December and January are popular months to visit Mexico and with good reason: there's lots going on, and you'll get to witness some special traditional celebrations. These tend to be the coolest months of the year, so no matter your destination, you should bring a sweater just in case, and maybe even a jacket if you're heading to high-altitude spots. December has plenty of festivals and events to attend. The feast day of Mexico's patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe, falls on the 12th, and Christmas celebrations get underway on the 16th with the posadas. This is high season for many destinations, and particularly the last couple of weeks of December can be very crowded, so be sure to make reservations in advance. Here's a listing of some of the most important festivals and events in Mexico this December:
Music lovers won’t want to miss this three-day festival held in the Hotel Pierre Mundo Imperial in Acapulco, Guerrero. Festival goers and musicians come from all over the world for this beachfront festival with artists like Blonde Redhead, Kelela, and DJ Harvey. Tropico is about more than just music, though—art displays, fashion events, and pool parties with tropical cocktails and delicious food are also part of the celebration.
Riviera Maya Jazz Festival
Playa del Carmen hosts major national and international jazz musicians who perform under the stars at the Mamita's Beach Club. Lineups over the past years have included stars such as Sheila E, Gino Vanelli, Earth, Wind & Fire, Aguamala, and Level 42. Concert attendance is free, and there are usually thousands of spectators attending each night, so if you plan to go, be sure to get there early!
Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe
The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 commemorates the traditional account of her first appearances to Juan Diego in 1531 on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City. Although there are festivities throughout the country, the main celebrations take place in Mexico City, where thousands of pilgrims converge on the Basilica de Guadalupe to pay homage to Mexico's patron saint. The square in front of the Basilica is a stage for singing, dancing, and celebration. Most towns in Mexico have a church or shrine dedicated to this manifestation of the Virgin Mary, and parents dress their children in traditional clothing and take them to be blessed on this day (and for a photo opportunity).
Feria de la Posada y Piñata (Posada and Piñata Fair)
The Mexican Christmas traditions of piñatas and posadas are celebrated in an annual celebration near Mexico City, in the town of Acolman de Nezahualcoyotl (near Teotihuacan archaeological site), where the custom of breaking decorated clay pots suspended from a rope is said to have begun, introduced by the Augustinian friars in the 16th Century. This festival includes workshops in piñata-making offered to attendees, as well as horse races, bullfighting, nativity scenes, regional dances, popular music shows, and "pastorelas" a type of play based on the Christmas story. Learn more about the history and meaning of the piñata.
Some of the world's most celebrated chefs gather for the annual Sabor a Cabo food and wine festival in Los Cabos. There are two major events held during the festival, a regional cuisine event held at the organic orchard of Los Tamarindos Farm to Table restaurant, and a magna event held at Quivira Los Cabos, a residential resort community that's home to a golf course and the Quivira Golf Club. These two events offer a chance to sample some of the best dishes that Cabo has to offer.
In Mexico, special Christmas celebrations are held every night from the 16th to the 24th of December, leading up to the Christmas Eve mass. Neighborhoods and families organize processions that culminate in house parties known as posadas, in which Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem is reenacted.
Noche de los Rábanos (Radish Night)
Oaxaca city hosts a unique Christmas season celebration every year on December 23rd. Local craftspeople carve and assemble radishes into all different types of figures and scenes, from flowers and animals to saints and nativity scenes. The city's main square, known as the Zócalo, is filled with stalls, and crowds of people wait in line for their turn to see the stunning displays during this popular event.
The last posada takes place on Christmas Eve, which in Spanish is called Nochebuena, and it's traditional for families to gather for a late-night supper that includes traditional Mexican Christmas dishes. In cities there are calendas, festive processions, and other public celebrations.
There are a wide variety of New Year's Eve celebrations going on in Mexico, and they vary from raucous to sedate, but there are many superstitions and beliefs about what to do to ensure good fortune for the coming year, including what color underwear you should have on when the clock strikes 12.