Traditions and customs of Uruguay

What traditions and customs are there in Uruguay?

To learn a little more about the country, the customs and traditions of Uruguay.


Food in daily life

Meat, especially beef, is the mainstay of the diet. The national dish is roast. The barbecue is the most typical dish. It contains a varied assortment of parts, the most common being beef ribs, kidneys, salivary glands or gizzards, small intestine (“chinchulines”) or large intestine (“fat gut”), and sweet blood sausage (“sweet blood sausage”).

Pork sausage is usually served as an appetizer. Roast lamb is consumed in large quantities, especially in rural areas. At country banquets, whole cows are slowly roasted in their hides.

As a result of Italian immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pasta is a national food. Sunday is the preferred day to eat pasta. Most of the home cooking has a Spanish influence, and meals almost always include soup.

A standard fast food is the chivito, a substantial meat sandwich. Another unique snack is the pieces of fainá, a chickpea flour pancake.

People eat a lot of bread and sea biscuits, made mainly of white flour, and many consume dairy products, including the national dessert, dulce de leche. Other popular desserts are cakes, milk and egg pudding, and rice pudding.

Mate, which is a strong tea-like beverage made by infusing coarsely ground yerba mate leaves with hot water in a gourd and sipped through a metal straw with a terminal filter (“bombilla”), is drunk at home., at work, on the beach, at soccer games and in public places. Coffee is drunk as espresso or with milk. Tea is usually drunk with milk.

Breakfast is a light meal. Traditionally, lunch and dinner are the main meals. Wine and beer usually accompany the main meals.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

More elaborate meals are eaten on anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, and other special occasions. People take advantage of any event or occasion to eat their favorite dishes or have a barbecue outdoors. The most important special meal of the year is Christmas Eve dinner.


Official marriages are civil since 1837; marriages are not arranged and are monogamous. About 48 percent of people over the age of 15 are married, 10 percent live together, 28 percent are single, 4 percent are divorced, 2 percent are separated, and 8 percent are widowed and widowers.


Uruguayans are quite traditional and do not accept criticism from foreigners. They also do not like to be confused with Paraguayans or Argentines. Otherwise, the people are friendly and kind. Despite their tact, people are frank and direct and keep a close distance when speaking. Close acquaintances of the opposite sex greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.

A peculiarity of national behavior is the conspicuous “following gaze” that men give women to indicate that they are attractive. In many cases this is accompanied by verbal expressions called compliments, which are sometimes abusive and are usually ignored.

Religious beliefs

Church and state have been officially separate since 1917. The constitution protects religious freedom, but the people are not devout and daily life is very secular. More than a third of the population does not profess any religion. About 60 percent of the population is nominally Catholic, but only a minority regularly attend church (mostly those from the upper classes).

Recently, Padre Pio’s revitalization movement has been a source of converts for the Catholic Church.

The Jewish community, once making up about 2 percent of the population, is declining due to emigration to Israel. There is also a small proportion of people practicing religions of African origin. Protestants make up less than 4 percent of the population.

Secular celebrations

Traditional Catholic holidays have been secularized and renamed. For example, Christmas is called Family Day and Easter is called Tourism Week.

Other Latin American countries also celebrate New Year’s, Carnival, Labor Day (May 1), Americas Day (October 12), and All Souls’ Day (November 2).

The holidays related to the history of the nation are the Day of the 33 Patriots (April 19), the Battle of Las Piedras (May 18), the Birthday of José Artigas (June 19), the Constitution Day (July 18) and Independence Day (August 25).

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The artists are self-sufficient, but receive some form of funding from the government and private institutions. The Ateneo de Montevideo is a meeting place for those who are dedicated to artistic and humanistic activities.


Among the most important writers are José Enrique Rodó, philosophical essayist; Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, author of Tabaré, an epic poem about a heroic charrúa mestizo; Horacio Quiroga, modernist short story writer; and José Alonso y Trelles, who wrote about the gauchos. Among the poets are Delmira Agustini and Juana de Ibarbourou.

Among the most recent writers are Mario Benedetti, Eduardo Galeano, Juan Carlos Onetti and Tessa Bridal (who wrote the novel The Tree of the Red Stars, a representation of the national culture in the 1960s and 1970s).

Graphic arts

There are many museums and galleries. Some of the best known painters are Juan Manuel Blanes, a realist known for his historical paintings and gaucho motifs; Pedro Figari, a Post-Impressionist specializing in early 20th-century and bucolic colonial scenes (including aspects of black Uruguayan life); and Joaquín Torres García, a constructivist. Among the renowned sculptors are José Belloni, José Luis Zorrilla de San Martín and Edmundo Prati.

Performing arts

The Teatro Solís and the Teatro El Galpón are important venues for theatrical and musical presentations. Among classical composers, Eduardo Fabini is the best known internationally. Many music and dance traditions derive from Europe, with local variations. Others hail from Uruguay and Argentina, particularly the tango. Uruguay was the birthplace of Carlos Gardel, the most famous performer of tango.

There are many musical styles and folk dances, such as the Pericón (the national dance). Another important musical style is candombe. This is a typical Afro-Uruguayan musical style that is played with three types of drums.

These drums are individually handcrafted, and each one is said to have a unique sound. Candombe can be heard throughout Montevideo during the February Carnival, when ensembles of marching drummers roll through the streets.

The Llamadas are parades of competing groups of dancers moving to the rhythm of candombe (the public is also welcome to join the dancers). These events are typical of the neighborhoods where the majority of Afro-Montevideans live. The carnival includes other cultural expressions, such as the murgas, which are musical groups that make fun of the social and political events of the year.

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