I’m currently living and working in Mexico City, Mexico, for my year abroad as a Modern Languages student.One of the more daunting prospects of a year abroad in Mexico was of course, would I go home for Christmas? In the end I decided to stay, partly due to the expensive flights home, but mainly because I wanted to make the most of my time here in Mexico and that included trying out a Mexican Christmas this year.
In all honesty, before I came to Mexico I expected that all Christian countries would celebrate Christmas in more or less the same way we do. I mean of course the 25 degree sunshine was very different to my usual Christmas day but I thought that’s where the disparities would end – well I was very much mistaken. Not only is the way they celebrate this holiday completely different, but the whole season has a totally different level of importance too. In England, Christmas is a big deal.
In Mexico, it’s just one day of many in the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon – A holiday period beginning with the Virgen de Guadalupe on the 12th of December, all the way until the Three Wise Men on the 6th of January. As if the almost three weeks of non-stop parties weren’t enough, the additional challenge of this period is to drink alcohol every day of the Marathon. Maybe Mexicans and students have far more in common than I originally thought.
The Virgin of Guadalupe (12/12)
A Catholic holiday celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe (Mary). On this day, thousands of Catholic pilgrims from all over Mexico (and the world) head to the Basilica de Guadalupe – The most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, right here in Mexico City! From my personal experience, this day consisted of a lot of fireworks (which I think started at 6am outside my bedroom window – thanks Mexico – and carried on all throughout the day). Oddly enough, daytime fireworks seem to be really important to Mexicans, and most churches set them off every day. Although the charm wears off quickly and they can get very annoying. Give me church bells any day! The streets also get really dirty on this day, as the pilgrims litter a lot.
Traditionally, people would have Posadas (Christmas parties) every night during this 9 day period. Mexicans really know how to party hard. However, that’s a huge challenge, so normally people only go to one or two. The thing that makes these Christmas parties special is the re-enactment of the Nativity. Imagine your primary school nativity play, but performed by (most probably) tipsy adults, and featuring endless songs.
Then out comes the piñata, which are absolutely HUGE – I’ve seen some the size of small cars. The children then break these open while singing songs, and finally scramble for the sweets! Most piñatas are a kind of three dimensional star shape, with the seven cone-shaped points representing the seven deadly sins, which are broken during this tradition. At Posadas, the traditional drink is Ponche (basically fruit punch).
Christmas Day (25/13)
Although I haven’t yet experience Christmas day in Mexico, from what people have told me here it’s not that big a deal. When I asked some of the kids I teach about it, one said very matter-of-factly that “Santa doesn’t come to all houses. Only some, last year he didn’t come to mine. He mainly visits the American children.” Suddenly very worried that I had been extremely presumptuous that all these children are wealthy enough for Christmas presents, I felt awful, until another child reassured me that if Santa doesn’t come, then the Niño Dios (baby Jesus) will bring the presents. Phew!
Christmas dinner is also very different. Traditional food here consists of cod, beans, mole, various veggies, and is far less extravagant than our Christmas feasts.
New Year’s Celebrations (31/12)
Here in Mexico they celebrate New Year’s in the same way as the Spanish: by eating one grape every time the clock chimes the new year. This can apparently lead to much laughter as families stuff their mouths with grapes faster than they can chew them, but be careful not to choke. As you eat each grape, you are also meant to make a wish. What an intense 12 seconds! Maybe don’t try this one at home kids!
The Three Wise Men (6/1)
In some families, this is when most gifts are exchanged, as Mexicans believe that this is the date that the three wise men met Jesus and gave him his gifts. Therefore, for a lot of families, this day is far more important than Christmas day.
This date finally marks the end of the Mexican Christmas Marathon, however the Christmas season actually officially ends on the 2nd of February. When Mexicans eat the Rosca de Reyes (Kings’ Cake), eat tamales and Atole, and the Christmas decorations finally come down. So yes Christmas in Mexico is quite the celebration and it’s safe to say that Mexican’s really do know how to party!