Traditions and customs of Chile

What traditions and customs are there in Chile?

We will see what are the customs and traditions of Chile, a South American country.


Food in daily life

Food has a very special place in Chilean culture. Chileans normally eat four times a day. The first meal of the day is breakfast, which is mostly a light meal including buttered toast and instant coffee with milk.

Lunch (served between 1:00 and 2:00 PM) is the big meal of the day. Two main dishes are traditionally served. The first course can be a salad of some kind.

A common salad is the Chilean salad, which includes sliced ​​onions, chopped and peeled tomatoes, an oil and vinegar dressing, and fresh coriander (cilantro). The second course usually includes beef or chicken, accompanied by vegetables.

Around 5:00 in the afternoon Chileans have once, an afternoon tea with bread and jam, which often also includes cheeses and avocados. Once, meaning ‘eleven’, is evidently named after British tea time – 11:00 AM

Around 9:00 PM most families serve dinner, which is usually a single but substantial dish, most often accompanied by wine grown in the many vineyards of the Central Valley.

Chilean cuisine has both indigenous and European influences. The national dish, porotos granados, for example, has ingredients characteristic of indigenous cuisine (corn, pumpkin and beans), with clearly Spanish contributions (onion and garlic). As is to be expected in a country with an extremely long coastline, seafood figures prominently in local culinary preferences.

Traditional Chilean seafood includes locos (abalone), machas (clams), sea urchins, and cochayuyo (seaweed). Another national delicacy is caldillo de congrio, a soup made of conger eel, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, herbs and spices.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

During the Independence Day celebrations (September 18) Chileans eat a wide variety of traditional food.

As an appetizer or first course of a large meal, Chileans usually eat empanadas. This pasta of Spanish origin is filled with meat, cheese or seafood, as well as onions, raisins and olives. Another popular starter is humitas, which contains a paste of white corn, fried onions, and basil, wrapped in corn husks and cooked in boiling water.

A classic second course is pastel de choclo (“choclo” is the Mapuche word for corn). It is a casserole of white corn and beef coated in sugar and cooked mostly on traditional black ceramic plates, handmade in the small town of Pomaire.

Also on Independence Day, large barbecues (parrilladas) are organized throughout the country. Large amounts of wine, chicha (fermented apple beer), and pisco (grape brandy) accompany the celebrations.


Chilean etiquette does not differ much from that of Western societies. Although Chileans are generally less formal than other Latin Americans, they definitely follow certain rules in social gatherings.

During formal occasions, people shake hands in a restricted manner, while good friends may shake hands and embrace. Chilean women normally greet their acquaintances (both men and women) with a kiss on the right cheek.

Chileans often use “usted” to address people, regardless of the social status of the interlocutor. In-laws are also respectfully treated with you and with don or dona before their first name. The “you” is used largely between people who know each other very well and between young people, but it is avoided when talking to an elder.

Chileans are usually quite punctual in their business appointments. However, when invited to a house for dinner, the guest is expected not to show up before about twenty minutes after the appointed time.

Chileans are quite restricted in public spaces and restaurants and it is particularly bad to speak loudly. Waiters call each other “sir” and address them formally “you.” It is also considered unwise to talk about the authoritarian past, Pinochet, the armed forces, etc., in social gatherings, since Chileans are very divided on these sensitive issues.


Religious beliefs

A large majority of Chileans (73 percent) are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. About 15 percent of the population identifies with various Protestant groups. This includes Anglicans and Lutherans, but the vast majority of Chilean Protestants (90 percent) belong to the Pentecostal Church.

Another 4 percent of the population belongs to other religious groups (Jews, Muslims, and Greek Orthodox), while 8 percent claim no religion. Chileans deeply respect the religious beliefs of others, and religion is rarely a source of conflict or disagreement.

Religious professionals

The national authorities of the Roman Catholic Church have historically exercised a high degree of influence in Chile. For example, during the Pinochet regime, the head of the Chilean Catholic Church, Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, took a strong stance against human rights violations committed by the government.

The Church also offered legal support and institutional protection to many persecuted people. Traditionally, the Chilean clergy (composed of some two thousand priests, half of them foreigners, and fifty-five thousand nuns) has firmly embraced the cause of social justice.

Following the restoration of democracy, the Chilean bishops have actively participated in national debates on divorce, abortion and the role of the family in modern society.

Rituals and sacred places

Many popular religious festivals and processions are celebrated in Chile. One of the most colorful is the Festival of La Tirana. This festival is celebrated for three days in July in the town of La Tirana, about 64 kilometers inland from the northern port of Iquique, near the Atacama desert.

