December 24, 2008
Mexican Traditions for Christmas
Christmas for Mexicans, in traditional homes and rural areas, is a religious holiday.
It is a celebration of the Nativity. This means the birthday of Our Lord Jesus. In order to prepare for the day of symbolic commemoration, we have the "Posadas". These celebrations are a "Novena" or nine days before the 24 which is the "Noche Buena" or "Holy Night".
These Posadas are an enactment of looking for lodging of St. Joseph and Virgin Mary, called The Pilgrims going to Bethlehem for the Census according to the Scriptures. In Spanish we called them: "Los Peregrinos, San José y la Virgen María". Each family in a neighborhood, will schedule a night for the Posada to be held at their home, starting on the 16th of December and finishing on the 24th on Noche Buena.
Every home will have a Nativity scene. The hosts of the home are the innkeepers, and the neighborhood children and adults are Los Peregrinos, who have to request lodging through singing a simple chant. All carry small lit candles in their hands and four teenagers of about the same height are chosen to carry Los Peregrinos, which are two small statues of St. Joseph leading a donkey, which Virgen Mary is riding sidesaddle. The head of the procession will have a candle inside of a paper lamp shade that looks like an accordion but open at the top and it is called a "Farolito" or little lantern.
The Peregrinos will ask for lodging in three different houses but only the third one will allow them in. That will be the house that is supposed to have the Posada for that evening. Once the innkeepers let them in, the group of guests comes into the home and kneels around the Nativity scene to pray the Rosary. The Rosary is a traditional Catholic prayer, which consists of the following prayers: 50 Hail Mary, 5 Our Father , 5 Glory and the Litany, which is a series of Praises for the Virgin Mary, plus singing traditional songs like Holy Night in Spanish of course!
After all the prayer is done, then it comes the party for the children. There will be a Piñata, (pronounce Pignata, for it has an ñ instead of an n), filled with peanuts in the shell, oranges, tangerines, sugar canes, and seldom wrapped hard candy. Of course, there will be other types of chants the children will sing while the child in turn is trying to break the Piñata with a stick while he/she will be blindfolded.
Although the Piñata was originally from Italy, it has become a Mexican tradition for celebrations where there are children involved. The Piñata was made out of a clay pot and decorated with crepe paper in different colors. Today's piñatas are made out of cardboard and paper mache techniques and decorated with crepe paper. This change was made to prevent the children from cutting their hands when going for the fruit and candy when the Piñata was broken and the clay piece would become a hazard. They have all kinds of designs besides the traditional star.
For the adults there is always "Ponche con Piquete"(sting), which is a hot beverage or "Punch" made out of seasonal fruits and cinnamon sticks, with a shot of alcoholic spririt. A good substitute here in Ohio is hot apple cider with fruits, without the "spirits".
On Noche Buena, December 24, everybody goes to Misa de Noche Buena which is at midnight. After the Mass, everyone goes to their respective homes to have dinner with family and any friend who does not have a family is always welcome to be part of a family celebration, and most important of all to place the Baby Jesus in the manger in the Nativity scene.
The presents are not received on Christmas, for Christmas is a celebration of Life of Our Savior.
The New Year's Eve, there is a Misa de Gallo, (Rooster's Mass) that takes place at midnight also. Some families go to church earlies to give thanks for all the blessings received during the year.
The children's celebration of receiving presents is not until January 6th, "el día de Reyes", the day of the Kings, or the Wise Men Day. It is the Magi who brought the presents to the Baby Jesus, thus, they bring the toys to the boys and girls who have been good. The children place their shoes by the window, so the Magi place the present in the shoe. It the present is bigger than the shoe, it will be placed next to it. Many children, get a new pair of shoes for a present.
El dia de Reyes is celebrated with a "Merienda" consisting of hot chocolate and "The Rosca de Reyes". "La Merienda is the meal that takes. place any time between 5 P.M. and 7 P.M. it is not a heavy meal but the equivalent of "High Tea".
The Rosca de Reyes is a big oval wreath made out of egg bread (like an egg bagel, but huge) with dry fruit decorations and sprinkled sugar on top, but inside, there is a little ceramic doll which represents the Baby Jesus. The person who gets the piece of bread with the Baby, must be the Godparent of the Baby Jesus in the celebration of the Candelaria, on February 2nd..
"El dia de la Candelaria" is the day of the Candle or Light, known as the Day of Purification. That day, the Nativity scene is put away with a party given by the person who got the Baby Jesus in his/her piece of bread during the Rosca de Reyes celebration. He or she will be responsible for making a "Ropon" or christening gown for Baby Jesus. Generally, they have a Dinner with Tamales (Tamales are corn bread filled with meats in a sauce or raisins wrapped in corn husks).
Lately, these traditions have been modified. For example, the Posadas are now nine parties that are celebrated in differentes friends homes before Christmas. Also, with the North American Free Treaty Agreement, known as NAFTA, Christmas is now celebrated the American style, with Santa Claus, the meals and presentes, mostly among the afluent people. Others take trips to sky resorts in the United States or Europe, or travel to turistic places within Mexico.
All the education institutions are on vacation during the holidays, they do not get back to school until after January 6th. Also, the government offices and the other institutions connected with the government close during those two weeks.
We did an abbreviated enactment of Noche Buena
We stayed on property and went to various windows.....I carried a candle while the teens and a few adults did the chants in Spanish. Couldn't take pictures of that but have included some of the people, the pinata and the party later. We didn't eat until around 11 PM. All the guests but me, were Canadian and they loved learning about this tradition, as well. It was quite special and I danced up a storm. Hope you enjoy reading about this and the pictures.