Christmas is a religious holiday that is celebrated around the world. It’s a time when families gather around the fireplace with a big mug of hot cocoa as the smell of fresh pine cones wafts through the living room air. Stockings adorn the mantles of homes all around, and the festive tree stands tall with a pile of presents placed neatly around it. This holiday is a favorite of children and adults alike, but the traditions look different from culture to culture. In the United States, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, but in Mexico, Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated for a period of nine days, with December 24th being the official date the holiday is celebrated.
The months of December and January in Mexico are a time for celebration, and besides celebrating Christmas, the country celebrates other holidays and festivals during these two months.
Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe
Two weeks before Christmas, it is the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This day pays homage to Mary, Jesus’s mother, as believers flock to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe for a day filled with prayer. Children dress up in traditional Mexican clothing, and the day is celebrated with lots of songs, dancing, prayer, and laying fresh flowers around Mary’s statue.
The origin of this holiday is an interesting story, which took place surrounding events that unfolded one morning in the year 1531. The story goes that one fateful day, the Virgin Mary appeared to a villager by the name of Juan Diego and asked whether he would be willing to build a church at the Hill of Tepeyac in her honor. Stunned, Juan Diego immediately went to tell a local bishop the encounter he had just experienced. The bishop did not believe Juan’s story and sent him away. Later that same day, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego once more, and to prove the experience was indeed real, asked Juan to go pick some flowers over the hill. This particular hill in question was an area full of rocks and not a location flowers would generally grow.
As he wandered up the hill, to Juan’s surprise, he saw fresh flowers in bloom. He picked some of these flowers, pocketing them into his coat as he rushed back to see the bishop. As Juan Diego explained once more to the bishop what he had encountered, the bishop noticed the imprint of Mary’s face on Juan Diego’s coat pocket where he had kept the flowers for safekeeping. Convinced, the bishop agreed to the creation of a new church built in Mary’s honor. This church is known as the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, site of the modern-day festivities.
Posadas is the Mexican Christmas holiday that runs from December 16th through the 24th day. Just as Mary and Joseph traveled from inn to inn looking for a place to rest their heads on their journey from Bethlehem, so too do those celebrating this holy holiday. Children dress up as shepherds or angels, and each night the Las Posadas is celebrated, they go from home to home asking if they may stay the night. The majority of these houses refuse them entry until finally, they reach one home that allows them lodging for the evening. Once at this destination, there is a party with food, songs, prayer, and a round of piñata. This continues every single night for the nine nights with the designated houses changing daily.
On the very last night after finding that last home, the procession attends a midnight mass celebrating the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Fireworks are set off, church bells are rung, and large feasts are held in homes throughout Mexico as families return home from midnight mass.
During Las Posadas, traditional Mexican dishes are prepared every single night, with the largest meal occurring on the last night, Christmas Day.
A food enjoyed as far back as the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, tamales are a common Mexican dish served up on Las Posadas. A tamale is a roll of dough that is covered over with either a banana leaf or a corn husk and then steamed. Usual fillings include meat, vegetables, fruits, or a variety of cheeses.
Churros are another tasty dish served on this holiday. This dessert is a fried up pastry that is usually sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. It can be dipped into chocolate or filled up with various jellies similar to a jelly doughnut. They are usually enjoyed with a cup of hot cocoa making it the perfect combination for celebrating the time of year.
Another traditional Mexican dish served for Las Posadas is pozole. This is a beef stew mixed in with hominy, which is dried corn kernels. Families sit around the table during Las Posadas counting their blessings and enjoying the hearty beef or chicken stew that can be quite filling.
This translates as a salad for Christmas Eve. This is one of the many side dishes offered up on this holiday with the main dish generally being a roasted turkey.
Las Posadas Decorations
The nativity scenes are a big deal when it comes to Las Posadas. Mexican households preserve a whole room in some cases that is strictly dedicated to the nativity scene with life-like statues representing the story of Jesus in a manger.
Star-shaped pinatas are found in each of the homes over the nine nights of Las Posadas. Filled with all kinds of candies and other treats, children have a great time trying to extract the prizes held inside of these brightly-colored pinatas.
During Las Posadas, households in Mexico set up Christmas trees and decorate them with lights, ornaments, and various other types of décor.
Christmas is a deeply spiritual holiday that is celebrated worldwide depending on a person’s religious beliefs. In the United States, it is observed on December 25th, but in Mexico, these holiday proceedings begin on December 16th and last all the way until the 24th.
Most families in Mexico do not incorporate Santa Claus into their Las Posadas traditions, opting instead to keep it a tradition of celebrating the lives of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary.