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Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Taste Of Tradition

By Silvia Uribe
Christmas in Mexico equates to a series of festivities that go farther and deeper than most would think. It is a cold season weather-wise, but a very cozy one in which the social and the religious aspects meet in a wonderful celebration of the spirit. I enjoyed those festivities, made into traditions at friends' homes or out in the community, from the time I was a girl until I left to come live in Santa Barbara. Memories of the images, smells, and sensations bring happiness a bit of nostalgia.
The 16th of December is the first of nine posadas; one per night, starting usually at 7 or 8pm. The posadas serve as a remembrance of Joseph and Mary looking for a place for baby Jesus to be born. Half of the posada attendees go outside the home and the other half stays inside. With candles in their hands, in a short procession, and singingLos Peregrinos (the pilgrims) both groups talk to each other in musical waves until the group inside offers posada (lodging) to the pilgrims. Once inside, the party starts with the ruthless smashing of piñatas and a mad scramble for the shower of fruits, sugar canes, peanuts, and candies released from within. Then, the potluck meal and the ponche (a hot fruit punch), sidra (sparkling cider) or other beverages are served for the holiday brindis (toast). Lots of fun for children and adults!
PASTORELAS (Shepherd stories)
The Pastorela plays an important role in teaching children the Nativity story. It usually starts with Maria being announced by an angel that she's pregnant with baby Jesus. It also encompasses a commemoration of King Herod's ordering the slaughter of all male infants in his kingdom, intended to include the Christ Child, and how Jesus' life was spared. And, it also includes the Epiphany story of the brilliant star guiding the wise men to Jesus. These pastorelas are presented at schools, at churches, and as plays in theatres.
EL NACIMIENTO (Nativity Scene)
The focal point of Christmas decorations is the traditional Nacimiento, which is an at-scale stable where clay figurines of the Holy Family are sheltered. Depending on the available space, the scene may also include an angel, Los Reyes Magos (the Wise men), the ass, shepherds, other people, and livestock. The figures may be simply positioned in a bed of heno (Spanish moss), or scattered throughout an elaborate landscape. The Nacimiento may be inside the home or on the outside for community enjoyment. The Christmas tree became very popular, and it is now an important part of the Christmas decorations.
LA NOCHE BUENA (Christmas Eve)
This is also considered the very last posada. Families get together in the late evening for a supper that may include tamales and atole or other regional dishes. A more exotic one may have bacalao a la vizcaína (Biscayan cod) and romeritos (wild greens with mole). Roasted turkey, ham, or suckling pig are popular choices among those who can afford them. Then the whole family attends the Misa de Gallo (a late night mass). Back at home, the celebration is rounded out with the opening of gifts, and theluces de Belen or de Bengala (sparklers). As the next day everyone is tired, December 25 is set aside as a day to rest and enjoy that universal holiday bonus - el recalentado (leftovers).
The Christmas season is not over yet. The celebration of Epiphany (arrival of Los Reyes Magos) is next and for many, last. January 5th is the preamble to their arrival. The family gathers around the Rosca de Reyes (pictured above) that is a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel-like candied fruits. Inside, tiny baby shaped figurines are hidden in the dough before baking. There is much excitement as each partaker cuts his or her own slice, for whoever gets a piece containing a baby is obliged to host another party on or before La Candelaria on February 2, when Mexico's traditional holiday season finally comes to an end. A common variation for those who do not celebrate the Candelaria, but still participate in the Rosca and get the baby, is to organize the Rosca de Reyes the next year to continue the tradition. The night of January 5th, the Reyes Magos bring toys to those kids who wrote a letter asking for them and placed it on top of their shoes. The next day children go out on the street to play with the newly found favors.
If you get invited by your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, or your employee to celebrate any aspect of these festivities, try not to pass on it. Otherwise, you'll miss the first hand experience of the tastes, colors, warmth, sweetness and joy of these Mexican traditions.
Feliz Navidad!
Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.
Cross-posted at

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