A Family-Centric Holiday
Mexico’s rich and vibrant culture is best seen when observing how traditions and customs are celebrated on holidays.
For the typical Mexican household, Christmas is one of the most important days of the year. A time of feasting and celebrating, but also a time to pay homage to religious traditions.
Unlike the US, where Christmas is celebrated for only a couple of days, the Mexican seasonal celebration occurs from around December 12th until the 6th of January, which is known as Dia de los Reyes – a day meant to pay homage to the biblical story of the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.
Impressing the Neighbors
As early as November, decorations can be seen being put up all throughout the country.
Mexican homes are adorned with decorations of poinsettias, lilies, evergreens, and colorful paper lanterns.
Families enjoy visiting the stalls and choosing the perfect decorations for their household.
Poinsettia flowers are very popular everywhere and are even known as ‘nochebuena’ (Christmas Eve) flowers in Mexico.
Posadas – A Lively Tradition
From December 16th until Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), local children will perform a traditional cultural procession known as ‘Posada’.
The term comes from the Spanish word for an inn or lodging and the tradition is based upon the biblical story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem to seek shelter for the baby Jesus.
Nine Days of Songs
The story is broken into nine distinct nights, each one representing a different chapter in the story.
For the Posadas, the outside of houses is embellished with lovely traditional adornments.
Night after night, the children gather to replay the events of each posada for anyone who wishes to join in the festivities.
Each night, every child is given candles and a board, painted with clay figures of Joseph and Mary riding on a donkey.
The children go from house to house, singing a song at every door. The song tells the tale of Mary and Joseph’s plight for shelter.
In keeping with tradition, the people in each house will shoo the children away and tell them to seek room and board elsewhere.
Eventually, the children will arrive at a house where they will be invited warmly to rest and eat.
The children reciprocate with thankful prayers, which is followed by a lively fiesta with delicious dishes, entertainment, and a fireworks display.
Each night a different house will hold a different Posada party. The final Posada takes place on Christmas Eve, where both a manager and the figures of shepherds are applied to the board.
Upon finding the final Posada house, an artistic representation of the baby Jesus is put into the manger.
The families will then attend a late-night mass when this has happened, followed by yet another brilliant display of fireworks.
The piñata is a definite staple in Mexican Christmas rituals. A piñata is a flamboyantly-decorated clay or papier-mâché jar, filled with candies and prizes and strung from the ceiling or tree branch.
Seven Deadly Sins
A common piñata theme is a globe shape surrounded by seven peaks, which is intended to represent the seven deadly sins. Animals such as donkeys and birds are also popular choices for piñatas.
How to Play
The aim of the game is to smash the piñata with a bat or a stick until its contents erupt in a colorful explosion of candy, toys, and confetti.
This is made a bit harder by blindfolding the person attacking the piñata. Many will swing around wildly and never hit the colorful object at all.
Once the piñata bursts open, riotous gleeful laughter ensues as all the children rush to collect all that they can from the entrails of the bested candy-box.
Pastorelas – The Shepherds
An Age-Old Christmas Play
In addition to the posadas, another type of Christmas play is often performed in Mexico, known as Pastorelas (The Shepherds).
Pastorelas are light-hearted comedy skits that aim to tell the story of shepherds seeking the baby Jesus.
El Diablo – The Devil
The devil plays a big role in these plays, often stopping the shepherds by tempting them along the way.
Of course, by the end of the story, the shepherds have always gotten to their destination, often with the help of Michael, the Archangel.
Mexico, being a very traditionally Catholic country, represents Christmas with bold Nativity scenes, known as the ‘nacimiento’ (the birth) Often very large, the figures being can even be life-sized in some cases!
At times, Mexican households will dedicate an entire room to only be used for the nacimiento.
The scenes are most often made out of clay and painted, and then passed down through the generations as a keepsake.
They will usually include a figure of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the Shepherds, and the Three Kings.
However, there are many various extra figures that may be included as one wishes, in addition to other decorations and animals that may be incorporated into the scene.
The figures can be bought from markets in cities all over Mexico.
The days leading up to the NocheBuena can affect how the nativities are displayed, as the Baby Jesus will typically only be brought out on Christmas Eve, and the three Kings are added at the Epiphany.
Similarities to American Traditions
Though the Nacimiento is one of the most common and celebrated Mexican traditions, culture from the United States has also played a role and thus, many Mexican families nowadays will incorporate a Christmas tree into their decorations as well.
The Big Night
Christmas Eve, though not as important in the United States, is the most important night of the year. Known as ‘Noche Buena’ (The Good Night), it is a family-centric day celebrated with many traditions.
A Feast for the Entire Family
The Final Posada will take place on December 24th, in the evening. The Christmas meal will be served afterward.
Popular dishes for the main event are Pozole, a thick, rich soup incorporating hominy with chicken and pork and spiced up with chiles and greens to make it more lively.
