While riding the public bus past a church in Cancun, Mexican passengers make a relaxed fist gesturing the sign of the cross and then kiss their thumb as a sign of respect for the church. With a strong Catholic influence inherited from Spain, Mexico is alive with religious traditions. If the idea of Christmas in Mexico doesn’t ring any bells, listen closely to the Christmas bells ringing loud and clear. Rich in traditional festivities, a Mexican Christmas is filled with wonder.
In other countries, the 12 Days of Christmas are recognized, but in Mexico, the nine days of posadas leading up to Christmas Eve − Noche Buena (Holy Night) − are observed. The Christmas holiday in Mexico continues through January 6th, which is El Dia de los Reyes (day of the kings or the wise men). Traditionally, this is the day Mexican children received their gifts, but with growing international influence, they sometimes receive gifts on both Christmas Day and Dia de los Reyes.
Christmas in Mexico is a religious holiday, honoring the ‘nativity’ or birth of the savior. As part of the Christmas celebration, traditional fiestas called Mexican posadas (inns) are held for family, friends, and neighbors. A posada is the reenactment of the Census pilgrimage to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph (los peregrinos) in search of a room. From December 16th through December 24th, Mexican families customarily hold a posada party one evening in each of their homes.
During the reenactment, the posada hosts act as the inn keepers while their guests act as the pilgrims (los peregrinos). Holding lighted candles, each group takes turns singing verses to each other, for example:
“Mi nombre es José,
Mi esposa es María.
y madre va ser,
del Divino Verbo.”
“My name is Joseph,
My wife is Mary.
and mother to be
of the Divine Word.”
(Inn keepers, inside)
“Posada os brindo,
y disculpa os pido,
no os reconocía.”
“The inn I give you,
and offer an apology,
for not recognizing you.”
Then the inn keeper hosts open the door and welcome the pilgrims inside.
Although primarily a religious holiday including attendance at Christmas Eve mass (Misa de Aguinaldo or Misa de Gallo), Mexican holidays always offer an opportunity to enjoy a fiesta in true Mexican fashion.
Posada parties are not only marked by traditional rituals but are also filled with cheerful socializing, authentic food, and fun for the entire family, including a special Christmas drink and a piñata filled with candy.
Provided not only at Christmas but at birthdays and other celebrations, traditional Mexican piñatas are designed in the shape of a seven-point star; created with cardboard and paper mache; and decorated with crepe paper.
The seven points represent the seven deadly sins that need to be destroyed by the ‘sinner’ who is blindfolded (signifying blind faith). Hoping to conquer sin, he attempts to hit the swaying piñata with a stick and break open the center, which bestows him with ‘blessings’ (candy).
As each person takes turns swinging at the piñata, onlookers sing an encouraging verse:
“Dale, dale, dale; no pierdas el tino,
porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino.”
“Hit it, hit it, hit it; don’t miss the shot,
Because if you miss it, you’ll lose the way.”
Once the piñata is broken and the falling candy has been collected, family, friends, and neighbors return inside to eat, drink, and be merry, indulging in a Christmas Mexican drink called Ponche con Piquete (sting), a delicious, hot fruit punch containing a spicy blend of seasonal fruits, cinnamon, and a shot of brandy or rum. Mexico even has its own Christmas cerveza (beer) called Noche Buenaavailable during the holiday season.
It has been said that this delightful beer contains traces of chocolate. So lift a glass of Ponche or raise a bottle of Noche Buena, and toast: