Celebrating Christmas in Mexico is a unique experience. As a foreigner, if you have the good fortune to be invited to a traditional Mexican Christmas, you will be amazed by how intricate and beautifully kempt the traditions are.
Christmas starts shortly after one of the most important Mexican holidays, “la fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe” or Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every year, Mexicans try to take off from work the last two weeks to celebrate Christmas.
The main Christmas traditions in Mexico are “Las Posadas,” “Las Pastorelas,” and “La Fiesta de Reyes.” The first two traditions were born as a vehicle to teach religion to the Aztecs. I talked to María Teresa Noguez, a Mexican who now lives in Canada, about how she and her family celebrate Christmas in Mexico.
From December 16th to the 24th children in Mexico recreate the pilgrimage that Mary and Joseph lived while searching for lodging in what is one of the most awaited Mexican traditions: Las Posadas
Las Posadas a Unique Mexican Christmas Tradition
María Teresa tells me that as a child, she used get together with neighbors to go from one house to another carrying a tray with the figures of Mary and Joseph while reenacting their search for lodging. In other parts of Mexico, children dress up as Mary and Joseph and travel by donkey to represent “Las Posadas.”
During Christmas in Mexico many homes sing and play “villancicos.” Some of the most popular are “El Niño del Tambor” or “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Navidad Blanca” or “White Christmas.” After each “Posada night” there is a “pińata” party.
María Teresa’s sister, who lives in Mexico, still uses the old fashion ceramic “piñata” when she throws the party after her designated night in “Las Posadas.” To break the “piñata” children have to be blindfolded which makes the process more exciting.
When the Catholic evangelists arrived in Mexico they used outdoor plays to teach religion and ideals to the Aztecs. “Las Pastorelas” use this format to tell the story of the shepherds on their way to visit baby Jesus.
“Las Pastorelas” are infused with humor through the improvisation of lines. The shepherds follow the star in the East to go visit baby Jesus but on their way they encounter many obstacles set by the devils while the Archangel San Gabriel tries to help. Enjoyment, slang and good humor characterize “Las Pastorelas” that many churches reenact at their steps or in theaters with known artists who perform the roles.
In Mexico Christmas Enjoys Beautiful Decor
Hispanic Christmas decorations abound during the holidays in Mexico. The most recognizable Christmas decorative piece that originated in Mexico is the Poinsettia or “flor de Navidad,” like I heard my mom call it when I was a child. The red fury leaves of the Poinsettia surround the true blossom which is a cluster of small yellow mini-flowers.
Valerie Menard wrote in her “Latino Holiday Book” several explanations on how “La flor de Navidad” became the official holiday flower.
I chose to share the most romantic explanation, a little girl who was going to church and could not afford to buy flowers prayed for help. An angel instructed her to gather weeds to take them as an offering, and later on the weeds transformed into Poinsettias.
Mexican Christmas Decorations and Accents by Mexican Artisans
During Christmas in Mexico, Christmas trees are fairly popular. Hispanic Christmas Decorations typical of Mexico include ornaments made of “paja” or straw, a star or an angel on the top of the tree, Christmas lights, and silver streamers wrapped around the tree to simulate snow.
Mexican Christmas ornaments are famous throughout the world because they are mainly handmade and very typical, reflecting the catholic traditions of Christmas with a touch of Mexican artisanal tradition.
And…who has not heard of the beautiful “Luminarias”? They are Christmas lanterns that symbolically served to light the path of the shepherds who visited baby Jesus. Mexicans use “Luminarias” as Christmas decorations in Mexico and Southwestern United States.
Nativities which Mexicans call “Nacimientos” are a very important part of the Christmas traditions in Mexico because most of the celebration revolves around the birth of Christ. Life size nativities are common in churches or public places, and smaller ones in homes where many collect and display them under the Christmas tree.
True Latin Christmas Decorations
Christmas in Mexico and “Los Reyes”
One of the most exciting moments for children during Christmas in Mexico is to open the presents on the day of the Epiphany on January 6th or Día de Los Reyes.
As a child, María Teresa used to write a letter to “Los Reyes” asking them for toys. The little children in her family still practice this tradition, the only difference is that instead of putting the letter inside a shoe they attach it to a balloon and let it loose in the air to reach the sky.
The family reunites this day also to share the famous “rosca de reyes,” which is a round bread made with fruits and a small figurine of Jesus inside.
The person who eats the piece that has the Jesus figurine has to invite everybody to tamales on February 2nd which is the “Día de la Candelaria” or Candlemas.
Foods and Other Traditions for Christmas in Mexico
Christmas in Mexico overflows with “sabor” or flavor reflected in the traditional Mexican Christmas foods.
In Mexico Christmas requires three beverages, they are “Atole”, hot chocolate, and “Ponche Navideño.” The famous “Atole” is a beverage made with dough, cornstarch, milk, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate flavor. The “chocolate caliente” goes perfectly with “buñuelos” or fritters and with “rosca de reyes.”
On the 24th or “La Nochebuena” many families attend Misa de Gallo or midnight Mass, and enjoy the last day of “Las Posadas” and “Las Pastorelas.” On Christmas Eve, the families gather to eat “La cena de Nochebuena” and to share in the opening of the presents.
Mexican Christmas dinner may include “bacalao a la vizcaína” or Biscayan cod, homemade tamales, or “revoltijo de romeritos” a wild greens in mole sauce. Ham and roasted pig are other popular menu items.
When it is time to toast, Mexicans drink sparkling cider or “El Ponche Navideño” a hot fruit punch that includes “tejocotes,” walnuts, orange juice, guavas, sugar cane, prunes, cinnamon, sugar, and brandy.
Christmas in Mexico is a truly traditional celebration rich in Catholic traditions and folklore where the entire family and friends participate while living the true spirit of “La Navidad.”