In Mexico, December is a month that is not only filled with celebrations, but a starting point that precedes a prolonged celebratory state in people. Read on and you’ll see what we mean 😉
It seems, there is a tacit agreement amongst Mexicans which says starting December 12th (which pinpoints an “unofficial” but highly praised “holiday-start” date) we all switch into a celebratory mood, for it was when Our Lady of Guadalupe made her glorious apparition to Juan Diego back in 1531.
A lovely and poignant event, that denotes a profound devotion to Her given our religious customs and traditions, which have endured the passing of time, and that definitely excites most people into the approaching holiday season.
This day is called “Día de la Guadalupana” and on every December 12, at 12 o’clock in the morning, thousands of Mexicans sing in unison the well-known song of “las mañanitas” (our traditional birthday song) in front of the Basilica of Guadalupe located in Cerro del Tepeyac to the north of Mexico City, and people will organise peregrinations to get there, sometimes as a form of penitence or special offering to Her.
Most Mexicans would have altars dedicated to Her in the comforts of their homes and will attend mass, usually celebrated with music or Mariachi as well. Streets are filled with adorned caravans that travel around the city to share the joy of this event.
In the following days, posadas are not long in coming and all the fiesta and seven-star pinata smashing starts happening in most Mexicans’ homes. The perfect time and occasion to gather and celebrate a significant rite of passage that finds its roots in colonial times.
In an attempt of transforming indigenous festivities and aligned them to Catholic traditions, evangelizing friars changed the “Panquetzaliztli” festival, which celebrated the advent of Huitzilopochtli, god of war (originally from December 16 to 26), into the image of Mary and Joseph.
This not only facilitated the evangelization work, but also allowed the performance of nine Christmas bonus masses (misas de Aguinaldo) followed by public representations of Joseph and the Virgin Mary’s pilgrimage on their way out of Nazareth to Bethlehem and their search for shelter in the imminent birth of Jesus Christ. These made up a total of 9 posadas or lodgings.
Eventually, this traditional celebration started to make roots in most Mexicans and other Latin Americans alike. Nowadays, the posadas take place from December 16 to 24 and each of these nine days represent values such as humility, strength, detachment, charity, trust, justice, purity, joy, and generosity.
Both children and adults will enact the story of when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay. Most people organise these gatherings amongst their neighbourhoods, with their family members, or both even and each night of the Posadas, a recreation of these scenes will take place.
The procession will consist of 2 sides: a family or half the guests that will be designated as hosts and will play the role of the innkeepers that will turn Mary and Joseph away until they reach to the one family that will do the shelter and place of the fiesta; and the other side, will be played by another family or half the guests who are “outside” pleading for shelter, just as Mary and Joseph did.
People will hold candles and even costumes (traditionally, there would be a child dressed as an angel leading the procession) and sing to request shelter or “pedir posada”. They often involve music or musicians playing these songs and also statues of Joseph and Mary if possible.
After arriving to the last and final place where they are welcomed in, the crowd then gathers around the nativity scene and prays together for a few moments. After that, the mood brightens, and the fiesta starts! Tamales and buñuelos are waiting to be eaten, ponche nice and hot to be drank and a 7-pointed star piñata waiting to be shattered to pieces and reveal its prizes inside!
By the way, did you ever wonder why pinatas have 7 ends? These symbolize the 7 deadly sins: laziness, gluttony, envy, anger, lust, greed, and pride. The stick we use to hit the pinata, simulates the powerful force that destroys all evil and we now have a chance to start anew, leaving old bad habits behind.
These Posadas culminate with Noche Buena or Holy Night on December 24th which is Christmas Eve. We then proceed to enjoy a family night together, where a delicious traditional dinner is served and stay up late around midnight to wish everyone a happy Christmas.
The next day, on the 25th, gifts are exchanged and with that the miracle of the arrival of El niño Dios or “child God” who has come to deliver them. In some up-northern states, there are some families that celebrate the visiting of Santa Claus too. In whichever way Mexican families wish to celebrate, December 25th is essentially a day when most families and friends get together again to taste the reheated Christmas dinner and spend a day in peace, love and connectedness.
So, in the lead up to December and in order to get you in the festive mood, we would love to share some recipes and fun traditions that happen during this season for most Mexicans.
Traditionally, and being winter, tamales, flautas and pozole are essential eating, complimented by chocolate caliente (hot cocoa), ponche navideno. The meal isn’t complete without postre (dessert), often buñuelos (thin fried pastries covered with sugar) or Churros with sticky cajeta for dipping or filling.
Other rituals are performed around cleanliness and prosperity and welcoming a new year:
Sweep the house to remove all bad vibes (starting from the last room or back end towards the main entrance, never the other way around).
Go for a walk with your luggage outside your house, in your street, getting back inside and repeat as many times you’d like to attract more trips and vacations.
Use of yellow and red underwear: yellow for good fortune and money, red for love, etc.
Eating 12 grapes: people eat 12 grapes, one for each bell that strikes at 00:00. It corresponds to the number of months and the wishes that you want to be granted next year.
So, now you know a couple of the best traditions, try something new this year!
Filled with strong love and warmth, from our kitchen to yours…
Happy holidays everyone!