Christmas traditions in Mexico

Valeria Mancera-Saavedra, Staff writer

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Christmas season has always been my favorite. The lights, the colors, the decorations, the food, the gifts and of course, the family reunions.

Every year, since I was little, I spent Christmas in Mexico, in my town. The Christmas festivities there begin in December with the posadas and last until Jan. 6, which is the day in which we celebrate the Three Kings Day.

Posadas, which means “shelter,” is a big tradition in our culture. These celebrations in the community take place every night from Dec. 16 to 24, which represents the time that Mary and Joseph spent traveling to reach Bethlehem, seeking refuge to sleep at night.

The people in the village offer their houses and set up a stage in their patios according to the night when it is their turn to receive the pilgrims and the other people who join the walks and prayers.

The town church gathers people who want to participate as biblical characters in these walks every night to make it more meaningful. These people wear costumes and suits according to the role they have chosen. The Virgin Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, angels and even the devil walk to the posadas singing Christmas carols.

When these characters, the priest and the townspeople arrive at each of the houses that were destined for that night, the first thing they do is read passages from the bible and eventually, they pray. At the end of this, the people who offered their houses for the posada also offer sweets and food such as tamales, bread or cookies and also fruit punch, which is a traditional drink for us at Christmas time. At the end of this, the pilgrims continue on their way, following posada, and so this continues for the nine nights until Christmas Eve.

Each neighborhood tends to make this an even bigger celebration; occasionally, they’ll hire bands to play music and have huge piñatas full of gifts for the people that gather to spend these nights with their family and friends.

I, having grown up in this place, can say that even people who do not belong to a religion, or to this particular religion, enjoy these festivities as well as others.

When I was younger, I attended a Catholic middle school, and I happened to live all these celebrations in an even more “intense” way. I remember that the nuns were always very busy with these preparations because they also participated in the walks and sometimes even made the students participate.

On the 24th, the last night of the posadas, a parade of trucks filled with Christmas decorations glides through the streets of the town where all the characters that participated in the posadas are shown.

Eventually, at the end of this parade, the families get together to start the Christmas dinner, or at least that’s what my family does.

Every Christmas Eve, my father’s family meets at my grandfather’s house, and being such a big family, there is always a great variety of food and desserts, candy and piñatas. However, one thing that we do not do at Christmas is exchange gifts. For us, it is not tradition that children get their gifts that night. It’s not until the night of Jan. 6 when, in Mexico, the Three Wise Men bring gifts to children.

When I was little, my brothers and I used to get so excited for that day. I remember that every year, we went to find food for the animals that accompanied the Wise Men, and of course, we also left food for them, like cookies and milk. But my parents used to tell us that it was more important that their animals had food so they could carry the gifts all around the world.

“The more food you leave for their animals, the more gifts they will leave for you,” they said.

We used to go out to the countryside to look for pasture and alfalfa, since this was the food for Melchior’s camel and Gaspar’s horse, and also going out to the store to buy peanuts for Balthasar’s elephant.

When the night came, we left boxes full of what we could get, and each of us left a shoe under the Christmas tree where we put our letters.

The next day, or even that same night, Mexican families gather to have the traditional “Rosca de Reyes,” which is a special food for the Three Kings Day. This is a sweet bread shaped in form of a wreath that is filled with little plastic figurines of a baby.

Each person has to cut their own piece of bread, and if you get one of these figurines in your bread, you have to host a party where the main food is tamales.

Sometimes my family does have the party, but sometimes they just forget.

All these traditions and celebrations are aspects in my life that I will never take away, even now that I am older and tend to see religion in a different way. I don’t think that this influences the ways in which I’m able to enjoy the festivities of Christmas as I knew them when I was younger. And just as my family and my country have their festivities and celebrations, every place around the world has their own. All of them unique.