Tamales are also a very common staple for the day. Tamales can be made in many different ways, depending on the area and the person preparing them.
Served within a corn husk and steamed with masa, tamales can often feature mole negro, beef chunks, or pork.
Vast Array of Different Dishes
Other dishes that are served include roast turkey, pork, bacalao (salt cod), romeritos (green vegetables simmered in mole sauce with potatoes and shrimp), and salads, such as Ensalada Nochebuena (Christmas Eve Salad).
For dessert, buñuelos are a popular treat. Buñuelos can be flat or round, and consist of fried dough sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon, or hot sugar syrup.
For thirsty guests, Ponche is always made available. Ponche is a warm Christmas punch that is made with hibiscus flowers, oranges, cloves, pears, and apples, among other tasty ingredients.
There is also a different drink for the older crowd, known as Rompope, which is reminiscent of eggnog, infused with rum and served chilled over ice.
Misa De Gallo
At midnight, many of the more religious within the country will attend a local Midnight Mass service, known as the ‘Misa de Gallo’ (Mass of the Rooster).
Upon returning from the late-night mass, practitioners are welcomed home to a table spread out with a hearty meal and delicious treats. Fireworks are commonly set off as well to mark the event.
Dia de Los Santos Inocentes
“Dia de Los Santos Inocentes” (The Day of the Holy Innocents) is another Mexican tradition celebrated on December 28th.
It can be compared to April Fool’s Day in the US, where Mexican citizens go around their places of work and schools, pulling lighthearted pranks on one another.
Origin of Dia de Los Santos Inocentes
The day is representative of the bible story where King Herod gave an order for all boys to be killed in a misguided effort to kill Jesus.
In the story, an angel tells Mary and Joseph beforehand, allowing them to safely seek refuge in Egypt. This day is celebrated as a feast day internationally within the Christian religion.
Tres Reyes – Mexican Santa Claus
Similar to American children’s belief in Santa Claus, Mexican children believe that the “Tres Reyes” (Three Kings) will come by to leave gifts.
According to the legend, the three wise men set out to leave gifts hidden in the shoes of each child on the special night of the Epiphany, also known as “El Dia de Reyes” (The Day of Kings), taking place on January 6th.
Rosca de Reyes – A Baby in the Cake!
Mexican tradition also dictates that everyone should eat a piece of special cake called “Rosca de Reyes” (Three Kings Cake) on January sixth.
A small plastic figure of the baby Jesus is baked in the cake and everyone receives a slice.
Everyone begins devouring the sweet treat, and whoever finds the infant in their cake is hailed as the “Godfather” of Jesus for the upcoming year.
Virgen de la Candelaria – Virgin of the Candles
Another important day is known as La Candelaria “the Candles” or “Virgen de la Candelaria”(virgin of the candles), also known as Candlemas in other parts of the world.on the 2nd February and it marks the end of the Mexican Christmas celebrations. Lots of Mexicans have a party for Candelaria.
Holiday Phrases Heard Around the Country
In Mexico most people speak Spanish, so Happy/Merry Christmas is “Feliz Navidad”, a phrase constantly heard during the yuletide season.
Other parts of Mexico speak a language known as Nahuatl, and “Cualli netlācatilizpan” is a phrase used to wish everyone a happy holiday season.
Finally, in the Yucatan Peninsula, a Mayan Yucatec language is spoken, and people will wish you a Merry Christmas by saying “Ki’imak navidad”. It is interesting to know how people wish Happy or Merry Christmas in other languages.
The Largest Angel Ornament on Record
A final fun fact about Christmas in Mexico is that the largest angel ornament ever made was crafted in Mexico. It was made in January 2001 by a man by the name of Sergio Rodriguez in Nuevo León.
Amazingly, the angel was constructed completely out of recycled beer bottles. Once complete, the angel was 18′ 3″ high and had a wingspan of 11′ 9″! Now that’s a new way to get into high spirits!
Learn More With the Help of Video
Main Points About Christmas in Mexico
- Christmas preparations commonly begin from the 12th day of December.
- Starting from the 16th of December, Children perform posadas. There is a total of 9 posadas. Families often partake in the last posada.
- The Posada party goes from house to house with candles and other props for the performance.
- In Mexico, Christmas eve is a family day. There is a Christmas meal for the family with traditional delicious delicacies and the cake of the three kings (Rosca de Reyes).
- There is a midnight mass, Mass of the Rooster (Misa de Gallo). After which there is a lot of fireworks to usher in Christmas day.
Mexico is a wonderfully vibrant and passionate country, made up of people who have strived for centuries to produce amazing food, products, and ideas.
The Christmas season is one of the very best times to appreciate the culture, as all forms of music, food, and rituals are proudly put on display.
Word Cloud for Christmas in Mexico
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in Mexico. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.