Christmas- Navidad– in Mexico is a vibrant, festive time of year with family parties lasting all night as they celebrate together. The streets are decorated with poinsettias and lights, and in many towns they have huge Nativity scenes- often with live animals! After spending many a Christmas in Mexico, I am sharing the most common traditions: el nacimiento, las posadas, y noche buena.
Nativity Scenes: El Nacimiento
One of the most important components of Christmas in Mexico is the Nacimiento: The Nativity Scene that represents the story of the first Christmas, Jesus’ birth. Most houses in Mexico will have a nacimiento, and most are more elaborate than what we might have in the US: they might have a water feature, a little village on a mountain, or figurines walking towards the manger.
Most often, towns will set up a life size nacimiento outside the main cathedral- and sometimes there are even live animals!
Las Posadas is a tradition that takes place the 9 days before Christmas (or sometimes condensed into a one night party) where kids dress up as Mary and Joseph (or carry their statues) and represent their pilgrimage to Bethlehem (Belén) and their search for a place to stay. Starting with a song, the procession travels through the neighborhood, knocking on predetermined doors to see if there is room in the inn. You can listen to the typical song here and read more about las posadas here.
In this bilingual Spanish-English minibook, kids will get a feeling for how Las Posadas is celebrated at Christmas in Mexico. It’s a great project for school or home use. Las Posadas is a beautiful cultural tradition that is both unique and festive!
Christmas Eve: Noche Buena
Christmas is mostly celebrated on December 24th, when families go to mass in the evening and then have an enormous Christmas dinner with their extended family. Common foods in Mexico City include pavo (turkey), lomo relleno (stuffed pork tenderloin), romeritos (a type of herb in a mole sauce), bacalao (dried cod cooked in a tomato sauce), and the typical hot drink of ponche (tropical fruits boiled with cinnamon, piloncillo, and tamarindo).
At the family party in Noche Buena, kids play with luces de bengala (sparklers!) and break a star shaped piñata that is filled with typical fruit (like guavas, baby jicamas, sugar cane, tejocotes, and peanuts in their shell) and wrapped candies. The family exchanges presents (by this time it could be 3am in the morning!) and in the morning Santa might leave some presents for the kids.
I hope you enjoyed these traditions from Christmas in Mexico! If you’d like to learn more, see this great list of books about Christmas in Mexico. Also check out the traditions in many other countries around the world here on Kid World Citizen, and also the 24 countries at the Multicultural Kid Blogs series.