Christmas in Mexico – Navidad
Mexican customs concerning Christmas have undergone significant transformations over the last 30 years. The nativity scene used to be the central Christmas theme in the home. Influence from the United States has caused things to shift to a “Christmas tree” type of culture.
Here is a description of some customs that continue in Mexico at the present time:
“Las Posadas” are a series of nine nightly celebrations that start on December 16 and end on December 24 (Noche Buena). Each evening a procession of people walks down the street, usually with candles and statues (figures of Jesus and/or Mary and/or popular saints). As they walk they sing Christmas songs (villancicos navideños), sometimes stopping for a prayer or a religious reading/commentary.
The Posada represents the traditional story of Joseph and Mary looking for a place to spend the night. The procession arrives at a designated house and a song begins that alternates between those inside and those outside. The song ends as everyone goes into the house. (We have created our own “Bible friendly” version of this song here.) Inside there is food and a traditional fruit punch, consisting of sugar cane, prunes, guava, cinnamon sticks, and a little round fruit called “tejocote.”
Each evening there is also the traditional breaking of a piñata (usually several), as well as the giving of an “aguinaldo” (a bag filled with nuts, fruits and candy) to each person. On the last night there is one additional custom. A special doll that represents the baby Jesus is placed in a crib (usually in a nativity scene) and people quietly sing lullabies to lull it to sleep. Each year a woman is put in charge of taking care of this doll until the next Christmas. Many people here think that the doll has special powers and is almost like a real live baby.
On February 2 (día de la candelaria) this doll is taken to the church to receive a special blessing from the priest. People pay a lot of money to have the doll dressed in special clothes for this blessing. This custom is based on the presentation of Jesus in the Jewish temple after the 40 days of purification of the woman after she gives birth.
The traditional Christmas meal is served after midnight mass. In Puebla it often includes pasta; salted cod, fried fish, or pork; stuffed chiles, beans, a Noche Buena salad (jícama, beets, nuts and orange juice), and the traditional fruit punch.
Influence from the United States is transforming Christmas Day into a culture of Christmas trees and gifts. However, the traditional day for children to receive presents is still January 6, Three Kings Day (Epiphany). A special ring-shaped cake is shared with family and friends. The cake has miniature plastic dolls in it and everyone cuts their own piece of cake.
Whoever gets a tiny plastic doll in their piece of cake has to buy tamales for everyone else on February 2. It used to be that in some cases, if the person did not have much money, they would try to hide the toy in their mouth or even swallow it so that they would not have to buy tamales. People really have fun seeing who gets a little plastic doll.
Christmas is a happy time of year in Mexico. By law, all businesses must give their employees an “aguinaldo”. This often consists of anywhere between half a month’s salary to as much as an extra month and a half. Unfortunately, many businesses now let people go before this to avoid paying the aguinaldo.