The first thing to know about celebrating Christmas in Mexico is that most everybody takes off the last two weeks in December - spend more time with the family, visit with old friends, even make new friends. One of the biggest fiestas of the year - in small towns, big cities, the beach resorts, everywhere - Christmas in Mexico is celebrated in a variety of ways. A common denominator is the posada, a recreation of Mary (on donkey) and Joseph searching for a "room at the inn." Accompanying them is a choir of small children who knock on doors asking for lodging for the weary couple. By previous arrangement, there are no takers.
The procession, which takes place during the 9 days before Christmas, moves along, growing in numbers until it reaches the church, where mass is held. After the service, the children get to enjoy a festive pinata party.
Even though variations of this tableaux are repeated throughout the country, you can expect to find some regional differences, which makes a Mexican Christmas not only a cross cultural mix, but a varied and interesting experience. Year after year. Region after region.
For example, in the Ajijic area, a "riviera resort community" suburb of Guadalajara, in the little village of San Antonio, the posada is a most moving and spiritual experience. Same for Taxco and Queretaro. Catch the event in these areas if you can. Also in Queretaro, there's a huge parade on December 23.
In the town of Cajititlan (near Guadalajara), as in many other places in the Hispanic world, they celebrate the holidays on Three Kings Day (Epiphany), which falls on January 6th. In fact, this was the traditional time to celebrate the gift-giving aspect of Christmas throughout Mexico. But in most parts of the country, the holiday now coincides with the day of celebration north-of-the-border: December 25. Many children now expect gifts on both days.
The ritual often begins in the afternoon or at dinner time when the family shares a rosca or two (a rosca is a sweet, ring-shaped loaf with a ceramic muneca (doll) representing the Christ child baked inside). Unlike a cracker-jack box where the winner takes all, whoever is unlucky enough to get the doll has to throw a party on February 2 (Dia de Candelaria) for all the others present. In this case, the "winner", who has to foot the time and expense, is often the loser. (Note: on the afternoon of Dia de Candelaria, dancers gather for a performance in the churchyard. Sometimes as many as six different dance groups perform at the same time. The dancers are divided among those portraying Christians and Moors, each competing for the most attention. Other groups are represented as well. In small towns where this festival is held, there's also a special market on that day.) The party itself usually includes some favorite dish spiced with a zesty regional mole sauce.
The fiesta for the Virgin de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca, December 16-18, signals the beginning of the navidad festivities. The highlight, again, is the posada, held at a different church each night from December 18-24. On December 23, the annual Noche de los Rabanos takes place. This is a very festive time when booths are set up along the length and breadth of the zocalo. The focal point of each booth is an exhibit of hand-carved, giant radishes. Most often, these sculptures carry a religious theme. But this is not necessarily so. The subject could be comical, a scene from a bullfight or anything that strikes the fancy of the sculptor. On Nochebuena, processions from various churches fan out to the zocalo. There are also colorfully-decorated floats, music, traditional dancing, and pinata prizes. The crowning glory of this fiesta is a mammoth fireworks display.
On Christmas Eve, in Santiago Tuxtla (Veracruz), everybody assembles in the zocalo for an evening of dancing the huapango to the accompaniment of a jarocho band.
In Quiroga (Michoacan), villagers present Nativity plays (Pastorelas) at churches on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.
In Mexico, Christmas time can very well be celebrated with a Christmas tree or artificial Christmas tree.
Even the capital of Mexico City takes on a festive air with the famed zocalo (or sometimes called the Plaza de la Constitucion) ablaze with a sea of colorful lights festooning this ancient square. The festival of lights goes on throughout the Christmas/New Year's period. In addition, there's a colorful flag-raising/lowering ceremony every morning and afternoon during the holidays. The rest of the city is similarly decorated. And, of course, traditional services are held in the city's many churches.
Story by Marvin H. Perton.