Honduran People and Culture
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Time to meet the Hondurans! In this page you'll learn about our food, languages, customs, celebrations, and our rich ethnic diversity.
Christmas and New Year
Christmas is perhaps the biggest celebration of the year for Hondurans. It is filled with religious meaning, as the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ is at heart of it. Christmas is celebrated at the stroke of midnight on the night of the 24th of December (as opposed to the 25th in other countries).
For Hondurans, Christmas is a very special and emotional occasion and is important to spend it with the family. Just before midnight, the family will gather and pray together, which may include the reading of passages of the Bible that narrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Once the prayer is finished, the family members engage in a round of hearty hugs and wish each other "¡Feliz Navidad!". The Christmas meal is usually served after this.
The Christmas meal itself is extremely important. Usually, it takes several days to prepare and several days to recover from it. The typical menu is a combination of the traditional Latinamerican menu plus items borrowed from the North American Christmas menu:
As late as the first quarter of the 20th century, Latinamericans traditionally exchanged gifts on the 6th of January, the date traditionally associated with the Three Magi visiting the newborn Christ and delivering gifts. Santa Claus and Christmas Trees were not heard of in those days. Inevitably, the influence of North-American and European cultures has filtered into the Honduran traditions, and now Christmas trees and exchanging of gifts are considered to be absolutely essential elements of Christmas. Although it has nothing to do with Latinamerican tradition, Santa Claus is ubiquitous during the season and most Honduran children learn to believe in him from an early age, just like children in many other countries.
Several weeks before Christmas Eve, the streets of the cities become populated with vendors of firecrackers and other pyrotechnical articles. Hondurans, especially children, will spend considerable amounts on money purchasing pyrotecnics. The amount of pyrotechnics set off (and the noise level) grows exponentially thought the Christmas season, reaching a a spectacular climax at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Sadly, this tradition is now endangered: the Honduran government has recently passed laws prohibiting the sale of pyrotechnic devices
The "Guest of Honor" gets blown up!
No, not really. A few days before 31st of December, the children and teenagers in the neighborhoods in the cities will fashion a life-size doll or mannequin of an old man, representing the year that is about to end: the "Año Viejo". The doll is fashioned from whatever materials the children can gather and dressed with old clothes collected from the neighbors and stuffed with as many pyrotechnical devices as possible. There are no guidelines, so each Año Viejo reflects the creativity of each "neighborhood team". Sometimes they are made to look like politicians or other famous (or rather infamous) public figures.
At the stroke of midnight of 31st of December, the Año Viejo is set alight, with all the pyrotechnics setting off in a loud and bright display that the neighbors gather around to see. This is echoed to spectacular effect throught the cities and towns, as each neighborhood will have its own Año Viejo. The cleanup effort the next morning is also spectacular.
The Año Viejo is meant symbolise of all the bad and forgettable events of the outgoing year. So, in a way, burning the Año Viejo is a symbolic "burning away" of bad memories. Also, it is simply great fun to watch!
Unfortunately, the Honduran government has forbidden the sale and use of the type of pyrotechnic items used to build the Año Viejo and as of Christmas 2014 they're enforcing the law quite seriously. The Año Viejo may be a thing of the past- in more than one way!
Photo by Anibal Villatoro
Easter celebrations center around Semana Santa (literally, "Holy Week"). During this week, Christians commemorate the events of the last days in the life of Jesus Christ, as narrated in the Bible. It begins on Sunday of Palms. It is a period of reflection and good behaviour for all Christians.
With Catholicism being the dominant religion, Easter is an important time of the year for Hondurans and it is celebrated accordingly, with religious parades, special masses, and other traditional events hailing from Colonial times.
On the evening of Good Friday, people attend a special mass to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. Since the Catholic tradition indicates that he resurrected three days later, a meal is arranged to commemorate celebrate this on the evening of the Easter Sunday.
Most of the year, the figures depicting Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and other saints are kept safely inside the Catholic churches. But on Good Friday, they are dressed in elaborate and elegant costumes, brought out of their church or cathedral, and paraded on floats around the city or town. The floats are solemnly and slowy carried through the streets by volunteers, while band plays a funerary piece. The parade symbolizes Christ's funeral.
Photos by Gina Villatoro
Traditionally, the streets on the parade's route are covered with decorative "carpets" made from a thin pre- painted sawdust. The sawdust is painstakingly laid-out to create intricate patterns or images depicting religious scenes and characters from Catholic tradition. These "carpets" are true works of art, made entirely by volunteers and every year there is an undeclared competition between neighbouring cities, to see which can make the most elaborate and beautiful "carpets" for their Good Friday parade. Unfortunatley, the carpets do not last long: any gust of wind or rain will ruin them, and the parade itself destroys them.
Photos by Gina Villatoro
Photos by Gina Villatoro
Birthdays, piñatas, and cake
In most of Latinamerica, it is customary to celebrate a child's birthday with a gathering of friends, a meal and a "piñata" - a hollow figure made of papier-maché in different colours, filled with various types of candy, chocolates, and small toys. Traditionally, piñatas would be shaped like a star, but today they can be made to order to resemble anything you can imagine, with characters from the latest cartoons and animated films being the most popular.
