Noche Buena Christmas in Mexico Copy

by May Herz

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. 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!

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 the big party begins!

“¡Dale, dale, dale,no pierdas el tino,

porque si lo pierdes,

pierdes el camino,

Una, dos, tres!”

Ya le diste una,

ya le diste dos,

Ya le diste tres,

y tu tiempo se acabó

Una, dos, tres!”

“Strike it, Strike it, Strike it,

don’t lose your aim,

’cause if you lose it,

you won’t find your way!

One, two, three!”

You’ve hit it once,

you’ve hit it twice

you’ve hit it thrice

and your time is up

One, two, three!”

Afterwards we all enjoy the delicious food prepared: tamales, buñuelos – sweet fritters- churros and chocolate caliente -hot chocolate.

During the Christmas season there are Pastorelas, which are theatrical representations of the shepherds on their way to honor baby Jesus. They must follow the star in the East to get there, but there will be many obstacles, set by the devils, for them to overcome. The pastorelas are comedies of course, and display a traditional sense of humor. Sometimes the characters even get to deliver political jokes, which the audience obviously enjoys!

Although the custom of putting up a Christmas tree has become very popular, the real Mexican tradition consists of setting up a nativity scene.

These scenes are set up on December 16, but the figure of the Baby Jesus is not put into the manger until December 24, and the Three Kings are added on January 5.

Nativity Arbol de la Vida

Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena as it is called in Mexico, is celebrated on December 24. This is an essentially family day, which begins with the last posada and ends with a delicious, sumptuous dinner. At midnight there are masses that are called Misa de Gallo. After dinner the adults exchange presents.

On December 25, children wake up early, to find under the tree the gifts they asked Santa Claus for.

This is a relatively new, (some 50 years old ) addition to our Christmas season. Before, gifts were only exchanged on January 6, Dia de los Reyes Magos.

Los Reyes Magos

All Mexican children anxiously wait January 5, because this is when the Three Kings, Los Reyes Magos, arrive with gifts for them! A few days before, the children write their letters asking the Kings for the toys they want the most. Accompanied by their family, they go to the town’s plaza or zócalo, to send their letters, attached to multicolored balloons that float up, taking their dreams with them.

On the morning of January 6, all their dreams come true!In the afternoon, family and friends gather to share the “Rosca de Reyes” , which is a traditional wreath-shaped bread that is made only during the first days of January.

The Rosca is served with chocolate caliente, and tamales. Hidden inside this delicious rosca, are several small figurines, of Baby Jesus.Each person cuts a slice of the rosca, and whoever gets the baby figurine has to invite everyone present to a new party on February 2, Candelaria day.

On February second, Candelaria day, the many Baby Jesus figurines are taken from the nativity scene to the church to be blessed. Practically all the markets will restore, paint and dress these dolls for the occasion.

The nativity scene is put away on this date until the next year when the new Christmas season begins.

This marvelous season, filled with dreams and joy, ends on this afternoon in a family setting!

Feliz Navidad!