A Menu of Traditional South American Christmas Dishes

Tamales, Pavo, Paneton, and More

Bunuelos Colombian cheese fritters

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

There are so many wonderful Christmas traditions in South America. In the Southern hemisphere, Christmas comes simultaneously with beach weather and summer vacation, so there are many reasons to celebrate. The main Christmas meal is typically late Christmas Eve night, although many families have another celebratory meal on Christmas Day itself. Each country has its own special Christmas dishes, such as buñuelos and natilla in Colombia or pan de jamon in Venezuela. Enjoy this sampling from around South America and pick and choose from the list to make your own holiday menu.

  • 01 of 09

    Tamales de Navidad

    Joseph De Leo / Getty Images

    Tamales are an essential part of the Christmas meal in Venezuela and in Colombia. The process to make them is long but not overly difficult and is a fun family activity for the holidays.

  • 02 of 09

    Creamy Mashed Yuca

    Mashed cassava
    Rodrigo Ruiz Ciancia / Getty Images

    Mashed yuca is a delicious alternative to mashed potatoes. If you want to make it even more special, you can smother it in cheesy salsa a la huancaina or mix the sauce to the mashed yuca, along with caramelized onions. You can find frozen peeled yuca root in the Latin section of many supermarkets.

  • 03 of 09

    Colombian Bunuelos and Natilla

    Bunuelos Colombian cheese fritters

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Buñuelos are little round savory "doughnuts" made with cheese. Natilla is a delicious cross between pudding and candy, with cinnamon and raisins. Both are popular Christmas treats in Colombia, often served together with hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.

  • 04 of 09

    Quinoa Sausage Casserole: Pastel de Quinoa

    Quinoa Sausage Casserole - Pastel de Quinoa

    The Spruce / Marian Blazes

    Quinoa is a high-protein seed that originated in the Andes. Unlike other native South American foods like the potato that conquered Europe centuries ago, quinoa is only now reaching popularity in North America. This casserole can be prepared without the sausage for an excellent vegetarian main course. It would also make great stuffing for roast turkey, especially if you are cooking for anyone who is eating gluten-free.

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  • 05 of 09

    Panettone: Holiday Fruitcake

    Traditional Italian Panettone Christmas cake

    Emma Innocenti / Creative RF / Getty Images

    Panettone (panetón in Spanish) is a sweet yeasted bread originally from Italy that has become one of the most important holiday traditions in South America. It's a brioche dough filled with dried fruits and nuts and baked in round decorative paper molds. It is traditionally served on Christmas Eve with hot chocolate and it is also given as a gift.

  • 06 of 09

    Chilean Holiday Fruitcake: Pan de Pascua

    Pan de Pascua

    The Spruce / Marian Blazes

    The name of this Christmas cake can be confusing to English speakers, but the word Pascua refers to both Easter and Christmas in Spanish. Pan de pascua is thought to have evolved from two other holiday breads, German stollen, and Italian panettone. It's a rich, dense spice cake, flavored with rum (or pisco) and filled with dried fruits and nuts.

  • 07 of 09

    Pan de Jamón: Venezuelan Ham and Olive Bread

    Pan de jamon recipe

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

    This savory/sweet bread stuffed with ham, olives, and raisins is often served at Christmas in Venezuela. It's rolled up in a log like a cinnamon roll and when sliced it makes attractive spirals.

  • 08 of 09

    Rabanadas: Brazilian/Portuguese French Toast

    Rabanadas Brazilian Portuguese French toast recipe

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Rabanadas are an essential part of the Christmas menu in Brazil and you can buy special pan de rabanada bread just for making them. They are deep-fried in oil and are enjoyed as a dessert or afternoon treat.

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  • 09 of 09

    Holiday Alfajor Cookies - Alfajores de Navidad

    Holiday Alfajor Cookies
    Luije / Getty Images

    These delicious sandwich cookies are made with shortbread and filled with dulce de leche.