We head off from celebrating Christmas in Malta and head almost due West for 10,649km to Mexico to discover all about their Christmas traditions.
We all know that tensions often run high with its border with the USA, but Mexico has a lot to offer in its 1.973 million square km. Mexico is the most populated of the Spanish speaking countries in the world with over 128 million people living there.
The landscape of Mexico is varied with the highs and lows ranging from deep canyons to high mountains, deserts and rainforests.
Mexico is home to the stunning Mayan civilisation temple of Chichen Itza - a bucketlist location for many people around the world.
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Mexico?
Christmas is celebrated on 25th December in Mexico, with celebrations held from 12th December to 6th January.
Whilst the most dominant religion in Mexico is Roman Catholic (approx. 80%), the country is secular so it doesn't have an official religion.
The outside of houses are usually decorated with moss, evergreens and paper lanterns for the posadas.
Nacimiento (nativity scenes) are popular and are often very large. Traditionally a whole room may have been used for the Nacimiento, but this is a lot less common nowadays. The figures, which can sometimes be life-sized, are made of clay and passed down through the family. These figures are all the traditional characters of the nativity as well as extras including people selling food, women making tortillas, and different animals like flamingos. The baby Jesus is added to the scene on the evening of Christmas Eve and the three kings are added at Epiphany (6th Jan).
Christmas Trees are becoming more popular but remain second place to the Nacimiento in terms of importance. Poinsettia flowers are also common decorations and are known as 'nochebuena’ (Christmas Eve) flowers.
From 16th – 24th December, children will perform ‘Posada’ processions of which there are 9. These processions essentially tell the story of Mary and Joseph trying to find an inn. The children carry candles and a board with painted clay figures of Mary and Joseph on a donkey (on the final posada a manger and shepherds are added) as they make their way through the streets, calling at the houses of friends and neighbours. At each house they sing a song about Mary and Joseph asking for room, but they are told there’s no room and turned away until they get to the final house. On each night, the last house will invite the children in and throw a posada party with food, games, and fireworks. A baby Jesus is also added to the manger at this house on the final posada.
A piñata (filled with sweets and then hit until the sweets come out) is common at these posada parties and is often a ball shape with seven points around it like a star, each point representing one of the seven deadly sins. Many people will go to midnight mass (Misa De Gallo), which is commonly followed by fireworks to celebrate the beginning of Christmas. There are comedy plays (not always comedy, but mostly) throughout the Christmas period called Pastorelas which means ‘The Shepherds’. These tell the story of the shepherds’ journey as they attempt to find the baby Jesus with the devil constantly trying to tempt them along the way. In the end, the shepherds always achieve their goal and the devil is often beaten by the Archangel Michael.
Day of the Innocent Saints (los santos inocentes) is celebrated on 28th December which is similar to April Fools Day. Some places in Mexico believe in Santa (Santo Clós) bringing presents on 24th December whereas other places believe that the Three Kings bring presents and sweets on 6th January (Epiphany).
The main Christmas meal is eaten on the evening of Christmas Eve and includes dishes such as; roast turkey or pork, Pozole (thick soup made with pork or chicken, hominy, and chillies, and topped with greens), tamales, salted cod, romeritos (green vegetables cooked in a mole sauce with potatoes and shrimp), and salad. Bunuelos, which are fried pastries sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, are very popular for dessert.
Ponche (warm punch made with fruit) and Rompope (egg nog with rum) are popular drinks at Christmas time.
On Epiphany ‘Rosca de Reyes’ is eaten which is a special cake with a figure of baby Jesus inside. Whoever gets the piece with the figure in gets to be the ‘godparent’ of Jesus for that year.
Our next Christmas destination looks at Christmas celebrations in Montenegro.