7 Best Mexican Christmas Traditions
Christmas is almost here!! We're celebrating in Mexico this year and so I thought, hey, why not talk about what Christmas is like here and why I love it?
When I was younger, we would come to Mexico every year, either at Christmas or during the summer, to visit family. Christmas in Mexico was always super different from Christmas here in Utah. I remember loving things about both styles of celebrating, but as I got older, I began to really value time spent in Mexico. The holiday celebrations felt more like just that: celebrations! A joyful gathering to really celebrate the birth of Christ.
Here are 7 of my favorite traditions that we now (except one) share with our own kids when we go to Mexico for Christmas.
Ok, I know that the first thing on a list should be something pretty important, right? Because not everyone will even read to the end of the list. And I know that this one generally isn't on many Christmastime-favorites lists in the U.S. But if there's one thing that I can count on absolutely loving about Christmastime in Mexico, this is it. DANCING!!!
From the time I was little, we would attend dances at our church (with the Latin American community in downtown Salt Lake City) a couple times a year. I would watch my parents dance salsa, merengue and cumbia all around the church gym. And then my dad would take me out to dance, holding me on his hip and spinning me when I was really little, or holding my hands and showing me the steps as I got older.
The same thing would happen at Christmas in Mexico. Push the couches back, clear the tile floor and turn the radio up!
Even if we don't go to Mexico for Christmas, we try to keep this tradition alive. In the living room with the kids:
In the warehouse for the company Christmas party with Dad:
And even when visiting other countries, like Ecuador, during Christmastime:
Yes, my dad is always dancing! It's really the best thing ever! If you've never included dancing as part of your Christmas tradition, try it. It just might become a thing!
2. Midnight Celebration
In Mexico, waking up on Christmas morning to Santa's surprises isn't really how it's done. Instead, the kids set their shoes out and go to bed after dinner, in our case, usually around 10:00, and then they wake up around midnight to come see what Santa has left them. When I was really young, I think I actually did sleep during that time. But as I got older, sleeping was never an option. Excitement took over, and I just couldn't calm down enough! My cousins and I would take turns peeking through the cracked-open door to see if we could spy Santa leaving our presents. All we ever saw was our parents dancing and eating. When it was finally midnight, they would come "wake" us up, and lead us into the living room, where we'd find our shoes and the presents Santa had left in and around them.
After opening presents and giving our own family hugs and felicidades, we go out into the street and give neighbors hugs, and visit other close-by friends and family to wish them a Feliz Navidad.
Now that I have kids, I get to be the one who sends them to bed and then stays up eating and dancing!
3. Fireworks and Piñatas
If dancing and eating and present-opening isn't enough, we also hit a piñata and set off fireworks after midnight (because of course Baby Jesus would appreciate loud explosions and candy to celebrate his birth! Maybe?)
It's even better when you send your cousin and your little brother out to buy fireworks, and they get handcuffed and put in the back of a police car on Christmas Eve for (unknowingly?) buying less-than-legal fireworks.
4. The FOOD!
I can't think about Christmas dinner in Mexico without my mouth watering and the feeling of needing to get south of the border NOW! Christmas dinner doesn't start until pretty late, usually around 9 when I was little. Dinner included my Abuelita's homemade tamales, menudo (a soup made of cow stomach and hominy, which I actually really like), pozole (similar to menudo, but without the cow stomach), and sometimes turkey or pierna (leg of lamb).
I know. This sounds nothing like what you eat at Taco Bell.
5. Trip to the Beach
I know this isn't something that's a country-wide tradition, but it's something that has become part of our Christmas-time tradition when we go to Mexico. There's a beach an hour away from my dad's hometown.
Sometimes it's a little chilly on the beach at Christmastime...
But sometimes it's warm enough to jump in and play red rover!
6. Traditional Christmas Music
Like you might expect, all the common Christmas music we hear all season in English (Jingle Bells, Silent Night, etc) has been translated to Spanish and you can hear all that at Christmastime. But there are several songs that originated in Spain or other Latin American countries and are super popular in Mexico. They're called villancicos, which means they're popular songs sung by normal people (and not members of the royal Spanish court, for example) Just yesterday I heard three of them playing at a Walmart here in Mexico while we were shopping for food and I couldn't help but sing along while remembering looooong drives to Mexico in the gray station wagon.
The common theme in these songs is the reason for Christmas: Christ's birth.
Here's the playlist (complete with the same versions from my mom's cassette tape in the 80's):
7. Pre-Christmas Posadas
The last one is a tradition that I think is so legit, but I never got to experience it! The Posadas (which means an inn or a shelter) at Christmastime. In the Bible it talks about Mary and Joseph being turned away from the inns because they were all full. So, in Mexico, there is a tradition that starts nine days before Christmas and it symbolizes Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. A neighborhood might get together to do a posada where each night a different neighbor is the host. The people in the procession gets to the house and sings a song, asking for shelter. The people inside the house answer with their part of the song, saying that the inn is full. The song goes back and forth a bit until the host invites them in and serves them food like tamales, elotes (corn on the cob with cream and chile), and ponche navideño (Christmas punch made with fruit and spices). At the end, the host might have a piñata to hit, full of candy, peanuts, oranges, and small toys. They might even set off fireworks.
I've always wanted to be part of a Christmas posada, but we generally weren't in Mexico early enough, as far as I remember. And they're more of a thing in southern Mexico. I've thought about starting this tradition in our neighborhood here in the U.S. It's not sooo different from traditional caroling, right? I mean, whether it's asking for figgy pudding (what IS that, anyway?) or a place to stay and some tamales...same difference, right? :)
The important thing about all of the fun stuff that I remember as a kid (and that I still love now) is being with family.
They're the reason we keep coming to Mexico, and all of the traditions would mean much less without them. And nothing in this world would mean a thing if Christ hadn't been born and lived and died the way He did. I'm so grateful for Him!
Whatever your traditions at Christmas, no matter where you are: