20 DEC 2016: The Christmas celebrations in Venezuela kicked off on December 16 when early morning masses (Misas de Aguinaldo) are offered until December 24. Residents needn’t worry about missing church service by sleeping in as they are awakened to church bells ringing.  For those who need more of a boom boom bang to their alarm, firecrackers are set off before dawn.

Rollin' around the Caracas streets
On the Christmas iglesia hop,
Big toes strung and you can see
From the window when you stop

On the eves of the nine days of celebration, children go to bed early, tying a long piece of string around their big toe and leaving the end of it dangling outside the window.

In Caracas, the roads are blocked to cars in the early morning hours to protect residents who go to church on roller skates. As the skaters pass by windows with strings hanging out, they give it a friendly tug to wake the sleepy children inside.

Rollin' around the Caracas streets,
Let the Christmas church bells ring
Then head home for hallacas
And do some speed skating

Christmas eve (Noche Buena) is celebrated with family gatherings for roasted pig (lechón).

At night they attend midnight mass (Misa de Gallo) translated as ‘roosters mass’ after which families gather again for a meal consisting of ‘Hallaca’ (corn dough stuffed with pork, beef, or chicken, capers, raisins and olives) ‘Tamale’ (corn and cornmeal dough stuffed with meat wrapped in corn husks and steamed) ‘pan de jamon’ (puff pastry filled with cooked ham and raisins, olives and bacon) and ‘dulce de lechoza’, made of green papaya and brown sugar, slowly cooked for hours and served cold.

You will get a sentimental feeling when you hear
Voices singing, ‘Let's be jolly
Come on back for spiced tamale’

A week after Noche Buena, many Venezuelans bring in the New Year, as do the Spanish in a tradition where revellers get a glass with 12 grapes in it and eat one for every stroke at midnight.  Each grape represents a month of the year to follow.

Wishing you Happy Holidays and sweet grapes for 2017.

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Pam Stellini

Pam Stellini is an original. Her quirky outlook and wry humour defy categorization. Readers have compared her to Erma Bombeck and Art Buchwald with a travel spin – and we're not about to argue. 

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