It might surprise you to know that even though it’s summer here in Chile, they are going to go ahead and celebrate Christmas anyway. It certainly surprised me. That’s the true Christmas spirit: overcome all obstacles for a little holiday cheer. It’s heroic, really.
They don’t even try to cushion the blow. In fact, Santas are still dressed in ridiculous North Pole suits, and “White Christmas” is still heard jovially in the streets. In Spanish. (It’s not like they don’t know what “blanca navidad” is about.) My mother-in-law even told me it didn’t seem strange to her! Poor soul.
The Christmas trees are up in offices, houses, malls, and the streets. Poinsettias and wreaths hang from the lampposts. Some people have even put out inflatable snowmen and reindeer in their front yards.
I just can’t get over it.
This has all been more ridiculous considering Chileans have been milking it since October. OCTOBER. They don’t have Thanksgiving to break it up, so… why not set the Christmas stuff next to the Halloween stuff?
More interesting, however, is the amount of gringo culture reflected in these celebrations and decorations. But I’ll talk about cultural transfer another day. Let’s get to the chilenismos.
This word is how Chileans say navidad or Christmas. Kind of. Because it’s also the word for Easter and Passover (you know, from the Hebrew pesach/פסח). And Easter Island, which is part of Chile, is called Isla de Pascua. Anyhow, here are some other things that contain pascua.
El Viejito Pascuero
Santa Claus is known by many names all over the world, but Chile is the only place to affectionately call him “the little old Christmas man.” The men who dress up as el viejo pascuero here really have hearts of gold—I mean, apart from systematically lying to children—it’s way too hot to be wearing that suit!
Pan de Pascua
A traditional bread that resembles fruitcake… but it’s generally more revered in Chile than fruitcakes are in the US. Also, if someone has a ton of acne, you might mention that their face looks like pan de pascua. If you were a jerk.
Cola de Mono
Monkey’s tail! This is like a Chilean version of eggnog… Except it has milk, coffee, sugar, spices, and aguardiente (firewater! or “alcohol prepared with local ingredients”). No, it doesn’t include monkeys, but there are some interesting theories about how the drink got its name.
Cola de mono is a very traditional Christmas drink, and if you’re interested in making a glass or two to go along with your pan de pascua, check out the cooking show below on how to make both.
Knowing that this word comes from engañar, which means “to decieve,” you might not think you would like to receive an engañito. But it’s actually the Chilean word for a little gift that may not be worth too much money, but it’s an expression of love and caring for the other person nevertheless.
It’s like saying, “Here, I got you a little something for your birthday. It’s nothing big…”
It could be something that didn’t cost the other person much. For example, we have some wonderful tíos who came to our Vermont wedding and bought us little souvenirs from the locale. They told Edwin to give them to me for our first anniversary. That’s an engañito—it probably only cost them a couple bucks, but it was really special.
Happy holidays to all!
What’s your favorite holiday phrase? Any chilenismos that I missed?