learn Spanish, you will find even greater significance in these holidays as your understanding of Hispanic culture increases. In addition, these holidays are simply a few examples of the many festivities that occur throughout the year in the Hispanic world. You can practice the vocabulary associated with these holidays as you encounter Spanish speakers by asking questions (for example, “¿Cómo celebra usted el Día de los Muertos?”) and sharing your own cultural holidays (“Aquí en los Estados Unidos, nosotros…”). The more fun you can have learning Spanish conversation and vocabulary, the more likely you are to practice frequently and consistently.
Jinan B. tutors in Honolulu, HI. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, teaching various courses including Community Nutrition, Concepts in Nutrition Education, and Advanced Child and Adolescent Nutrition. Learn more about Jinan here!
Photo by Jenny Huey