Chilenismos and Holiday Decorations

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.

I love the fake snow.

I love the fake snow.

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.

Halloween aND Christmas??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

Surfing SantaSanta 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

image from kaminokultural.blogspot

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?


Not too Shabby: Chilenismos of Quality

“Poor quality” has never been easier to say.  Chileans have various incredibly common words to describe things that are shoddy, sub-par, or of inferior quality.  And frankly, after a trip to the registro civil, you’ll understand why.


Something that is irreparably poor quality.  When a situation is flat-out sucky, penca is the most commonly used description.  This has long been one of my favorite chilenismos (as demonstrated in the stories here).  Careful, in true Chilean form, this word can also mean a certain male organ.


Chinese knock offs and professors who watch Naruto instead of teaching their classes are things that first come to mind with the word chanta.


A perfect word for overpriced knock offs is mula.  These are objects that scream YOU GOT SWINDLED.  That mula dress you bought yesterday cost you seventy bucks, and it’s already falling apart, for example.

charcha chilenismosCharcha:

Purely poor quality.  Something that’s really cheap and probably breaks really easily.  For example, according to Edwin, my father-in-law always buys charcha tools that break after one or two uses.  (When asked how to describe Miley Cyrus, I would say charcha, among other things.)  It comes from an indigenous word that means “deficient.”


Consider that this word comes from the verb “scratch”… and then imagine the dirtiest, scratchiest, shabbiest thing you can.  That’s rasca.  Like a mangy mutt.  Look up the meaning of “mange” and you’ll get it.


Peliento is like rasca, but it’s a little sadder.  Like, if you see a street dog that on top of being mangy is limping and listless, that’s kind of like peliento.  It comes from a word meaning vagabond.


Something that’s ghetto, but not in a good way.  It could be something so flashy it’s tacky or looks like bad taste.  It could be the duct tape holding together the frame of your car.  It could be the insanely loud reggaeton music shaking your neighbor’s house.  But mostly, it’s a kind of person, according to wikipedia, an “urban youth of low socioeconomic background.”

And finally, a word to describe something of excellent quality:


A big old sirloin steak… that is the definition of top-notch for many people.  For example:

¿Has leído el blog de la pelirroja peligrosa?  Es filete.

Keep in mind that puro filete is something you might hear as a piropo… because seeing women as a piece of meat is always a flattering thing.

Still looking for more words?  Look up some of these: punga, cuma, picante.

Ginger Discrimination: Fortis et hospitalis

Root People

Friends, family, and those who have been carried here by the sacred winds of Facebook stalking, the time has come for me to once again take up a good fight that not long ago came to rest as an angry flame upon my pensive brow.  Recent events have brought to light once again this force that stands against me, this darkness that rears its ugly head and hisses at vibrant life, the injustice that burns in the chest of anyone who has ever climbed to the top of the mountain, looked out, and seen how the promised land lies within boundaries of barbs and wires guarded by giants.

Dear loved ones, the time has come to share the story, the suffering, the beauty.

We’re deep, we root people.  We have skin rough and thick, prepared to guard us against the unforgiving earth.  But that skin holds in it some of the most powerful, pale fruit you will ever experience.  That’s why it has happened like this.  A stranger’s stare, a quick joke, a couple eerily exclusive coincidences–they rub against that skin, poke at the husk a bit, and in spite of the indignation, we root people carry on with our knotted and twisted grace.  But it is past words and sticks and stones; it is more than a question of skin and bones… once you have cut into the root, we will make our presence known.  A simmering in your nostrils, a heat in the back of your throat, a tear in your eye… you may not realize it.  But we’ve arrived.

1 : a thickened pungent aromatic rhizome that is used as a spice and sometimes medicinally
2 : pep, verve:  the “ginger” to work hard
3 : A human, characterized by pale skin, freckles and bright red hair. “Gingers” are generally considered to be inferior to their more melanin-rich brethren, and thus deservingly discriminated against. Gingers are thought to have no souls. The condition, “gingervitis” is genetic and incurable.

Maybe it was my human rights class that was getting to me, with lofty ideas that we as a species may reach a place of respect for the dignity of every person.  Maybe it was the that naiveté rose to the surface and the hope that tickled my eyes shut with her feathery reasoning.  Whatever the reason, I had begun to believe in some brand of color blindness.

And then it happened: I was leaving my house, not even flinching as that damned bark-happy golden retriever ran back and forth behind my neighbors’ fence.  “You know, he’s barking at you,” Edwin told me.  Ha, I thought, how ridiculous.  But eduvin insisted on proving this to me.  He strolled on by the fence.  No alarm.  Looked easy enough.  I didn’t make it two steps before the dog went crazy.  I hid again.  Edwin comes back to my side.  Leaves rustle.  I show my head—rage confined by an iron fence greets me.  We try this three times.  The dog keeps his eyes on me, fixated. 

I will not doubt again. Even if three times doesn’t constitute statistical significance. 

Emily asked me, bewildered in spite of her ample experience with the demon of ginger discrimination, “How does it know?  Dogs aren’t even supposed to be able to see in color!”

Which leads us to our main conclusion, friends.  Nobody is colorblind.  Not Mother Nature or any of her children.

Ginger discrimination:

The tendency of Earth’s natural laws to seek out those in the human population with the mutation stated above in order to unfurl the misfortunes of many on a select few. Continue reading