Christmas in Mexico

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Christmas in Mexico consists of a month-long collection of festivities and celebrations. Mexico is primarily a Roman Catholic country, which means that many Christmas traditions centre around that religion. However, many of the Catholic traditions at Christmas also contain some remnants of the indigenous traditions that were once practised throughout Mexico. This combination of Catholicism and indigenous beliefs has created, in Mexico, a unique place to spend the winter holiday celebrations that is unlike anyplace else in the world.

Food is a highlight of Christmas celebrations in Mexico and preparing traditional foods with family is a meaningful part of the Christmas holiday. Many of the foods served are created from recipes that have been passed down within families for many generations. In this way, the Christmas celebrations become a link to generations past, providing a deeper connection to the past, present, and future as each new generation learns and then practices the old traditions of preparing each family’s Christmas recipes.

Christmas in Mexico

20 Ways To Celebrate Christmas In Mexico

1- The Dia De La Virgen Guadalupe

Christmas in Mexico city Old Basilica Shrine of Guadalupe
Old Basilica Shrine of Guadalupe, a Christmas tree in Mexico City.

The Dia de la Virgen Guadalupe occurs on 12 Dec12 Dec and is a religious holiday that signals the beginning of the Christmas holiday season.

Mexican people typically celebrate this holiday by attending Catholic mass in the morning, participating in parades during the day while partying in the evening.

All-day long, during the parades and parties, firecrackers are set off.

Buñuelos, a popular, flaky pastry, is traditionally consumed on this day.

The Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, is an important part of Mexican religion and culture, so this day is a national holiday.

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2- Attending Las Posadas

How is Christmas in Mexico celebrated - ice skating rink in Mexico City
Check out the Mexico City Zocalo ice skating rink for a fun Christmas activity in Mexico.

Las Posadas are parties that take place every night over nine days, beginning on 16 Dec and ending on 24 Dec.

Those nine days represent the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy.

In small towns, this traditionally happens within neighbourhoods populated by both family and close friends.

Children lead a procession through the streets while singing Christmas carols.

This procession mimics the search for an inn conducted by Mary and Joseph, according to Catholic beliefs.

The parade of children and adults goes door to door until they reach the entrance of someone who will allow them to enter.

At that point, the procession of children and the host sing the posada song.

The person inviting them in is the pre-selected host of the party that night.

In larger cities, posadas are simply holiday parties that often do not involve the elaborate parade of children.

Traditional foods served at posadas are buñuelos, bacalao (fish dish), ponche, and tamales.

The most popular activity during posadas is the breaking of a star-shaped piñata filled with candies.

3- Breaking Piñatas

Mexico Christmas pinata with Mexican flag in the background
A Mexican pinata is something you’ll find everywhere in Mexico at Christmas.

Piñatas are a traditional part of many celebrations in Mexico, coming in various shapes and sizes.

But during the Christmas celebrations, piñatas take on a more special shape – a star with seven points.

Traditionally, these star-shaped piñatas have been constructed from clay, however, breaking clay over children’s heads can be dangerous.

As a result, star-shaped piñatas made from cardboard are more popular, although clay piñatas are still constructed and used.

The seven points of the pinatas represent the seven deadly sins – gluttony, envy, greed, sloth, lust, pride, and anger.

Children sing a song during each turn whacking away at the piñata.

At the end of the short song, it is the next child’s turn. “El dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino; Porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino; Ya le diste uno, ya le diste dos, ya le diste tres y tu tiempo se acabó.”

4- Building Nativity Scenes

Nacimientos, nativity scenes, are a very important part of celebrating the Christmas season.

Everywhere one looks, nativity scenes or pieces of nativity scenes are sold.

Many people construct and display nativity scenes in their homes and businesses.

Churches and cathedrals sometimes construct elaborate displays of the nativity scenes using various materials, such as stone, wood, fabric, or clay.

Some of these displays may also depict detailed scenes of life within the same time period.

Displays occasionally remove the baby Jesus from the nativity scene until the Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) celebration.

5- Celebrating Nochebuena

How to celebrate Christmas in Mexico Metropolitan Cathedral
Metropolitan Cathedral holds a Christmas Eve service in Zocalo, Mexico City.

In Mexico, Christmas Eve is referred to as Nochebuena.

This is the ninth and final night of the posadas.

Families gather together to celebrate and this is typically the time when gifts are exchanged.

Children receive gifts that “miraculously” appear from the Baby Jesus late that evening.

Devout Catholics attend a midnight mass to celebrate and then later return to the posada.

The posada on this evening usually lasts late into the night or early morning hours of Christmas Day.

Nochebuena is also the Spanish word for poinsettias. Nochebuena flowers decorate homes inside and out throughout the season.

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6- Visiting Beaches

Merry Christmas in Mexico girl with santa hat
Going to the beach is a relaxing way to spend Christmas in Mexico.

