Christmas in Panama

Another holiday season is flying by! But, it has been another excellent Christmas. It is interesting to see how it is celebrated here, both the differences and similarities.

One big similarity which I’m not sure is a good thing, is the commercialism of the holiday. Decorations and promotions started to appear in stores two months beforehand since there isn’t that Thanksgiving date to mark (though Black Friday was observed for the first time, complete with crowds and overflowing parking lots). As it got closer to Christmas the crowds and traffic increased daily. The last week downtown was closed to traffic, stores were crowded, and it was almost impossible to drive around town except in the mornings. Yes, the Panamanians did some serious shopping!

But, Christmas is also a traditional family event and a time of celebration. Unlike the US though, Christmas Eve is the height of the celebration. Families and friends get together, often making the rounds to a number of homes of of family and friends, and many celebrate with fireworks. In every neighborhood the fireworks increased throughout the evening with the climax at midnight to usher in the day of Christmas. Then, at midnight, everyone is wished a Merry Christmas (in person or by phone or whatever means of communication is possible), dinner is served, and presents are opened

There continues to be celebrations on Christmas day as well. Families and friends who couldn’t get together on Christmas Eve see each other on Christmas day, and I saw many homes in our neighborhood had gatherings. I was also surprised to see how many people were working on Christmas Day. I talked to a car mechanic, a small engine repairman, and even the trash men were making their Thursday rounds. Supermarkets were open, and of course there were policemen on duty.

Here with us and our friends it was a relaxed and quiet holiday. Many kids were elsewhere celebrating with other family members, so we made the traditional holidays foods for dinner but enjoyed the evening at our own pace and appreciated the neighborhood fireworks that made the night so festive.


Here is the majority of our Christmas food. At the top of the table are the tamales, next to the green beans. Below them is chicken with traditional Panamanian flavorings, and next to that is arroz con guandu (rice and pigeon peas). This and the tamales are pretty much requirements for festive dinners, and especially for Christmas. Guandu comes in green, spotted, or black. These are mine from last year preserved in the freezer, and they are black which is why the rice looks so dark. The dish sure tasted good though!

Moving on, next on the right is a fruit cocktail of apples, pears, grapes, and oranges. Sangria is in the cup made with cranberry juice and fresh squeezed orange juice. I never made it with orange juice before but it is really good. We also had iced tea for anyone who wanted something non-alcoholic. The pink dish is potato salad made with beets. It is made like most potato salads but with the addition of beats which give it this festive color. Because of that it is popular at many holiday dinners. Not pictured – the very illegal (diet wise) but wonderful cheesecake, thanks to Pricesmart. I wanted a tres leche cake but they didn’t have one, and I couldn’t come home empty handed after all.

Like the US, food is an important part of the holiday and every family has their favorite dishes and recipes. Food and treats are on hand for any guests, and it is especially nice if they are home made. And, also like the US, often there is the head woman of the kitchen who knows all the family favorites and how to make them.

Cedo, la jefe (the one in charge) of her kitchen.

Cedo, la jefe (the one in charge) of her kitchen.

Next comes New Years so we aren’t finished with celebrating yet. TIP = This Is Panama though, so we are never finished with celebrating! That’s OK though because it’s nice living in a country of endless celebrations.

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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10 Responses to Christmas in Panama

  1. Felices fiestas!!!!
    Que el año Nuevo te traiga a ti y a tus seres queridos mucha salud, felicidad y sobre todo mucha prosperidad!!!

    Roger Bellido


    • Muchas gracias! Igualmente. Feliz Navidad, Espero que el año que viene es maravilloso para tú también, y para tu familia y amigos. Gracias por la visita y por los saludos 🙂


  2. Sunni Morris says:

    Well i don’t understand a word of Spanish, but it looks like a good time was had by all. And no matter how we celebrate Xmas, it’s supoosed to be spent with famiy and/or frineds. We don’t have family where we live so we celebrated with some friends from Australia we met over the internet. What did we do before the internet? They’ve been here four years and will be applyng or citizen ship status next year. i guess life is the same everywhere you go. You find where you want to be and take it from there Glad you had a great time and found your Eutopia.



    • We were talking about that here too. If you don’t have family nearby you “adopt” other family, gather your friends, and enjoy the holidays with just as many good feelings. As for the Spanish, Roger was sending me/us many good wishes for the new year, and I was returning the same.


  3. Allison Sherman says:

    Hola Cedo!!! I was drooling over your picture. It all looks amazing. I need to come back for another cooking lesson. We had guandu tonight for the first time. Yummy. Canned (no me gusta) but yummy. Probably would be great fresh.


    • Yes indeed! Maybe if you do a border run we could work it out. Around here there are lots of people selling fresh guandu in bags on the street. Maybe there are some sellers there too? If not, you’ll have to grow some. Cedo put some oil in the pan, smashed up some garlic with her stone, then cooked the guandu until it was soft. Then she added rice, salt, and water and cooked it until the rice had absorbed the water, and then left it on low heat. It was a but crusty on the bottom but I thought that was the best part. Someone else taught me to just put the guandu in the oil, fry it for a few minutes, add the rice and fry it a bit too, then add the water. There are probably quite a few recipes and methods for cooking it.


  4. Feliz Navidad mis amigos! We had a quiet, traditional Christmas eve dinner, too. Ron butchered Marina’s pig, then Marina came to our house and we made nacatamales. I really enjoy seeing all the traditional foods from other countries. Enjoy your holidays.


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