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Traditions and customs of El Salvador

What traditions and customs are there in El Salvador?

We review the customs and traditions of El Salvador.


Food in daily life

Corn is the staple of the diet and is most often made into thick tortillas eaten at every meal and also served as tamales and in a thick corn drink called atoll. Small red beans are the other staple food.

A variety of fruits and vegetables are consumed, including mango, papaya, tamarind, oranges, bananas, watermelon, cucumber, pacayao, lettuce, tomatoes, and radish. Salvadorans also eat rice, eggs, chicken, pork, beef, fish and shellfish, and some game.

Coffee is the most common beverage, along with highly sugared fruit drinks. Elotes (new corn) are eaten in September before the corn hardens.

Restaurants are most often cafeterias, diners, where food is ordered from a menu near the kitchen or from a buffet table and waitresses bring the food to the table. There are fast food restaurants in cities that are more expensive, and expensive restaurants where food is ordered from a menu at the table.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Tamales are often eaten on special occasions, such as chumpe, turkey stewed in a sauce.


Among the poor, marriage is the decision of the couple. The most common type of marriage is informal: a man and a woman establish a home and have children without civil or religious service.

These unions are recognized by law, but can be easily dissolved. However, men are now required to support children conceived in common law marriages, as well as women with whom they have no formal relationship.

A marriage performed in a church is considered irreversible, and many people wait until they have children to marry. Couples must be 18 years of age to marry, unless the woman is pregnant or already has children.

In both civil and religious marriages, the divorce law requires a separation and cause. The Catholic Church and many evangelical churches never approve of divorce.


Respect is due older people from younger people, and higher status people from lower status people. This includes the use of respectful titles before people’s names and the use of “you.” Women must show respect for men, they must not raise their voices before them and they must serve them food when they need it.

Greetings are necessary when entering a store or, in small towns and communities, when passing someone on the street. Failure to greet a person is considered offensive.


Religious beliefs

El Salvador is 75 percent Roman Catholic but has a growing Protestant movement. The Catholic Church returned to its traditional conservative stance after the end of the civil war. Among Protestant denominations, Pentecostal and fundamentalist sects – called evangelical churches – have seen the greatest growth.

There are several reasons for the growth of evangelical churches in the last two decades of the 20th century. First, Catholics were often targets of government repression for their “subversive” involvement in grassroots Christian communities, while Evangelicals were safe from government repression. Second, the evangelical emphasis on personal conversion is seen as apolitical. Finally, small evangelical churches provide their members with a strong sense of community and family.

Religious professionals

While the Catholic Church has allowed greater participation of lay religious workers, the possibilities for leadership in the laity are restricted. There are more possibilities in evangelical churches for non-specialists to rise to leadership positions. Such positions are restricted to men.

Death and the afterlife

Catholics dedicate nine nights of prayer for the dead so that the souls of the dead can be purified and can rise from purgatory to heaven.

Secular celebrations

Independence is celebrated on September 15 with parades. It is the only secular holiday, although many religious holidays have been secularized. Many people spend Semana Santa, the week before Easter, on the beach.

The arts and humanities


Salvadoran literary production at the end of the 20th century has been concerned with reexamining national history. Among his works, the novels and poetry of Manlio Argueta, the poetry of Roque Dalton and the stories of José Marie Méndez stand out. The country suffers from a lack of publishing facilities.

Graphic arts

The town of La Palma has become famous for an art school started by Fernando Llort. Images of mountain villages, peasants, and Christ are painted in bright colors on a variety of wooden objects. The city of Ilobasco is known for its ceramics, while San Sebastian is known for its textile art.

Performing arts

Most of the music on Salvadoran radio is standard pop music from the United States, Mexico, and several Latin American countries, but there is a small underground folk music movement that draws inspiration from current events in El Salvador.

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