Having lived in Mexico City for 10 years, I can say that the Holiday Season was some of the memorable days there and some of the best moments of my life; especially Christmas time. December is an important month in Mexico for a number of reasons. First, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is on December 12. Then there is Christmas and in January, there is the Three Kings’ Day. The days leading up to Christmas are filled with parties called “posadas” and the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon. Reasons to celebrate abound, and anywhere you go you can find some sort of fiesta to take part in. If you’re looking for a warm Christmas you might want to try Mexico for that experience.
The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a very important day to Mexicans. The ultimate patroness saint of all Mexico, she is the symbol of the whole nation and the rally cry of independence. On her saint day pilgrims all over Mexico descend upon Mexico City to the Hill of Tepeyac and profess their profound dedication to her, for granting them good fortune and answers to their prayers. In the days leading up to this particular day, the highways and the roads to the Basilica, are peppered with groups of pilgrims in caravans, buses and pretty much any form of transportation that you can imagine. These roads are the site where the Virgin was said to have appeared before Juan Diego and performed the miracle of bringing roses to an area where roses weren’t ever found before.
But there is also the festive aspect attached to this day of religious significance. Those who enjoy food and drink a little more than others stretch this holiday into a month long party. The fiestas are crowned by “Dia de los Tres Reyes” (Three Kings’ Day) on January 6. This period is popularly called the “Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon” and has people celebrating with parties and quite a bit of drinking and eating with friends.
It should also be mentioned that, though Santa Claus is important there, the Three Kings are as important, if not more so, to children. Both Santa and the Kings bring presents for the children, but it can be argued that the Three Kings are figures of greater importance. There is also the “rosca de reyes” which is a large oval or circular bread that has a hole in the center. Inside the bread little figurines of Baby Jesus are hidden, representing the hiding of the baby from King Herod. Depending on how large the bread is determines how many babies are hiding in the bread. Similar in concept to the King Bread made during Mardi Gras, the rosca is shared and everyone who gets a piece must cut their own slice. Then, they must revise the slice to see if they got a Baby Jesus. Everyone who got one must bring tamales to a party on February 2, which is “Dia de la Candelaria” (Candlemas).
There are also the “posadas.” Traditionally, this is a party that anyone can throw, commemorating the journey that Joseph and Mary took in search of a place to have Jesus. The party normally starts with asking for “posada” (a place to stay the night). The participants of the party are split up into two groups, with one group singing the petition for a place to stay, (as Mary and Joseph) while the other group is singing as the innkeepers. The song tells the story in an interrogation/conversation between the two, with the final result of starting the party. Normally, there is a mulled wine sort of drink called “ponche”, which is made with seasonal fruits, cinnamon, rum, sugar cane and sugar. Served hot and toasty, this is accompanied by a bowl of “pozole” (hominy soup) that is garnished with pulled pork or chicken, lettuce, cream, radishes and a sprinkle of oregano. For those looking for something sweet, “buñuelos” are fried wafers that can be dusted with sugar or dribbled with syrup for a lovely treat on those colder evenings. This is also the time when “café de olla” is served. Literally “coffee from a pot”. This is coffee sweetened with unrefined sugar called “piloncillo” and a stick or two of cinnamon to give it a nice kick. This is a great candidate for those looking for a new comfort food to add their repertoire. This drink hits the spot during chilly, winter evenings while sharing a good laugh with friends and family.
There are also some great traditions that you can take part in without having to crash a posada. A “pastorela,” a representation of the Nativity in a play, similar to the Christmas panto in Great Britain, may be amore sacred way to celebrate. This popular Christmas show is performed all over the country, and most places do them for an accessible admission, or for next to nothing. The majority of the time, it’s performed in Spanish, so if you understand Spanish even a little bit, it may be worth your while to see one.
So if you are interested in the festivity and the traditions of a country, Mexico City can easily be a great option for your intro course on a Christmas south of the border. Try a little festive holiday cheer a la Mexicana, and enjoy the warmth of a different sort of winter wonderland, with salsa and lime on top.