Noche Buena Christmas in Mexico

 

What a wonderful season December is in Mexico: Piñatas, Pastorelas, Posadas….

We have just finished the Día de Muertos festivities, and now the market where I usually shop, and where the famous painter Frida Kahlo also used to get her flowers and food, is completely transformed.

 

Noche Buena Flowers

A few days ago it was filled with cempasuchitl flowers, sugar skulls, papel picado and pan de muerto or Day of the Dead bread, and today it is getting ready for the Christmas season.

 

Everywhere I turn there are piñatas of all forms, sizes and colors, as well as candles for the posadas, nochebuena flowers, better known as poinsettias, and figurines made of wood, ceramic or paste for the nativity scene.

 

Stores and street vendors are also selling all kinds of beautiful ornaments that merrily announce the proximity of one of the happiest periods of the year.

 

Very shortly after the fiesta for Our Lady of Guadalupe ends, the preparation for the Christmas season begins. The first of nine posadas is held on December 16. These are fiestas, which represent Joseph and Mary’s arduous pilgrimage on their way to Bethlehem, and there are nine posadas, from the 16 to the 24 of December, because they symbolize Mary’s nine months of pregnancy.


I must tell you that since we really enjoy fiestas and we like to start the celebrations as soon as possible, we have what we call pre-posadas, which are as you may imagine, posadas that are held before December 16!

Pastorela Song

The whole community is organized for the posadas . Beforehand they decide which and how many houses will not offer a place where Mary and Joseph can stay, and where they will finally find shelter, and break the piñata. The community also decides how many posadas they will have. Some only hold one or two of them during the season.

 

The posada begins with the procession of the pilgrims. At the head is Joseph, holding Mary’s hand as she rides on the donkey. Sometimes, instead of having someone dress up as Mary and Joseph, and ride a burrito, a couple of neighbors carry a nativity scene.

 

Following them are all the neighbors, carrying candles and singing traditional songs to ask for posada, a place where they can stay. At the end of the trip through the streets of the neighborhood, they reach their final destination. Doors open and…. (Next Page)

Las Pastorelas A Centuries Old Christmas Tradition

Spanish

In Mexico, Christmas is the best season of the year. With the fiesta-loving, lively nature that sets us apart, we Mexicans have styled this religious celebration very much in our own fashion. So much so that perhaps no where else in the world do so many traditions exist to celebrate it, from asking for room at the inn, to remembering the road Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem,  to piñatas, those big star-shaped clay and cardboard figures that are smashed with heavy sticks to release their sweets and seasonal fruits  as gifts to the children…

And the “pastorelas”!  There is no Christmas  Season without these pastoral  dramas of the Nativity. Whether in remote  towns or in the big Mexican cities, pastorelas set the stage for the whole of December and leave us, through their playful language and funny situations, the most important message of the season: Good always overcomes Evil.

Pastorelas are plays that recreate the biblical passage where the shepherds follow the Star of Bethlehem to find the Christ Child. In order to reach the birth place of the Redeemer, they have to experience a series of changes in fortune and confront the Devil, who will do everything possible to prevent them from completing their mission. It is at that moment that the  Archangel Michael intervenes to defend the shepherds  on their journey.

Well, that’s the general idea of the pastorelas. They are very different today; the fact is, they  were already very different  when  they were first presented hundreds of years ago, being one of  Mexico’s oldest traditions. Imagine that you are back when the Spaniards reached the New World and began to colonize its inhabitants, instructing them in the Catholic fait

In Tenochtitlan, the great capital of the ancient Mexicans or Mexica, people entertained themselves with an art form that combined song, theater and dance. Performances were greatly enjoyed in the plazas and open spaces, where the actors tended to make jokes,  pretending they were drunk, sang and gave recitations for the townspeople, who thundered their applause.

For the Mexica,  the play was not just a form of entertainment, but a way to communicate with their gods, as well. Before the altars,  in the smoke of the aromatic copal, the priests acted out battles, played warriors at victory and in their defeat. This is how they informed the deities  who ruled their days,  simultaneously handing down their history to the entire people.

The play was  so important for the Mexica that they had professional  singers, actors, dancers and buffoons; poets and orators, as well as memorization experts: remember that the Mexica had no alphabet, just a picture-based type of writing that represented objects or sounds. There were also people  who produced the ceremonial vestments, jewels, plumed feathers of exotic birds, and fabrics, something quite similar to what we would call today,  an innovative clothing designer.

When the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlan in 1521, these specialists ended up with no work and no stage. This situation actually lasted for a very short time, however, because the Franciscan monks who arrived in the New World between 1523 and 1524 quickly became aware of the Mexicas´  artistic sensitivity and took advantage of it to lay a bridge between two cultures that had nothing in common.

Already in Italy and Spain, the Franciscans had observed the advantages they reaped by teaching the faith this way.  Only a couple of centuries before,  the Iberian Peninsula had seen the initial representation of “autos” , that is, acts or actions inspired by the most important biblical passages or by the lives of saints. And they were quite successful.

As a result, it was completely natural for the Franciscans, in order to evangelize the indigenous peoples en masse,  to  explain the most important passages of Christ’s life graphically, through a play for example.

The pastorela tradition is said to have begun in a little town called Acolman, a short distance from the Teotihuacan pyramids, where the Franciscans arrived in 1528. Other versions say that Cuernavaca, i  n the State of Morelos, was the birth place of this deep-rooted tradition.  Whether Acolman, or  Morelos, the fact is that the force behind them lay in the Franciscans, and the artistic ability in the indigenous people.

Another truism is that Acolman is the origin of another beautiful Mexican custom. It was here that Fray Pedro de Gante gathered a group of natives  for the singing of hymns in celebration of Christmas, an event that would later turn into  “asking for room at the inn”.

