Christmas is a very important holiday for my family; I grew up in the Catholic faith and was raised to embrace the traditional values of a middle class Mexican family. This time of the year brings me a lot of happy memories as well as nostalgia for the past and my culture. That is why today I want to share with you some of the traditions I grew up with and now I’m teaching my family to embrace here in the US. My friend and photographer Carlos Contreras de Oteyza is contributing with me in this story to illustrate the Mexico traditions, and truly his images have touched my heart and transported me to that joyful time since haven’t celebrated Christmas in my country over thirteen years ago.
Early December Mexico City dresses up to showcase an impressive show of lights, the several displays of lights start in Reforma Avenue in the heart of Mexico City and go along till you get to the Historic downtown area. The whole family including my great grandmother “Mama Grande”, my mom, my step-dad my brother and me were used to drive to this area of town to see the lights and visit the kiosks selling atole and tamales, have the chance to meet and greet with Santa Claus and the Three Kings, and take many pictures for preserving our memories from this very special time of the year. I remember having my grandmother “Mama Licha” take me there every year to visit Santa at the stores as well as my great aunt Minita driving me to visit a huge display with a small village all lighted up while we ate delicious churros and hot chocolate; all very sweet memories that I keep forever in my heart.
Other tradition that we had is that our home will always have a Christmas tree but also a beautiful Nativity Scene handcrafted by local Mexican artists and passed along generation by generation to the main family hosting the Christmas Eve dinner celebration.
My Mama Grande’s garden showcased during this holiday time beautiful Nochebuena or Poinsettia flowers, which coincidentally are Mexico’s national flower. This plant will flower every year and will continue until February time frame if well taken care of, I certainly remember that big plant almost like a tree that you could see from my childhood’s room window.
In preparation to the arrival of Baby Jesus in Mexico we celebrate “Las Posadas” a tradition dating back over 300 years intended to prepare Catholics for the arrival of Jesus Christ. While growing up this tradition was part of the festivities we would hold as a community. This celebration starts on December 16 and ends on the 24th on Christmas Eve. As a child I enjoyed “Las Posadas” and have fond memories of that time. In my town this celebration was a festivity involving the entire community where all the families involved got together every evening to plan, make crafts, and decide the dishes they would prepare for the feast that lasts 9 days. Traditional menu were tamales, atole and ponche caliente de frutas.
The adult men of the community were in charge of las piñatas filled up with colacion, oranges, peanuts, jicamas, hawthorn and sugar canes; they would coordinate the moment to break the piñata hanging it as high as possible while children would try to hit it with their eyes covered with a “paliacate” and the rest of the guests will cheer singing the song: “Dale, dale, dale no pierdas el tino, porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino”.
Las piñatas have 7 pointed cones representing each a capital sin; the breaking of the piñata is a symbolic way to reward faith and represent the struggle against temptation and evil. These traditional piñatas are made with clay and colorful paper, historians mention piñatas were created for evangelism purposes by the Spaniard monks during the colony.
This year I’m bringing back this tradition to my home here in Orlando and have started organizing my Posada for Christmas Eve, I hope this story has inspired you to embrace your culture and traditions but most importantly to celebrate family and unity.
This post is also available in: Spanish