Mexican Christmas Traditions:
How Christmas is Celebrated in Mexico
When you're talking about a country with such a rich culture, you'd probably expect Mexican Christmas traditions to be some of the riches in the world.
And you wouldn't be wrong. Every culture has its own different way of celebrating the holidays (if they celebrate Christmas at all). It's wonderful how those customs can often inspire new traditions of your own. But Mexican Christmas customs are special and really inspiring-- whether you want to embrace and celebrate your own Mexican heritage or just try something a little different this Christmas.
How Christmas is Celebrated in Mexico
In Mexico, Christmas is considered a religious festival that celebrates the Nativity (the birthday of Jesus). Sounds just like the rest of the world, right? But it's how
it's celebrated that's different. And it all starts off with a wonderful festival called Posadas.
The Nine Days of Posadas
The celebration begins nine days before Christmas with the Posadas. These nine days often include a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem.
The families of the neighborhood each take a turn hosting one night of the Posadas at their home. At each home, visitors (neighbors, family, friends, etc.) will sing a chant asking for lodging as they carry an image of Mary and Joseph with candles. After three such stops, a family will be let in to join that household in praying the Rosary, singing holiday songs, having snacks, and a nightly party for the children complete with a piñata that will be filled with fruit and other treats.
The Posadas are always among the favorite Mexican Christmas traditions for the kids-- nine days of visiting and fun!
Noche Buena and Christmas Day
Come Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) families usually attend a midnight mass, followed by a family dinner at home-- which means they eat dinner very
late. This is the night on which the image of Baby Jesus gets placed into the Nativity Scene, which is a central figure in Mexican homes at this time of year.
In most Mexican families, Christmas itself is celebrated not with gifts as it tends to be in other cultures. Instead, Christmas is about being with family and eating, eating, eating. You'll read more about some of the foods that are part of this Mexican Christmas tradition below.
Gifts and the Three Kings
In most families, children in Mexico don't actually get their gifts on Christmas... and the gifts they do receive don't come from Santa Claus. Gifts are exchanged in Mexico on January 6th, which is called Día de los reyes
, or Kings' Day. And they're delivered by none other than the three kings themselves.
This special day celebrates the three Magi (or Kings) who came bearing gifts to the Baby Jesus. Children place their shoes near a window so the Magi can leave a gift (and many children get new shoes when the reyes
come to visit!). Other Mexican families also have a Christmas tree-- but this is something that changes from family to family. While some Mexican Christmas traditions are pretty consistent, many change from household to household and city to city.
Traditional Mexican Christmas Decorations & Foods
By far the most predominant decoration --and one of the strongest Mexican Christmas traditions-- is the Nacimiento
, or the Nativity scene. These feature all the customary characters along with an angel, an ox, shepherds and their flocks, and a donkey. The Nativity scene may be large or small, elaborate or simple, but it's a Mexican Christmas tradition that's nearly universal throughout the country.
The Poinsettia. A second common decoration is the Star Flower, or what we would call the Poinsettia. This beautiful plant is native to Mexico. And unlike in most of the world, in Mexico the poinsettia is not simply decorative... it also has been used for thousands of years in folk remedies.
The Rosca de Reyes. Third, many Mexican homes will have an egg bread wreath made with dried fruit and sugar on top, called a rosca de reyes. Usually, this bread wreath also features a small, baked-in representation of the Baby Jesus.
This particular dessert doubles as a centerpiece for the celebration of Candlemas on February 2nd. Whoever gets the piece of bread bearing the Baby Jesus (the "Godparent") must care for it the whole year until the next Christmas celebration. He or she also has an important role in the Candlemas celebration.
The Mexican Candlemas Celebration
Candlemas (or Candelaria), on February 2nd, is when the family puts the Nativity scene carefully back into its holding after the holidays. This activity is presided over by the new "Godparent". Afterward the family often enjoys a meal of Tamales. Candlemas marks the official end of the Nativity season.
Mexican Spiked Cider Recipe
Alongside the tamales you may find a hearty spiked apple cider for the grown-ups... something really
tasty that you'll want to make again and again.
1 oz. tequila
1 C. apple cider
2 tbsp. lime juice
Just heat and serve! An alternative to this is something called "Ponche con Piquete" (punch with sting), which can be a simple as a big simmering pot of cider to which rum and spices are added.
Sweet Rice Pudding (Arroz con Leche) Recipe
Another common dish throughout this holiday celebration is a sweet rice pudding, called arroz con leche
or arroz dulce
. It's simple to make and very, very tasty.
3/4 C. rice
2/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half vertically
4 C. whole milk
1 C. heavy cream
Directions: Add the vanilla bean to the milk and carefully scald the milk.
Place the rice in an oven-proof pan and pour the milk over it.
Cover and bake this for as long as necessary at about 325 until the rice is done fully (about 3 hours).
Finally hand fold in the sugar and cream. If you wish, sprinkle nutmeg or drizzle honey (or both!) on top when you serve this.
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