With activities like this, the Franciscans earned the trust of the Acolman inhabitants and  introduced them to religious activities. In the beginning, they accepted the indigenous people´s belief that  the theatrical  presentations of biblical scenes had  a certain “power of purification”,  and consequently , flowers and songs were included “to keep evil spirits away”.

Within a very short time, the indigenous people took over the entire production of the pastorelas . They were the actors and musicians; they produced the sets and made the costumes… They are even thought to have translated or written the texts to/in Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica, something fundamental to the evangelizing mission of the stagings.

The indigenous people were much taken by the story…

Traditional Christmas Recipes

Atole   Atole, word that comes from the Aztec -Nahuatl atolli… Read More

 

Buñuelos de Navidad -Christmas Sweet Fritters Boil one tablespoon anisette in a cup of water and leave to cool. Mix.. Read More

 

Chocolate Caliente Heat  milk over medium flame. Break  chocolate into pieces. Read More

Ensalada de Navidad – Christmas Salad This fresh, flavorful salad is a classic Mexican Christmas dish. Read More

 

Pavo Relleno Stuffed Turkey Place the stuffed turkey, breast side up, on a rack…Read More

 

Ponche Navideño: Holiday Punch Nothing like a good Ponche to fight the cold temperatures and enjoy the Holidays… Read More

 

Recipe Rosca de Reyes The Merienda de Reyes is truly a multicultural event.   The Spaniards brought the tradition of celebrating the Epiphany and sharing the Rosca to the New World… Read More

 

Tamales de Dulce Sweet Tamales  Mix the masa harina with baking powder, sugar and salt, and beat into the lard in small amounts. Read More

 

 

The Piñata

Spanish

When the first missionaries arrived in Mexico, they were faced with a very different way of life than the one they were used to.  The conquest meant not only taking over territories that had recently been discovered as America, but it was also the imposition of a language, Spanish customs and habits and, among other things, religion.

  It was not easy for the evangelists to change the entire belief in many gods ideology of the many different Indian populations, so they had to invent strategies that they could use to teach the mysteries of God to the Indians.

One of the most complicated dogmas was sin and the way in which Satan tempts us.  The missionaries had to teach them about how we must be strong to beat the Devil;  that’s how we reap the benefits of heaven…how complicated!!!

 

And with the huge weight of responsibility on their shoulders, the Franciscans found the answer…a piñata!

Picture Credit: Gustavo  Serrano

They designed a huge ceramic pot covered with colored paper in the shape of a star, where each one of the points represented one of the seven deadly sins.  It was something that would come down from and then rise up to the sky (hence the shape of the star) and it would bother people…touch them…tempt them!

So, you have to hit it hard, overcome the temptation, break the evil, put all your attention into getting rid of evil.  But it’s not easy!  Sin blinds us with a blindfold, and our family and friends and others who surround us are the ones who have to guide us in order to break the chain of evil.

¡Dale, dale, dale! ¡arriba… abajo! ¡duro…duro! ¡rómpela…rómpela!

(hit it, hit it, hit it!  Up…down!  harder…harder!  break it… break it!

And when someone is well guided, the piñata is broken!  Then, from heaven, we are showered with gifts…fruit, candy, toys, immense happiness that fills us with joy.  Evil has been destroyed, God is with us, the missionaries have accomplished their duty and we Mexicans enjoy one of our most fun and exciting traditions.

December 28 April Fools in Mexico

The Day of the Holy Innocents (Día de los Santos Inocentes), on December 28, commemorates the biblical story of King Herod’s orders to execute male babies in Bethlehem in order to kill baby Jesus.

In Mexico as in all Latin countries people play jokes and pranks to trick friends and family  every December 28, which is similar to April Fool’s Day. The media also get involved by reporting news that is false, all in good fun. Many visit cemeteries with offerings to souls of departed children, in line with a pre-Hispanic tradition.

When somebody falls for the false news or prank the saying goes: Inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar hoy por ser dia 28 en nadie debes confiar,   “Innocent little dove that let itself be fooled, today being the 28th in no one should you trust”.

It is also known that if someone asks you for something borrowed he will keep it as you have been fooled! So on December 28 make sure not to loan anything!

¡Ya Vienen Los Reyes Magos! The Three Wise Men Are Coming!

The Three Wise Men Day    Dia de Reyes

After New Year’s Day, Mexican families still have a very special date to commemorate and enjoy.  On January 6, most of the Hispanic world & culture celebrates El Dia De Reyes, the Epiphany, remembering the day when the Three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem, arrived bearing their treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Baby Jesus.  

Picture by Tito Caballero

The Reyes Magos In  La Alameda                                          

A couple of days earlier, the children write their letters to the Wise Men, or to their favorite Rey Mago: Melchor, Gaspar, or Baltasar, asking for the presents they would like to receive. 

During the evenings before the great celebration on January 6, families go to the Alameda, in Mexico City, a beautiful park that dates back to the Colonial era. There, every year, hundreds of stands are placed with food, toys and best of all, there are sets, where the children can have their picture taken with the Three Kings of the Orient.This has been a tradition in the Mexican culture for centuries now.

Hundreds of multicolored balloons, filled with helium, are sold during the season, so the little ones can attach their letters to them, and have them fly, up to the sky, carrying all their wishes with them.

 If they forgot their letters at home, there is no need to worry, there are also salesmen that offer writing paper and envelopes specially designed for the occasion and addressed to the Reyes Magos. This lovely tradition of going to the Alameda park is passed on from one generation to another.  I have a picture of my husband, when a small child, with the Reyes Magos, set on a photo-album alongside some photographs of my children with them.