Mexican Christmas Traditions: Celebrations Rich in Culture

Reviewed by Spanish Editor Judit Covarrubias García
Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City with Christmas Tree Decoration

Christmas traditions in Mexico are unique to the culture and rich in Catholic faith and history. The extensive and elaborate festivities that occur during Christmas in Mexico honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Learn about this country's festive season, which spans over two months and is full of Christmas spirit, enchanting trimmings, three days of gifts, and delectable food.

Five Days of Christmas and More

Christmastime in Mexico is rich with Catholic tradition. This means six weeks of fun and festivities.

Day of the Immaculate Conception

December 8th is the Day of the Immaculate Conception. On this day, the Nativity scene is traditionally set in Mexican households, and people celebrate the belief that Christ was conceived without sin and that God chose Mary to be his mother.

Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12th is the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It celebrates the belief that in the 1500's, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary, Mexico's patron saint. To celebrate this encounter, the archbishop built a church which people visit to commemorate the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe; and children dress in traditional costumes and receive blessings.

"Las Posadas"

December 16th marks the beginning of Las Posadas, which symbolizes the journey the pregnant Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph made to Bethlehem. The Holy Bible recounts that the trip was necessary because King Herod had ordered everyone to be counted in a census. According to scripture, upon arrival, the couple had to make do in a stable, as there were no rooms available at the inn.

Each night from December 16 until Christmas Eve, children and adults gather in a procession that symbolizes Mary and Joseph's search for shelter. Children or adults may portray the couple, or they might be symbolized by statues that are carried. A small child dressed as an angel leads the procession as it moves from house to house. Children are dressed in silver and gold robes and carry lit candles. They knock on doors and sing a traditional chant to be let in. However, in order to honor the story of Mary and Joseph and no available rooms, the requests to enter are turned down until they are finally welcomed into a home for festivities.

Modern Posadas culminate at a gathering with plenty of food and drinks similar to a typical Christmas party. Children break open piñatas filled with candy, toys and sometimes money. In fact, there are Posadas involved in the various circles people belong to, such as school and work. It is very common to attend several Posadas every Christmas season.

Christmas Eve

Mexican christmas dinner

December 24th, Christmas Eve, is the last day of the Los Posadas processions. On this day, children get gifts that are believed to be from baby Jesus. Most people attend church masses on Christmas Eve and have dinner at home afterward.

A typical meal includes Ensalada Nochebuena, a traditional Christmas Eve salad made with seasonal fruits and vegetables such as beets, carrots, pineapple and jicama. There are also tamales, which consist of sweet or savory fillings and corn masa wrapped in a corn husk. The final typical Christmas Eve dish is Bacalao, dried cod fish, and it is traditionally served in tomato sauce with olives and yellow peppers.

Christmas Day

December 25th is a day of rest in Mexico so that people can recoup from all the festivities. It is also the day they typically catch up with family and friends and eat Christmas Eve leftovers. Children might also receive gifts from Santa Claus, as that tradition has become increasingly popular in Mexico.

Day of the Innocents

Day of the Innocents falls on December 28th. According to the Christian bible, King Herod ordered for all boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger to be executed in an attempt to kill Jesus Christ. However, an angel is believed to have warned Christ's parents, and they fled to safety in Egypt. Some believe that the children who were killed were the first Christian martyrs.

Today, the Day of the Holy Innocents is celebrated in churches worldwide. Many go to graves of children on this day and give offerings. December 28th is also a prank-filled day similar to that of April Fool's Day in the U.S.

Three Kings Day

January 6th is the Epiphany, or Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings Day, or Day of the Three Kings). This is the day on which it's believed that the three kings visit Jesus and Mary. Traditionally, children leave their shoes outside the house to get gifts from the three wise kings.

Later in the day, families host a small meal called merienda, where rosca de reyes cake is served with a warm cup of chocolate. This cake is sweet bread in the shape of a ring that has a small baby Jesus hidden inside. The person who is served the slice with the baby Jesus must host a party on the final day of the Christmas season.

