Christmas dinner in Guatemala mixes traditions old and new

Many Guatemalans make do with scarce resources during their holiday celebrations. The tamale is the ubiquitous regional dish, but many also embrace the simplicity and richness of plates like roasted pork.
December 12, 2019 - Guatemala

Traditional Roasted Pork Leg (photo credit Flickr)

In Guatemala, as in other regions of Latin America, oven-roasted pork leg is a celebrated Christmas dinner dish. Christmas dinner in Guatemala is served in observation of the birth of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith. Usually, it is eaten at midnight December 25. Guatemala is a conservative and majority Christian country. Emphasis is placed on the traditional elements of the Christmas celebration. These elements may include spending time with family, honoring the religious significance of the celebration, and expressing gratitude.

Guatemala is a country forged by both indigenous and European traditions. Guatemalan food, like its art and architecture, is a product of the merging of these two cultures. That’s why, more often than not, traditional Guatemalan tamales and other regional staples accompany the Christmas pork dish.

Guatemalan tamales, unlike their more widely recognized Mexican variant, are wrapped in a banana leaf, not a cornhusk. Typically, in addition to tamales and roasted pork, a fruit punch made with pineapple, raisins, plums, cinnamon, and more is served. Before and after dinner, Guatemalans exchange gifts, set off firecrackers, and spend time with family.

For those interested in tasting Guatemalan roasted pork, the traditional recipe includes:

pork leg, 5 to 10 pounds

black peppercorns




crushed peppers


These ingredients are combined and left to marinate with the meat for an hour. Then, the pork is cooked in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour and a half.

Many Guatemalans make do with less during the holiday season, a result of the difficult economic situation currently impacting the country. The overall poverty rate rose to nearly 60 percent in 2014, according to The World Bank. Among those in poverty, 52 percent are indigenous people. Taking into consideration the regional average income of US$2 a day, a Guatemalan living below the poverty line may be leveraging several days or a week’s worth of wages just to purchase the meat for a Christmas day meal.

Spencer Cappelli   
Communications Officer




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