One of my favourite things about travel itself is having the chance to learn about and experience traditions in different cultures around the world. I’ve spent many Christmases in Mexico before (my mom is Mexican and we spent the holidays here almost every year in my childhood) but this is Wes’ first time celebrating Christmas outside of Canada. I love being able to introduce him to the traditional festivities and rituals that I grew up with. So, why not share them with you all, too?!
Christmas in Mexico
In Mexico, Christmas is so much more than just December 25th because the celebrations start quite early on in the month and continue for weeks afterwards. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Mexico and the festivities celebrated today are very much centered around the Catholic Church.
From early December until Christmas Eve, Mexicans preform a tradition called La Posada. Translated, posada means ‘inn’ or ‘lodging’ and many neighbourhoods reenact the religious story of when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay as they were expecting their child. Participants in the celebration may be dressed in costume and hold candles as they sing a traditional posada song.
December 12th: Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe
The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a religious festival that celebrates the patron Saint of Mexico. Festivities take place across the country on December 12th to commemorate the day the Virgin appeared to an indigenous man back in 1531. This year, we were in La Paz for the celebrations and saw a parade of buses go by full of devoted people singing for Mary.
December 24th: Noche Buena
Christmas Eve is celebrated in many households throughout Mexico with a posada, late dinner, midnight mass and the opening of presents after midnight.
Noche Buena is what I remember as being the highlight of the holiday season. When I was younger, our family would dress up and gather together at my grandparent’s house in Acapulco. We would have a big homemade meal with bacalao (dried cod: a dish that I still often skip!), turkey with all the fixings and the traditional Mexican Christmas apple salad. We would gather around the nativity scene to sing to baby Jesus before laying Him in the manger. And then we would wait until midnight so that we could open our presents. There were fireworks, sparklers, singing and treasured memories.
December 25th: Navidad
Christmas Day is often a lot quieter following the late night festivities of Noche Buena. I actually remember it as a relaxing holiday where people slept in and then packed up the car to spend the whole day at the beach with family. Most businesses are closed as everyone is recuperating from the big parties.
December 28th: Día de los Santos Inocentes
The Day of Holy Innocents is very similar to what you would know as April Fool’s Day. Jokes and pranks are played on friends and family and even the media gets involved reporting things that are too ridiculous to be true.
The day also has religious significance as it is said to commemorate a time after Jesus’ birth when King Herod ordered the execution of all baby boys in an attempt to kill Jesus. Mary and Joseph had been forewarned by an angel and so the family was able to flee to Egypt where Jesus was kept safe. The day remembers the ‘holy innocents’, the young boys that were executed at the time.
January 6th: Día de Reyes
The Day of the Wise Men (also known as the Epiphany) commemorates when the wise men journeyed in search of baby Jesus. In Mexico, presents are often gifted to children from the wise men. Rosca de reyes is a popular pastry that is enjoyed on this day and throughout the Christmas season. There are many different variations but it is mainly a large ring-shaped cake topped with dried fruits. Each rosca has a small baby figurine hidden inside. If you get a piece of cake with the baby doll then, not only are you considered lucky, but you’ll have to host a tamale dinner for all those around.
So there you have it, a summary of the festivities that take place for Christmas in Mexico! There are countless times in my travels that I’ve wished I could be in two places at once. I say that because I come from a very close-knit family and it’s especially hard being away from home during birthdays, special milestones and, of course, the holidays. Despite not being able to spend the holidays in Canada this year, I’m grateful for the chance to not only spend Christmas in Mexico, but to be able to learn more about the country and the traditions that are passed on.