Guest Author - Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie
With so many Mexican Nationals moving to the United States as well as Canada, many of us wish to look into the past and present to catch a glimpse of the beauty that the Mexican traditions brings to each of the seasons, like Christmas. Originally, the Christmas season was celebrated as a time of reflection into the Catholic faith. Over time as many Mexicans have navigated back into the territories, formerly Mexico of the past, now south United States, the traditions of Christmas of the past are being integrated with and lost to the ways and advantages of living in a more prosperous area. Through time, Mexican Americans as well as other Hispanic American have been loosing the traditions of their parents. In this article, I am going to look back in time or to those who are still without the advantage of economy, the keepers by circumstance of traditions, to see how traditionally Mexico celebrated La Navidad.
Traditionally in Mexico, Christmas was a tradition brought to the area by Spaniards. Before the immigration of settlers to the area, there were Mayan and Azteca communities that held their own winter season celebrations. With the fall of the empires of Aztecas came the migration of Roman Catholic Priests who began teaching the natives of the area the faith of Catholicism. There have been many concessions to accommodate the previous beliefs of the Mexican traditions and ease the acceptance of the new faith of Catholic religion by the inhabitants of the region.
Some of the more pronounced and easy to understand rituals or celebrations will be covered in this article on Mexican Christmas traditions.
The traditional decoration in the Mexican household is the Natividad or nativity. Every house will have a scene with the manger, Joseph or Jose’, The Virgin Mary or La Virgen Maria, the baby Jesus, the manger animals and the three kings or Los Tres Magos o Tres Reyes. Traditionally these manger scenes were hand carved by natives who were taught by Catholic priests and today there are a great many artisans who uphold this tradition. As time has gone by and Mexican immigrants have assimilated the traditions of their neighbors to the north, there has begun to appear decorated trees and gifts which were previously not a part of the traditions of Mexico.
Posada was once a very unique and special Christmas tradition in Mexico and though slightly changed due to the times remains a very valid tradition in Mexico. Posada is celebrated nine days before Christmas Eve. According to the tradition, a group of participants reenacts the pilgrimage of the holy family returning to Bethlehem for the census ordered by King Herrod. In this reenactment Los Peregrinos, San José y la Virgen María or The Pilgrims, Saint Joseph are comprised of two statues, carried by participants. One of these statues is of Saint Joseph leading a mule and the other of the Virgin Mary heavy with child. These statues are carried to three prearranged houses each night where the celebrants will ask the household to offer shelter for the family. These participants will be refused at the first two houses to simulate the refusal that the Holy Family experienced according to the bible. At the third and final house, they will be admitted and the celebrants traditionally would enter and hold a Novena. A Novena is the praying of the Rosario or rosary, which is a traditional Catholic prayer. Within the church when a Novena is prayed the statues would be carried through out the celebrants and songs sung between each mystery, but in the home the songs are sung without the flair of the parading of the statues. The participants of the procession will all carry candles for the ceremony. After the prayers there follows a party in which the children get to break a Piñata filled with various treats and the adults will celebrate with a punch made with fruit juices, spices and alcohol as well as something to eat as is the tradition of any good Mexican celebration.
The last day of Posada is followed by La Noche Buena or the good night. This is a day, in which all who celebrate, Christmas celebrate the night of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Family gathers and attends Misa de Noche Buena or the midnight mass in this day. After the midnight mass, the family, as well as close friends of the family, return to one of the family’s houses and celebrates with a huge feast prepared and provided by all. The following day is Christmas Day. Traditionally gifts are not exchanged on Christmas Day as this day is reserved for the celebration of the birth of The Lord Jesus Christ.
New Years Day comes and there is traditionally a Miso De Gallo or mid-night mass that in attended. This is a mass in which thanks is given for all the blessings received through out the year as well as to pray for the blessings for the year to come. At midnight mass in held in celebration and to welcome the coming of the New Year.
The next day of celebration during this season is El Dia de Los Reyes or The Day of The Kings on January 6th. This is traditionally the day in which each child receives three gifts symbolizing the three gifts presented to the Baby Jesus by the three kings. This day is known as the Epiphany in the Catholic Church. There is a celebration held in the church in celebration of this recognized day. Further celebration is held at home where a cake known as Rosca De Reyes or King Cake is served. King cake is a cake that is used in celebration for Mardi Gras as well as many other holidays throughout the world in Catholic communities. Inside the cake is hidden a toy baby Jesus. The child or person who gets the piece of cake with the baby Jesus contained inside is rewarded by becoming the Godparent of the baby Jesus from the Natividad on the day of Calendaria.
February 2nd hails the end of the Christmas season. It is a day of purification and a day in which the decorations are put away until the next Christmas season. On this day the Baby Jesus is baptized. The person who was elected to be the Godparent presents the baby Jesus with a christening gown, oversees the Christening of the baby as Godparent and gives a party to celebrate the end of the Christmas season. The dinner served at the party is usually a tamale dinner.
Though the traditional days celebrated by Mexican for Christmas may seem to follow the traditional calendar of the Catholic Church, the manner and spirit in which these days are celebrated are quite unique to Anglo or Franco-fons. The heart of the holidays stubbornly maintains its focus on the true meaning of the season as opposed to the commercialization of the same. As we Hispanics move amongst our neighbors we find great comfort in returning to our traditional means of celebrating the Christmas Season. In this manner we define once again where we come from and pass on to our children the traditions of our families. We embrace the simple and pure way in which we can reflect on life and faith and off the material possessions of a world in which we are foreigners both in birth and in spirit. In recapturing the goodness and beauty of traditions shared by Mexican Families as well as other Hispanic family’s we can strengthen family ties both here and to our race, there by carrying a piece of our patria with us where ever we go. In these two great lands in which diversity is welcomed and encouraged, never is it more important to remember how it was so good in the simpler times of Christmas.