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Venezuela’s working-class communities get together to eat Christmas ‘hallacas’

Children eat "Hallacas", a local traditional Christmas dish, during a Christmas activity organised by the NGO "Mi Convive" and the foundation "People who need love" in the neighbourhood of "El Cementerio", in Caracas, Venezuela, December 21, 2022. REUTERS/Gaby Oraa

Residents in working-class neighborhoods of Venezuela’s capital city of Caracas are coming together to break bread over “hallacas,” a dish commonly served around Christmas, as part of an initiative to unite communities depleted by migration.

Hallacas, a type of tamale filled with ingredients such as beef, chicken, olives and capers and wrapped and cooked in banana leaves, are one of Venezuela’s most traditional dishes, incorporating indigenous, African and European elements.

The program, backed by half-a-dozen nonprofits, is intended to “unite us within the context of what the hallaca means during Christmas,” said Daniel Areche, coordinator of the group “Compromiso Compartido.”

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Organizers dotted the street with green, red and white balloons and rolled out checkered tablecloths. The neighborhoods’ smallest residents noshed on hallacas, leaving their faces caked in the crumbs.

“It is a very beautiful initiative because despite having differences… we were all able to meet today with the same objective, which was to share,” said Angie Garcia, 38, who was served a meal at the school she worked at in Antimano, on Caracas’ west end.

During the meal, residents busted out the drums and tambourines to sing “gaitas,” or seasonal songs characterized by Venezuela’s mixed heritage, and “aguinaldos” – similar to Christmas carols.

“For us, an hallaca represents a family get-together,” said Sarai Figueredo from the El Cementerio neighborhood. “Many people here, the majority, have family abroad. So this Christmas dish is our connection to that family abroad,” she said.

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More than 7 million Venezuelans have migrated since 2017 due to the prolonged economic and political crisis in the once-prosperous oil-rich country.

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