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Christmas in Panama

Five Reasons to Spend Christmas in Panama

In the fourth installment of our “Reasons to Visit Central America at Christmas” series, we take a look at Panama. Here, U.S. expat Nicholas Corea offers up five reasons to spend Christmas in Panama. 

Panama is home to Central America’s largest shopping mall, so naturally it is a popular destination. But that’s not what makes Christmas in Panama so special.

Whether you’re into exploring a new culture, or escaping cold weather and surfing the warmest of yuletide Pacific and Caribbean waters, Christmas in Panama could be for you.

Or is it the parties, the beaches, adventures, or even the amazing consumer deals that make Christmas in Panama so attractive?

Whatever the case may be, Panama has much to offer every Christmas.

1. Panama Christmas customs and traditions

Panamanians are among the most festive people on the planet and have Christmas customs you won’t experience anywhere else

Panama is a Roman Catholic country, so Christmas has been a big deal since the arrival of the Spanish. In general, Panamanians are passionate about their festivities. Every November there are parties all month, with five national Fiesta Patrias holidays. They keep that vibe going through December with Mother’s Day on December 8th and straight on through the New Year. And then the carnivals start.

A typical Christmas in a Panama home starts with a fresh coat of paint. The family gathers sometime in early December to paint the house, make repairs, clean, and decorate to receive the holiday and new year in a renovated fashion. There’s a party spirit to this work – after people receive their Christmas bonus, they get together with family to fix up the house, with music at full volume.

A typical Christmas meal in Panama involves a ham or turkey and a big family feast.

But things like ponche de ron (rum punch), pan de rosca (an egg bread), fruitcake, rice with guandú (pigeon peas), arroz con pollo, and tamales add Panama to the party.

Most Panamanians have a mom, aunt, sister, wife, etc. who makes the best tamales ever, and no Panamanian Christmas table is complete without rice with guandú.

On the Caribbean side, a bright red saril and ginger juice is a favorite Christmas drink.

Panama loves its municipal decorations, too. Town centers and parks are often beautifully lit, and parades are common. Bocas del Toro, an archipelago of islands on the Caribbean side, also has boat parades.

Another Bocas tradition is leaving your doors open, especially in the community of Old Bank on Bastimentos Island. People do this to welcome and receive any guest at this festive time.

2. Tropical weather

One of the main reasons to come to the tropics over the Holidays is the weather. Snowball fights and hot chocolate by the fire are fun, for sure, but it’s hard to miss shoveling snow when you’re living in board shorts and flip flops. And Christmas on the beach isn’t so bad!

Christmas also marks the beginning of the Caribbean surf season, with some of the most consistent swells getting underway in Bocas del Toro. Surfing in Bocas del Toro over Christmas will all but guarantee consistent waves at during this time of year.

And when you’re done surfing the Caribbean, you can head to Playa Venao for Pacific waves. Panama is that country where you can surf the Caribbean at first light, and then ride the mighty Pacific the same afternoon.

3. Cooler weather

If shredding waves isn’t your idea of getting into the Christmas spirit, then a Boquete Christmas in Panama might be the place for you.

Though Panama is nine degrees from the equator, we have our highlands that can get -relatively- chilly! December evenings in Boquete won’t bring any snowfall, but you can get some use out of wool stockings while you sip on hot chocolate. Boquete nights can dip down to 12° C (55° F).

Boquete is famous for its coffee, cooler weather, beautiful landscapes, and outdoor activities.

4. Shopping

There’s no denying Panama is a top-rated international shopping destination, even though we prefer to focus on the cultural aspects of Christmas. Panama and its canal are smack dab in the middle of strategic international shipping routes. This makes it easy to always find great deals on the latest merchandise.

The Panama City malls and Colon’s duty free area are where many Christmas travelers stuff their suitcases with new clothing and electronics before heading back home. Pro-tip: The after-Christmas sales in Panama are insane!

Be mindful of the current Covid-19 protocols when visiting Panama’s malls, restaurants, and other public spaces.

5. Another Panamanian tradition

Some Panamanians end their Christmas celebration on New Years by blowing up and burning dolls of celebrities, politicians, and their rivals. The idea is to wipe out the bad memories that (politicians in particular) these people have brought during the year. They make the doll, stuff them with fireworks, and burn them.

Christmas in Panama has it all.

Caribbean surfing. Warm weather. Cool weather. Great food. And rum punch, of course.

And then you have unique Christmas pastimes and traditions, Santa’s favorite malls, great shopping deals, and last, but not least, the end-of-year paper mache voodoo celebration.

The only question is, who will you be blowing up on your lawn this year?

Nicholas Corea is the editor of The Bocas Breeze, the community newspaper of Bocas del Toro, Panama.

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