Many Mexican people spend part of their Christmas holiday at the beach.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is one of the busiest times of the year.

December and January is also the best time to see whale sharks in the Caribbean Ocean and humpback whales in the Pacific Ocean.

7- Drinking Ponche

How do they celebrate Christmas in Mexico beach cocktails and santa hat on the sand
Beach cocktails are all the rage in Mexico over Christmas but do try the traditional ponche too.

Ponche is the holiday drink of choice during the Christmas season.

There are some regional variations in the ponche fruits used but the basic ingredients are usually the same.

Ponche typically contains a variety of fruits and spices such as apples, tecojote (Mexican hawthorn), guava, prunes, tamarind, dried hibiscus flowers, whole cloves, sugar cane, white sugar, brown sugar (piloncillo cone), and cinnamon sticks.

These ingredients should be chopped up and boiled together for a couple of hours.

It is served warm.

Ponche is one of the popular beverages served at posadas.

8- Celebrating Dia de Los Reyes

Christmas in Mexico for kids
Cute Mexican Santa to get you in the mood for Christmas in Mexico.

6 Jan is Dia de Los Reyes, or Day of the Kings, and celebrated on this day are the Magi from the story of Jesus’ birth.

Families and close friends come together to celebrate this religious holiday.

In many households, especially in the southern part of Mexico, children wake up early on this day and find gifts from the Kings that have been left for them near the nativity scene in the home.

Traditionally, this is when gifts are given, not on Nochebuena or Christmas morning.

However, in the last few decades, this tradition of the Kings has started to die out and be replaced by Santa.

9- Eating The Rosca De Reyes

Christmas food in Mexico Rosca de Reyes or King's cake
Rosca de Reyes or King’s cake is a popular sweet treat during Christmas in Mexico.

On the Day of the Kings, Dia de Los Reyes, when families and friends gather to celebrate, they typically share a Rosca de Reyes or King’s cake.

This wreath cake is a sweet bread and sometimes dried fruit strips are baked on top of it.

The most important part of this wreath is the Baby Jesus figure baked inside the bread.

As the wreath is shared with everyone, the person who gets the piece with the Baby Jesus figure inside has to invite everyone present to a Candlemas party and buy the tamales for that party.

10- Hosting The Dia de la Candelaria

Candlemas, Dia de la Candelaria, is celebrated on 2 Feb and is a religious holiday linked to the Day of the Kings.

The nativity scene must remain in the home through this day and the Baby Jesus figurine that was added to the nativity scene on Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) is taken to church for the service.

On the evening of this day, the person who found the Baby Jesus figure in the King’s cake on 6 Jan hosts the Candlemas party.

Tamales and atole are served to the same guests who attended the Day of the Kings celebration.

11- Visit Oaxaca and See The Noche De Los Rábanos

On December 23rd, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca hosts the Night of the Radishes, Noche de los Rábanos.

In the centre of Oaxaca City, people come together to compete in a radish carving competition.

This tradition has been a part of Oaxaca for over a hundred years.

There are different categories of the competition for different carving themes and a category for child carvers.

The radish carvings are often detailed and intricate, but they only last for a few hours before the radishes start to wilt.

This is a popular event, and the lines to see the carvings can be a few hours long, so be prepared.

12- Viewing The Pastorelas

Christmas in Mexico with Christmas tree
Christmas tree in Mexico City.

Christmas plays are a highlight that everyone looks forward to and are a part of the traditions surrounding the holiday.

People enjoy recreating various parts of the nativity through singing, acting, and dancing throughout the season.

A posada is a type of play where two people representing Mary and Joseph go door to door looking for a room at an inn.

There is a traditional dialogue and song that is used during the posada procession.

However, there is also another type of play called Pastorelas, which means the Shepherds.

The Shepherds’ play tells the story of how the shepherds travelled to see the baby Jesus and, with the help of an angel, escaped the devil.

These plays represent the triumph of good over evil.

Pastorelas were an important tool used by the Spaniards when they conquered Mexico hundreds of years ago, but the tradition has persisted and become an important part of the Christmas celebrations.

13- Going Christmas Carolling

Villancicos are Mexican Christmas carols.

These carols usually sound very different from those sung in English-speaking countries.

There is some overlap in carols – Silent Night, Noche de Paz, is a popular carol, although it is sung in Spanish in Mexico but there are other carols that are completely unfamiliar in English.

The most popular of those songs include “Los Peces en el Rio”, “Canta, Rie, Bebe”, “Vamos, Pastores, Vamos”, “Blanca Navidad”, and “Arre Borriquito.”

Carols are usually sung during posadas and during the posada processions.

14- Remember Dias De Los Santos Inocentes

Between Christmas and Day of the Kings, while nativity scenes and Christmas trees are still on display, another holiday takes place.

28 Dec is the Day of the Holy Innocents, which is a holiday similar to April Fool’s Day, where people play pranks on one other.

