The Friday before Christmas is the last official workday until the first Monday after New Year's Day. For almost three weeks, Panamanians cook, eat, shop and enjoy the holiday season. The malls and grocery stores are jam-packed, and normal business comes to an abrupt halt.
My expat friends who live here full-time migrate to whichever country they call home, and they are replaced with an influx of tourists from cold-weather countries who are coming to check-out Panama's beaches, mountains, and year-round good weather.
There are about four million people who live in Panama, and it seems like they are all at the mall every Christmas Eve. If I were to blindfold you and take you to MultiPlaza Mall, you would think you were smack in the middle of North America. For people who come to Panama expecting a third world country, this mall is a shock. The mall is full of stores like The Gap, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Starbucks and Dairy Queen.
As the holiday season approaches, Panama City transforms into a festive wonderland, blending traditional Christmas customs with the warmth of tropical charm. While the snowflakes might be absent, the spirit of Christmas is very much alive in this vibrant city. Let's delve into the enchanting ways Panama City, Panama, celebrates the most wonderful time of the year.
Panama City decks its halls with festive decorations, adorning streets, public spaces, and buildings with vibrant lights, Christmas trees, and colorful ornaments. The iconic Balboa Avenue and popular shopping districts, such as Multiplaza and Albrook Mall, come alive with dazzling displays that capture the holiday spirit and create a magical atmosphere for residents and visitors alike. Most of the major streets are decorated, and cultural centers like the Cinta Costera and Parque Urraca are decked out like mini wonderlands.
Parades and Festive Events
One of the highlights of Christmas in Panama City is the annual Christmas parade. Streets are filled with floats adorned with twinkling lights, cheerful performers, and the infectious beat of holiday music. Families gather along the parade route, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus, who often makes a grand entrance, spreading joy and good cheer.
Traditional Foods and Treats
Christmas in Panama is synonymous with delicious culinary delights. Families come together to prepare and enjoy traditional dishes such as tamales, arroz con guandú (rice with pigeon peas), and lechona (roast pig). Panamanian sweets like hojaldras (fried dough) and rosquitas (small ring-shaped cookies) are also popular during the holiday season. The aromas wafting through the air evoke a sense of warmth and togetherness.
Throughout December, Panama City hosts festive markets, offering a delightful array of seasonal treats, handcrafted goods, and unique gifts. These markets, often set up in bustling areas like Casco Viejo or Plaza de la Catedral, provide an opportunity for locals and tourists to soak in the holiday spirit while finding special treasures to share with loved ones.
Lighting of the Christmas Trees
The lighting of Christmas trees is a cherished tradition in Panama City. The city's main square, Plaza Catedral, typically hosts a grand ceremony to illuminate a towering Christmas tree. This event marks the official start of the holiday season and is attended by families, friends, and visitors who come together to witness the magical moment.
Midnight Mass and Fireworks
As Christmas Eve approaches, many Panamanians attend Midnight Mass, known as "Misa de Gallo." Churches across the city host special services filled with carols, prayers, and a sense of reverence. Following the Mass, fireworks light up the night sky, creating a dazzling spectacle that signals the arrival of Christmas Day.
Given Panama City's coastal location, some residents choose to celebrate Christmas with a unique twist by heading to the beaches. Families gather for picnics, barbecues, and even midnight swims, embracing the tropical climate and infusing the holiday with a laid-back, beachy vibe.
In Panama City, Christmas is a time of joy, unity, and celebration, where traditions blend seamlessly with the city's tropical charm. From dazzling parades and festive decorations to traditional foods and beachside gatherings, the holiday season in Panama City is a magical experience that captures the essence of Christmas in paradise. Whether you're exploring the vibrant streets or enjoying a beachfront celebration, the warmth of Panamanian hospitality and the spirit of the season make Christmas in Panama City truly special.