This celebration is strongly influenced by the carnival of Oruro, Bolivia. During the celebrations, some 150,000 people dance through the streets in colorful costumes and devil masks. The Festival of La Tirana is an expression of the religious mix between Catholicism and ancient indigenous practices.

On December 8, Chileans celebrate the Immaculate Conception (of the Virgin Mary). During that day, many people from Santiago make a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Virgen de lo Vásquez (about 80 kilometers from Santiago) to show their religious devotion. Some people walk many kilometers on their knees to show their respect to the Virgin and as a reward for the favors she has granted them.

Death and the afterlife

Chileans pay great tribute to loved ones who have passed away. Following death, a wake and funeral is held in a church where close friends and extended family attend the religious service. Most Chileans prefer tombs, but in recent years an increasing number of people choose to be cremated.

It is common practice that each year, on the anniversary of death, a Catholic mass is offered in memory of the deceased. On November 1, All Saints’ Day, a large number of Chileans visit the cemetery to bring flowers to the graves of relatives and friends. Most Chileans believe that there is life after death.

Secular celebrations

Labor Day (May 1) is a national holiday. Union leaders and government officials participate in worker gatherings that celebrate the importance of work to the nation.

The Day of Naval Glories (May 21) commemorates the 1879 naval battle of Iquique during the War of the Pacific, where Chile’s national hero, Captain Arturo Prats, lost his life in naval combat against Peruvian vessels. In coastal cities, people commemorate Prats and his crew by boarding small boats draped with Chilean flags and throwing flowers into the sea.

The celebration of Chile’s independence in 1810 takes place on September 18. Chileans take to the streets to celebrate with folk dances and national dishes. This is the most important secular celebration in the country.

Columbus Day (October 12) commemorates the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and encourages the Spanish background of Chilean culture. In recent years, indigenous groups have made it clear that this celebration does not represent everyone in the country.

On New Year’s Eve (December 31) and New Year’s (January 1), Chileans gather with their families and friends, usually around an asado (barbecue). These holidays also mark the start of summer vacation for many people.

The New Year is traditionally greeted with a spectacular fireworks show in the port of Valparaíso that is broadcast on television to the entire nation.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

Until very recently, Chilean artists rarely obtained financial support for their work from the state or other institutions. In 1992 the Chilean Ministry of Education created Fondart, a national fund for the development of art and culture.

In the period 1992-2000, Fondart has financed 3,626 artistic projects with a total of 26 million dollars (US) and has become the main source of financing for cultural activities in Chile.


Poetry has been the main form of Chilean literature. The epic poem La Araucana, written in the 16th century by the Spanish poet Alonso de Ercilla, is considered Chile’s first great literary work. In this classic work, Ercilla marvels at the natural beauty of Chile and expresses his admiration for the brave Araucanian Indians.

In the 20th century, two great Chilean poets were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1945 Lucila Godoy Alcayaga (who wrote under the pseudonym Gabriela Mistral) became the first Latin American to receive this award. Pablo Neruda received the Nobel Prize in 1971. Both poets expressed in his work their love for nature and the people of Chile and the rest of Latin America.

In the 1980s and 1990s a number of Chilean novelists gained international recognition, including Isabel Allende, Ariel Dorfman, José Donoso, Francisco Coloane, Luis Sepúlveda, and Antonio Skarmeta.

Graphic arts

Chilean graphic arts have been dominated by painting. A good collection of the work of the main Chilean painters since the 19th century is exhibited in the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago. 19th-century painters such as Pedro Lira and Juan Francisco González show rustic Chilean landscapes and portraits of common people.

During the 20th century Chile produced a number of painters who have achieved fame outside the country, particularly in Europe and the United States. For example, the works of Nemesio Antúnez, Claudio Bravo and Roberto Matta are present in the main art collections in the world.

Performing arts

Traditional folk music offers the best of Chile’s performing arts. One of the best folk musicians in the country has been Violeta Parra. During the 1950s and 1960s she traveled the Chilean countryside collecting folk music and began performing it in artistic circles in Santiago.

His music motivated many young artists who, in the mid-1960s, formed a new musical current called Nueva Canción Chilena. This was the beginning of a fruitful and creative period for Chilean folk music.

Artists such as Víctor Jara and Patricio Manns and renowned musical groups such as Inti-Illimani and Quilapayún belong to this musical current. Classical pianist Claudio Arrau was Chile’s most outstanding artist in the 20th century.

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