This day is also celebrated to remind people about the attempt to kill Jesus when he was young.

During that murder attempt, many boys of a similar age were killed.

While this day is not specifically a part of the joyful Christmas celebrations, it is a day of note simply because of its proximity to Christmas.

It is also important to be careful not to loan money on this day. Any loans given on this day will likely not be paid back.

15- Go Dancing

Dancing is an important tradition in Mexico, independent of the season but during the Christmas season, dancing becomes a great way to express happiness and renew a commitment to maintaining traditions.

The parades that take place during the holiday season display many types of traditional dancers.

These dancers may represent indigenous groups, such as Concheros, that played an important part in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history.

Other groups of dancers in these parades also represent more recent time periods in Mexico’s history, such as the Chinelos and Spain’s story of the Moors and Christians.

These different types of dancers remind Mexicans of their long indigenous history and their complicated relationship with the conquering Spanish.

16- Watch Fireworks

Christmas traditions in Mexico Colourful firecrackers
Letting off colourful handmade firecrackers are a popular Christmas tradition in Mexico.

Firecrackers and fireworks are an important part of the Mexican Christmas holidays.

During parades, a couple of noise-making groups usually spread out in the procession and set off firecrackers in the street.

In homes during posadas, firecrackers are often used as part of the celebration.

Fireworks are also very popular during the Christmas holidays.

Throughout December, fireworks can be heard in both the small towns and big cities across Mexico.

17- Wait For Santa And Put Up A Christmas Tree

Christmas decorations in Mexico
Mexico at Christmas, with decorations in a small town where the people are poorer.

In small towns all over Mexico, Christmas celebrations traditionally focus on family and not as much on giving or receiving gifts.

However, in the larger cities, the focus tends to be different as several Mexican cities have a large population of residents from other countries.

As a result, over time, the traditional Mexican Christmas celebration has adopted some of the traditions of other parts of the world.

Many Mexican families now use Christmas trees in their holiday decorations, although the nativity is still the primary decoration for most people.

In some parts of Mexico, Santa is no more than a supporting character in the story of Baby Jesus.

In other parts of Mexico, Santa gives presents on Christmas morning, especially in the parts of Mexico where the traditions have been watered down by foreign residents.

18- Eat Pozole

Facts about Christmas in Mexico
How about washing your meal down with a Corona?

Food is an important part of Mexico’s Christmas culture and traditions.

Pozole is a popular Mexican soup often eaten during the Christmas holidays, especially on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve).

This soup is usually made with pork and can have either a red or green colour.

Red pozole has a red chile base, while green pozole has a tomatillo base.

Pozole is usually topped with radishes, another popular Christmas food, as well as oregano, lettuce, and a squeeze of lime.

This recipe is easy to make for a crowd, which may be why it is so popular to prepare for posadas.

19- Enjoy Buñuelos

Christmas in Mexico food Buñuelos
Eating Buñuelos is one of the joys of Christmas in Mexico.

Buñuelos are a fried dough pastry that is usually topped with powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar.

It is a traditional dessert during the Christmas holidays and is usually served at posadas.

Throughout towns all over Mexico, small food stands sell buñuelos during the Christmas holidays.

Whether Mexicans are watching a parade, shopping, or walking, smelling the frying buñuelos while outside on the street is a sure sign that Christmas is here.

20- Give An Aguinaldo

Where to have Christmas in Mexico New Basilica Shrine of Guadalupe
New Basilica Shrine of Guadalupe, with its impressive Christmas tree in Mexico City.

Everyone in Mexico receives a Christmas bonus sometime in early December.

The bonus, called an aguinaldo, is an important part of the holidays and gives people extra money to spend on celebrations or travel.

This aguinaldo is more than a simple bonus; it is a legal requirement that every Mexican worker must receive one.

It doesn’t matter whether the worker is an uncontracted person who picks up trash on the street or a company executive.

The aguinaldo amount is worth 15 days of work.

Some workers also receive an additional aguinaldo in the form of food, typically shelf-stable foods like dried beans, rice, boxed milk or chocolate.

December is also the month when workers who deliver gas, water, or mail to homes receive tips from the households they service.

This is a key aspect of Mexican culture and it is expected that every worker receives an aguinaldo, no matter where or how a person is employed.

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AngieGrierphoto
Angie Grier is a spicy señora living in central Mexico with a penchant for freelance writing. Having spent most of her adult life writing as a scientist and then as a teacher, she now contributes articles on a wide variety of topics for print and online media. Originally from the US, she has lived in several different states on the US West and East coasts, the Gulf Coast, and the Upper Midwest. These days, when she’s not camping in the woods in a US national park or shopping in Tonalá or eating chilaquiles, she writes a travel blog detailing her life and adventures in Mexico at www.onaroadleadingsomewhere.com.