In Mexico, Christmas is a time for celebration; food, music, family, and observing traditions and customs that are hundreds or even thousands of years old. Here are the top Christmas holiday traditions in Mexico.
Traditional Mexican customs include the famous Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of The Dead festival, as well as tacos, tequila, and pinatas. And Christmas is as much a religious occasion as a time of feasting and fun; 80% of Mexicans are Catholic so things like candlelit processions, elaborate nativity scenes, feasting, and dancing are all a part of the Mexican culture.
European symbols of Christmas such as Santa Claus and Christmas trees do have their place, but the influence of indigenous people like the Mayans and Aztecs have left their mark, as have the Europeans and Africans.
When the Spanish explored the New World, they brought their Catholic religion with them, including the celebration of the Christmas period, which then evolved over the centuries into the Christmas traditions of modern-day Mexico. The holiday celebrations begin on the 12th of December and last until the 6th of January. There is also an additional holiday on the 2nd of February.
So what do Mexcian people do to celebrate Christmas? Here are the top traditions that are most popular in Mexico today.
Las Posadas: From the 16th to the 24th of December there is the tradition of Las Posadas, when children walk from house to house, singing, carrying a candle, and seeking shelter. Posada means lodging, so this practice reflects the story of Joseph and Mary’s quest for shelter in Bethlehem from the original bible story.
On each night of the Posadas, a different family will hold a party, where you can find traditional Mexcian food, drinks, music, piñatas, and fireworks.
Las Pastorelas: Another tradition, again based on the bible stories, is Las Pastorelas. These plays are based on the journey of the shepherds, who followed the star of Bethlehem to where the baby Jesus lay in the manger. These plays can be lighthearted or more serious, depending on who is acting at the time.
Noche Buena: The big Christmas feast is held on Christmas Eve, which marks the end of Posadas and is known as Noche Buena. Families come together to celebrate and eat lots of delicious food. There is more feasting on Christmas day, by which time people are probably feeling quite lethargic from all the food and drink!
Misa de Gallo: A special Midnight Mass, known as Misa de Gallo (the Mass of the Rooster) is held on Christmas Eve. Afterwards, there are more fireworks. Mexicans put on a spectacular display that can go on for hours!
Dia de los Reyes: Children usually get their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, but in some parts of the country, they have to wait until the 6th of January. This is Epiphany, or Dia de los Reyes, which celebrates the Three Wise Men.
La Calendaria: The 2nd of February is the final day that relates to Christmas. It’s known as La Calendaria, or the Candles. Many Mexicans will hold big parties on this day, sometimes with parades and even bullfighting.
Noche de las Rabanos: Oaxaca City has a tradition called Noche de las Rabanos, or Night of the Radishes. This is a unique celebration, where radishes are carved into intricate figures, like the Virgin of Guadelupe, animals, and mythical creatures. This practice dates back to the late 1800s.
On Christmas Eve, a thick soup called Pozole is served. This is made from chicken, pork, or hominy (made from maize starch) and has chillies added. It is often topped with some greens. This is the main part of the Christmas feast, which can also include turkey, roast pork, tamales, and salt cod.
Other dishes include Romeritos, which is made from a vegetable called seepweed cooked in a mole sauce with potatoes and shrimps. Ensalada Nochebuena is a Christmas Eve salad, made from seasonal fruit and vegetables with nuts and a citrus dressing.
Bunuelos are a favourite Mexican dessert. They are made from fried pastry and topped with either ground cinnamon or hot sugar syrup. Ponche is a warm punch made from fruit, which is often served with Christmas dinner. Adults can enjoy Rompope, which is a drink similar to eggnog with added rum.
Rosca de Reyes: On Epiphany, a special cake is produced, shaped like a doughnut and topped with fruit, nuts, and sugar. It’s known as Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Cake) and features a miniature baby Jesus in the centre of the cake. It is said that whoever finds the baby Jesus gets to be his godparent for the following year.
Pinatas: Christmas is a time for piñatas, which have 7 spikes on them representing the 7 deadly sins. The person chosen to beat the piñata is blindfolded, symbolising blind faith. The stick used to beat it represents virtue, and the sweets inside that fall out are a gift from God.
Nativity scenes: Nativity scenes, or Nacimiento, are one of the most popular decorations in Mexico. They are even more popular than Christmas trees. Often large and colourful, the figures making up the nativity scene can be moved around and added to, such as the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve and the Three Wise Men on Epiphany. Nativity scenes can be found in the majority of homes.
Poinsettias: Poinsettias are native to Mexico and are as popular there as they are around the world. Originally grown and cultivated by the Aztecs, the vivid red colour symbolises purity, which is appropriate for the Catholic traditions practiced over Christmas time.
The first Christmas tree to appear in Mexico was brought over by the French emperor Maximilian in the 1860s, when he lived in Mexico. Once the local people saw this rather impressive tree, they all wanted one! And so began the demand for Christmas trees.
Santa Clos: This jolly figure, known in Mexico as Santa Clos or Papa Noel, wasn’t introduced until the mid-20th century when the commercialism of an American Christmas started to filter down to Mexico. The Three Wise Men are more important figures in Mexican tradition, and they are said to leave gifts for children to discover on Dia de los Reyes, or the Day of the Kings.
If Santa does make an appearance over Christmas, he is more likely to come by on the 23rd of December, rather than on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Music and Songs
Called villancicos, these songs are sung on each night of the Posadas, with different groups of people singing each verse.
Other Christmas songs are Rama Navidena, which tells the story of the tradition of carrying a branch decorated with images of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. This is sung leading up to the new year celebrations, as is Cinco Pa’Las Doce, or 5 Minutes to Midnight, which welcomes in the new year.
Los Peces en el Rio (The Fishes in the River) describes the Virgin Mary washing the bay Jesus’ clothes in the river. Canta, Rie, Bebe (Sing, Laugh, Drink) is sung to encourage the people of Mexico to celebrate Christmas joyfully.
So that’s how they celebrate Christmas in Mexico. I wish you all a very happy Christmas, wherever you are in the world!
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any comments or questions please leave them below.
Would you like to find out how Christmas is celebrated in other countries? Please visit American Christmas food traditions
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