Candlemas

Candlemas falls on February 2nd, the last day of Christmas celebrations; the Nativity scenes are taken down on this day. It commemorates the ritual purification of Mary that happened 40 days after the birth of Christ, and the ritual presentation of baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem. Sometimes to symbolize this, the figure of baby Jesus is brought to a temple to be blessed. Tamales are typically served on Candlemas at parties that are hosted by the person who was served the special slice of rosca de reyes sweet bread on Three Kings Day.

Christmas Spirit Is Everywhere in Mexico

Mexico City Christmas Street Decorations

Beautiful colors, lights and song are enjoyed in Mexico to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Trees and Trimmings

During the Christmas season, Mexico is decked out with colorful Christmas trees. In addition to the common commercial ornaments you see today, trees in Mexico are also adorned with handcrafted confections made from felt, yarn and wood, and pieces of Mexican folk art such as ceramic, glass, and woven palm.

While westernized decorations such as those of Santa Claus and reindeer have become more popular, there are trimmings that are special to the Mexican culture. Depending on where you are, the weather can be anywhere from freezing cold to balmy warm. Therefore, the trimmings vary by region and they may include:

Luminaria Lighting Adobe Building

Luminarias: tea lights or candles placed in small paper lanterns (brown paper bags), traditionally represent the lighting of the way for Mary and Joseph while on their search for somewhere to stay in Bethlehem. They are used during the celebration of Las Posadas.

Nacimientos: which are the nativity scenes and the most significant decoration of Christmas.

Flor de Nochebuena: or poinsettias, are a traditional Christmas flower native to Mexico. The star shape of the flower has been thought to resemble the star of David.

Piñatas: are traditional decor during Christmas and are often in the shape of a star with 7 points. They are filled with treats that come spilling out when piñatas are broken.

Religious figures, icons or saints of the Catholic religion are common decor during Christmas.

Nativity Scenes

While Christmas trees are popular, the nacimiento, or nativity scene, is still the most important Christmas decoration in Mexico. The nacimiento is set up on December 8th and the baby Jesus is placed in the manger on December 24th at midnight.

Christmas Carols

Singing villancicos (carols) is a common tradition in Mexico. Some of the customary Christmas songs include the popular Feliz Navidad and Noche de Paz (Silent Night). The traditional Christmas carols include Los Peces en el Rio (The Fishes in the River) and Las Campanas de Belen (Bethlehem's Bells).

Traditional Mexican Christmas Foods

Pozole Dish Mexican Food

In addition to the dishes mentioned thus far, there are a number of other traditional Mexican foods, drinks and desserts that are enjoyed during the Christmas season. These include:

Pozole is soup that is made with hominy, chicken or pork, and chiles.

Pavo is roasted turkey or pork.

Relleno is stuffing, but instead of bread it is made of ground beef, sauteed vegetables, raisins and pine nuts.

Romeritos is a green vegetable similar to baby spinach. This dish also contains shrimp and potatoes and is cooked in a mole sauce, a traditional Mexican sauce.

Atole is a thick sweet drink made by adding corn starch to milk and is flavored with chocolate, vanilla, or seasonal fruits. Where there are tamales, there is a steaming cup of atole waiting to be enjoyed.

Buñuelos are a popular Christmas dessert, which are flat or round fried pastries that are sprinkled with syrup or sugar and cinnamon.

Rompope is a drink similar to rum-spiked eggnog.

Ponche is a hot fruit punch drink served with lots of guava and Mexican hawthorn (a tree native to Mexico).

Heart and Soul of Mexico

The devotion to Jesus Christ is unmistakable in Mexico and deeply rooted in Catholic faith. The immaculate conception, ritual purification of Mary, and all the days in between are commemorated and celebrated with reverence and dedication.

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Mexican Christmas Traditions: Celebrations Rich in Culture