Mexican Christmas traditions
Family habits that last forever
We Mexicans are like our traditional cuisine, a peculiar blend of the best of two worlds. In Christmas and New Year’s celebration, this is evident in those oriental traditions that have adapted so much that they became a part of our culture. Just like an Arabian dessert sweetened with honey that traveled through Spain to adopt the cinnamon and ended its journey in Mexico to be called a “buñelo”, we got some rich and strong Christmas and New Year traditions.
Maybe the most famous of these traditions are the “posadas”, religious parties that were born within the ancient Mexican culture but were adapted by the traveling monks during the Spanish Conquest. From December 17th through 26th, the ancient Mexican tribes had special celebrations for the War God Huitzilopochtli. This period was called Panquetzaliztli or “winter time.” The Augustinian monks changed the dates of this celebration to December 1st through the 24th to match with the Christian tradition and focused the festivity on the figures of Mary and Joseph.
Another tradition born from the posadas is called “pedir posada” or “begging for shelter” were the hosts of the posada stay inside their home to represent the hostel owners and the rest of the party goes outside to play as Mary and Joseph. During this reenactment of the journeys of the holy couple looking for shelter, everyone sings a litany with a specific and a recurring formula. In the end, kindness triumphs and the hosts let everyone inside while they sing and praise the kind – hearted hostel owners.
Another important element of the posadas is the “Nacimiento”, “belén” or birth representation. This is a scaled representation of the birth of Christ in the humble wooden manger, as told in the Bible. Historians believe that the first one of these representations was made by Saint Francis of Assisi. His version had real people standing inside a manger with a real ox, a cow, and even a baby.
Today the making of crafts designed specifically for these birth representations is a stablished business in México, mainly in states like Michoacán, Guerrero, Jalisco and Estado de México. Although the structure of this representation could be as complex or simple and one wishes, there are a few details that make the Mexican Nacimientos unique. For example, the traditional Nacimiento is composed only by Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, an ox, a cow and the wooden manger, but the creativity and imagination of Mexican craftsmen has spawned a lot of additional characters like the Archangel Gabriel, the Devil, The Three Wise Men, and King Herod with his soldiers. We even have a lot of very Mexican figures like tortilla bakers, tamal makers, sheepherders and even regional flora and fauna like nopales, jaguars, and axolotls.
A few figures have “special rules” inside the Nacimientos. One of them is Baby Jesus, that can only be put inside the manger on December 24th. The other set of figures with rules are the Three Wisemen, that must be put further to the manger and then nearer every day until they reach Baby Jesus on his birthday.
Rocking Baby Jesus is another Mexican tradition born from the posadas. During Christmas Eve, before putting the Baby Jesus doll inside the Nacimiento, the posada party rocks him with a lullaby called “A la rorro niño” (Mexican version of Rock-a-by Baby) that usually comes inside the posada litany sheet booklet. In some regions of México, people put candy around the Baby Jesus doll so each party member can take one as a treat after kissing the doll respectfully.
Each year is customary that the hosts of the posada choose the godfather and godmother of the Baby Jesus Doll. They are the ones that rock the doll inside a basket, plater or cloth and then put it inside the Nacimiento. On February 2nd, the godparents must retrieve the Baby Jesus doll and take it to church. After doing this, they throw a party with traditional tamales and atole beverages (you can taste these delicious Mexican treats at Xplor Fuego!) for the guests of the posada where the doll was rocked.
Did you know about any of these traditions? Is there a peculiar Christmas celebration in your country? Share your stories with us and keep the tradition alive!