Photo by Anibal Villatoro
The piñata is strung up from a tree branch or post so that it can swing about and children attending the party take turns to strike the piñata with a wooden stick. Usually the child at turn is blindfolded and the piñata is made to swing back and forth at random, whilst the rest of attendees help by shouting "Up!", "Down!", "Left!", "Right!", "Cold!", "Warm!", etc. This continues until the piñata has suffered enough damage to allow the contents to pour out for all the children to rush in and collect them.
For some strange reason, at most birthday parties you will hear the song "Happy Birthday" in English (and sometimes also in Spanish). This is followed immediately by the traditional blowing of the candles on a cake that will be shared by the guests.
Spanish is the official language of Honduras and is spoken by all Hondurans. Like other countries in Central America, we have our own accent and slang. Spanish people visiting Hondurans have often commented that the Honduran accest is very similar to that used in Spain's Canary Islands.
English is spoken by many people of Afro-Caribbean ascent on the islands off the northern coast of Honduras (the Bay Islands). On the mainland, relatively few people are bililngual, with English being the most common second language, for those who have access to bi-lingual education.
When you travel in Honduras, be aware that it will very useful for you to speak and understand at least enough Spanish to be able to ask for and get directions. This will be specially true away from the cities, were most people will only speak Spanish.
Several native tongues are still spoken by the native groups living (mostly) in rural areas. For example, the Tolupán speak the "Tol" language and the Garífuna use language that is a unique mixture of at least five others, including some East-African languges. To find out more about this, visit our page on ethnic groups in Honduras.
Most Hondurans are members of the Roman Catholic Church. Being another component of the cultural heritage from Sapain, Catholicism has been the strongest religion in the country, but recently Evangelism has become popular and is gaining strength, specially amongst the younger generation of Hondurans.
You'll find that many customs and traditions in Honduras have a link to Catholic faith.
Sports such as basketball and baseball are known in Honduras and there are teams and tournaments. A few people watch motorsports, like Formula 1 or World Rally Championship. However, as most other people in Southamerica, Hondurans are absolutely passionate above one sport in particular: football. Football players enjoy celebrity status in Honduras; newspapers seem to sell more due to a good football section than for coverage of the main daily news; no matter how bad things may get financially, Hondurans always find time and money to buy a ticket and go to the local stadium and watch their favourite team play.
Honduras has not been well known for having a prominent national football team. Only until 1982 did the country manage to form a team that was good enough to earn a place in thw World Cup, held in Spain. Honduran football fans would have to wait patiently until 2010 for the national team to qualify for the Cup again. Once in the tournament, the Honduran squad did not get very far. However, the team managed to qualify for the World Cup a second consecuteve time in the 2014, which seems to indicate that the quality of Honduran football is indeed improving.
Hondurans love music. Once you enter the country, you're practically surrounded by music everywhere you go. Hondurans listen to a varied mix of music, some of originating ine the USA or Europe and some of it from different countries in Latinamerica, such as México (which has a very strong recording industry), Brasil, Colombia, and the Caribbean Islands.
Honduras has not had a prosperous recording industry. This may be because of the capital investment for recording equipment, a relatively small population of local musicians, and a low number of music schools. However, there are a few names worthy of mention, such as Guillermo Anderson and Moisés Canelo.
A very traditional musical instrument in Honduras is the marimba, which is essentially a giant xylophone carefully built from wood. The xylophone was introduced to Central America in XIV century and there it evolved to incorporate resonance chambers carved out of wood (similar to the silimba, found in Africa). It is generally accepted that the marimba was developed in Guatemala, but it is well known in México and Honduras. Traditionally, before radio and television popularised newer types of music from the USA and Europe, it was common to have a marimba troop play music live at parties such as birthdays or weddings. Sadly, this is much more rare now, and the number of people that either know how to build or play a marimba is dwindling.
Not surprisingly, Hondurans love to dance. A party is not a party if people aren't dancing late into the night. Popular traditional styles are salsa, cumbia, merengue, bachata, and (more recently) reguetón.
Honduras is blessed with a population of great ethnic diversity. The predominant ethnic group in Honduras are the "mestizo" - people of mixed native and European (mostly Spanish) ascent. Mestizos account for over 93% of the population of Honduras. There are several other minority ethnic groups. Amongst them are people who descend from native tribes that were in our territory before the Spanish arrived: Lencas, Chortís, Tolupanes, Pech, Tawahkas, and Miskitos. There is also another important group, called the Garífunas, who descend from African slaves from the Caribbean islands and are a relatively recent addition to the Honduran family. And there are many people of Afro-Caribbean ascent living in The Bay Islands.
To read about the history and traditions of each ethnic group in Honduras, please visit our page about Honduran ethnic groups.
The population of Honduras has grown steadily during the XX century. This growth has accelerated during the last 4 decades thanks to the success of government programs aimed at reducing infant mortality and increasing overall life expectancy. According to government figures, in 2011 Hondurans numbered 8.2 million and with the current growth rates (2.1% per year), it is proyected that the population will reach 10 million by 2020.
Chart by ThisIsHonduras, based on data from Banco Central de Honduras
The latest population census has shown that, for the first time in Honduran history, more Hondurans now live in cities than in rural areas. This is a reflection of the working conditions outside urban areas are much less than ideal, which should be of concern to governments of a country that does not yet have a strong industrial sector.
Honduras is a young country, with just over 50% of the population under 19 years old (only 3% of the population is 65 or over). The population is split approximately evenly between men and women.