Mexico has numerous Christmas traditions some originating in Spain and others evolving from Mexico's own history. Some of Mexico's unique customs include las pastelas, las posadas, villancicos, Nochebuena and incredible food. One thing is certain Christmas in Mexico is a very special time for family and friends. At the very heart of family and friends is the nacimiento or the birth of Jesus Christ.
One of the most unique art forms to celebrate Christmas in Mexico are las pastorelas or shepherd's plays. These pastorelas reenact the shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus. On their journey, the shepherds experience many obstacles including the devil who does everything to keep them from their destination. The Archangel Michael appears to protect the shepherds on the completion of their quest. There are battles between good and evil that are often hilarious. The pastorelas are full of fun and hilarity.
The pastorelas originated in the colonial days after the Spanish conquest. The indigenous people already had a long history of entertaining themselves and honoring their gods through song, dance and theatrics. The Franciscan monks, seeking to convert the people to Catholicism found it natural and convenient to use short plays acting out the important parts of the scriptures to implement the conversion. The pastorelas evolved over the centuries into plays that nowadays are satirical comedies more than pious lessons. They are full of political irony, droll references to political figures, and a lot of ambiguous language that can be misinterpreted in often rude or vulgar ways. The original idea of pastorelas, "good always triumphs over evil" remains the main theme. Pastorelas set the tone of merriment for the entire month of December.
Families and entire neighborhoods participate in las posadas, a four hundred year old Mexican tradition of reenacting the journey of Mary and St. Joseph as they sought shelter in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus. Posada which translates to "inn" or "lodging" in English is plural, las posadas, because the procession of the holy couple are reenacted each night for nine days culminating in the final and most elaborate posada on la Nochebuena, Christmas Eve. The youngsters carry candles and poinsettias while wearing elaborate costumes of shepherds and angels. The girl playing Mary may be led by Joseph on a real donkey as the others follow.
Each night one house is chosen to be the destination. As the neighbors follow along behind the procession the group sings Villancicos para pedir posada or Searching for an Inn Carols begging repeatedly for refuge. The "innkeepers" in the house sing back refusing admission over and over. Once the innkeeper relents and lets them in, each night there is a party with delicious food and a pinata for the children. On Nochebuena the night of the last posada, the children carry the baby Jesus and place him in the pesebre or nativity scene for the nacimiento.
The highlight of the entire Christmas season and the time that everyone has been fondly anticipating is la cena de Navidad or Christmas dinner. The entire extended family gathers in one home, usually the grand-parent's and everyone brings a side-dish while the hosts prepare the bulk of the meal. Some of the typical foods are turkey served with mole sauce or turkey stuffed with ground meat or chestnut stuffing. Tamales both savory and sweet are a main dish that are a major family event just to prepare. Ensalada Nochebuena Christmas Eve salad is made with beets, lettuce and fruit. A dish originating in Spain is bacalao, a stew made with dried codfish, tomatoes, capers, and olives. There are usually a type of greens called romeritos and a hominy soup called pozole. There are many desserts but a favorite of everyone are the crunchy bunuelos a deep fried fritter typically sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Beverages include ponche Navidena a Christmas fruit punch and rompope a type of eggnog.
Spirits are high, toasts are made and when everyone is completely sated gifts are exchanged. There is a pinata for the children filled with candy, fruits and nuts. The music and dancing begins and everyone participates enthusiastically. The party goes on into the morning so Christmas day is a day for sleeping in.
In the late afternoon of Christmas day leftovers from Christmas dinner are served and everyone continues their merriment. The Mexican Christmas celebrations are rich in culture, tradition, family, community, and faith.