After three of them in the states, it’s time for Christmas in Mexico again for me.
I’m doing a few American things, like baking Christmas cookies with my daughter, and generally winding down the work for the holidays. So here’s a little Christmas post on where I’m living now.
The picture above is actually from San Miguel de Allende, where they always have a huge tree in their open square by the main church. In Guanajuato, we have a few scattered around town in different plazas and lots of the houses spilling down the hills have lights on them.
Christmas in Mexico is nice. They celebrate the season yes, and it’s a pretty big deal, but the crass commercialism is toned down a fair bit. Sure, the big stores trot out the Christmas decorations right after the Halloween/Day of the Dead ones get removed here too, so that’s annoying, but there are not a lot of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or “shop ’til you drop” ads down here. They’ll buy their (artificial) trees and bling them up with plenty of decorations, but the pile under the tree is usually not too crazy. Three Kings Day is actually a bigger day for that.
It’s more about family, being together, and eating some turkey. This is the one time of year you can easily find turkey in the butcher shops and supermarkets.
There will be tamales too, and some special cakes. People put a manger scene in their homes or even a big alter with a dressed-up baby Jesus. If you go to the Christmas markets here, you can find that perfectly shiny polyester glittering outfit for your life-sized Jesus baby that makes it look like effeminate royalty instead of the swaddled son of a poor carpenter.
December 24 and 25 in Mexico
Christmas Eve is the big time to get together for Mexican families and it’s a noisy night. It’s typical to go to Midnight Mass and then eat a big meal together until the wee hours. This being Mexico, there will be fireworks going off all night. No rise and shine at 6 or 7 a.mm to open presents here. They have to get some sleep after all that.
In Mexico, this holiday is short in some ways, drawn out in others. Most of the shops are still open on Christmas Eve, as are about half the restaurants. Last time I was here, workers were still intensely repairing the street near my house, tossing rocks and laying pipe. The street vendors are still taking advantage of the last-minute shopping crowds before going home to dress up for the midnight mass and get the meal ready.
Christmas day itself is a day off for most, but it won’t be completely dead. In the afternoon the convenience stores open up, the taxis are out, and again the street vendors are still out in force: you might need a last-minute deer made of grasses or a handmade manger for your nativity scene. Precio especial hoy!
The week before we’ve heard people singing in the alleys around us. Not Christmas carols, but a “posadas” string of songs where people walk around acting like José and Maria, trying to find a place to stay in Bethlehem. Then they sing another song and all the kids take turns whacking a piñata. Hey, it’s Mexico.
But What Do You Do So Far From Your Family?
Over the years, a lot of friends and relatives have asked me what it’s like to be far away from home on Christmas, away from family ties and their traditions. There’s usually an undertone of, “Don’t you feel kind of lonely?” to that question. But as any expat will tell you, or even a person who has just moved to a new city, those who don’t have family around find a way to get social in other ways.
We will do the usual things on Christmas Day, opening some presents, drinking some hot chocolate, and eating a big breakfast. We’ll put on some Christmas music and the tree will have lights and ornaments. In the afternoon though, we’ve got a party to go to with lots of friends who are also living here. We’ll eat a lot, drink a lot, and laugh a lot together.
Then the next day, two friends in different neighborhoods are having Boxing Day parties, so we’ll do it all over again. Since hardly anyone drives in this pedestrian-friendly city, no designated driver discussions are necessary. And no snow or ice to deal with in this sunny place, no bulky coats or boots.
On the 12th Day of Christmas…
The kids are out of school for close to three weeks because they need to celebrate the full 12 days of Christmas. That Three Kings Day—the Epiphany—is a bigger deal than Christmas. So we’ll have more fireworks, more parties, more reasons to eat.
That’s when kids traditionally got their presents. In the old days, they would leave sweets (for the kings) and hay (for their animals) in or beside their shoes outside the door. Traditionally the three kings would put gifts inside the shoes. Apparently you didn’t ask for a bike or a toy horse. Now the gifts just show up beside the shoes, so they can be a whole array of things.
On that day you eat the Rosca de Reyes, a circular cake meant to symbolize a king’s crown or a wreath. There’s a parade or two in most cities—at one we even had kings riding camels! I’m not sure where they got those here in the middle of Mexico. The kings (and helpers) throw candy to the kids along the parade route. The meal that night is traditionally tamales and hot chocolate—both Mexican originals!
If you have the chance to experience Christmas in another country, it can be a nice break from what you’re used to. (Though when we lived in Turkey, we had to go to an international chain hotel for brunch to get any reminders of the holiday!) Christmas in Mexico is a nice hybrid: a bit less commercial, but familiar enough that you can still celebrate it and have fun if you want.
So that’s my take on Christmas in Mexico. I hope you have a good holiday season with you and yours, wherever you may be on the globe.