Christmas is a time when family and friends get together to celebrate. Food plays a big part in any Mexican Christmas celebration. In Mexico it is customary to have a family dinner late on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena). Here are some of the foods that are traditionally eaten at Christmastime in Mexico, either at Christmas Eve dinner or during the festivities leading up to Christmas such as Las Posadas. If you're in Mexico for Christmas, be sure to sample these festive dishes, and if you can't be in Mexico for the holidays, you can add a Mexican touch to your celebration by including some of these foods.
Read more about Mexican Christmas traditions.
Ensalada de Noche Buena
The combination of colors of the Mexican Christmas Salad make it particularly festive. This salad usually contains lettuce and beets, but other ingredients vary according to location and the chef's preference, and may include apple, carrot, orange, pineapple, jicama, pecans or peanuts, and pomegranate seeds as a garnish. Mexican Christmas Salad is served at Christmas Eve dinner.
Tamales are prepared corn masa which may have a variety of different fillings. They are wrapped in corn husks (or occasionally banana leaves), and steamed. Because tamales are time-consuming to prepare, they are a special holiday food that are only made a few times throughout the year, in large batches, often with many members of the family assisting in parties that are called tamaladas.
Bacalao (dried salted codfish) starts showing up in markets and grocery stores throughout Mexico as Christmas approaches. This dish of European origin has become a common component of a traditional Mexican Christmas feast. Bacalao a la Vizcaina is a popular recipe in which the cod is stewed with tomatoes, capers, olives, and potatoes, but it may be prepared in a variety of ways.
A green leaf vegetable with small leaves, this plant resembles rosemary, for which it is named (although its flavor is not at all like rosemary!). Romeritos are most often served as romeritos en revoltijo, with shrimp cakes and doused in mole. This dish is also served during Lent.
Pozole is hominy soup made with pork or chicken and seasoned with chile and garlic. It is served with garnishes of shredded lettuce or cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, avocado, oregano, and lime wedges. It makes a hearty meal and is made in large batches, making it a great party food, which besides being a popular choice for a Christmas dinner, is also served during Mexican Independence Day or Cinco de Mayo parties.
Turkey is native to Mexico and is another popular choice for a Mexican Christmas Eve dinner. The Christmas turkey may be roasted, or it may be served with mole, a rich sauce made of ground chiles and other ingredients.
Served with a hot drink, buñuelos make an excellent treat on a cold night. This crispy fried treat is like a sweet tostada which is sprinkled with sugar or doused in syrup. In Oaxaca there are special stands set up at Christmastime selling buñuelos and atole. After enjoying the sweet fritter, you make a wish and throw your clay plate on the ground, where it smashes to bits. This tradition is said to spring from a pre-Hispanic festivity in which all the dishes were broken at the end of a calendar cycle.
Mexican hot fruit punch is made with tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn), which look like crab apples but have large pits and a unique flavor. Guavas, apples, and other fruit are added and the drink is flavored with cinnamon and sweetened with piloncillo. This is a wonderfully warming beverage, whether taken with or without piquete (a splash of alcohol).
Rosca de Reyes
This sweet bread is a treat that is particularly associated with King's Day (Día de Reyes) which is celebrated on January 6 but it may start appearing in Mexican bakeries around Christmastime. There's a small figurine of a baby baked inside, and the person who gets the slice with the baby in it has to bring the tamales for the next occasion, which is Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas).