There are many special traditions surrounding Christmas in Mexico. Some of these originated in Spain and others developed due to Mexico's particular history. The festivities surrounding Christmas last through much of the month of December, but in fact, the Christmas season isn't well and truly over until February 2nd. Read on to learn about some of the most important Mexican Christmas traditions and how to celebrate if you'll be in Mexico during this magical time of the year.
There are lots of other celebrations that take place in Mexico during this month. See our list of December festivals and events.
Although many Mexican families have Christmas trees, nativity scenes are a more common Christmas decoration and many families place elaborate Nativity scenes in their homes or yards. There are also many public nacimientos as well as some very beautiful folk art nativity scenes made by local artists and artisans. The nacimiento is usually set up on December 16th (the day that the Posadas begin), the baby Jesus is added at night on December 24th and the three kings are added on January 5th.
See photos of Mexican nacimientos.
Pastorelas are theatrical presentations of the shepherds (los pastores) on their way to see baby Jesus. These originated during Mexico's colonial period as a way to teach the native people about Catholic dogma, but have changed over time and are now light-hearted comedic presentations. In the play the shepherds encounter various obstacles on their journey, with devils and angels making appearances, trying to convince them of the way they should take.
In English-speaking countries the Christmas season may be announced with the familiar strains of The Little Drummer Boy or Silver Bells playing in shops and on the radio. Similarly in Mexico, you'll begin to hear "Los Peces en el Río" or "Arre Borrequito." Christmas carols are called villancicos (pronounced vee-yan-see-kose) in Spanish. Some of these may be familiar translations of songs in English, such as Noche de Paz, the Spanish version of Silent Night, and some are completely different, such as Las Campanas de Belen (Bethlehem's Bells) or the aforementioned Los Peces en el Río (the Fishes in the River).
The Posadas take place on the nine days preceding Christmas. From the 16th to the 24th processions reenact Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in Bethlehem. These processions lead to a different house every night for the culmination of the posada - a fiesta, which will usually include one or more piñatas.
Read more: Christmas Posadas
Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena in Spanish. This is the night of the last posada. Many people attend midnight mass and then have a dinner together with their families. Christmas Day is generally a quiet day. Gifts are not traditionally exchanged on Christmas, but this is changing, and Santa Claus is becoming increasingly more prominent in Mexican Christmas celebrations.
Of course, food plays a big part in any holiday celebration, and there are many foods that are associated with this time of year in Mexico. From ensalada de Noche Buena to ponche Navideño, here is some background about the foods consumed at Christmas along with some links to recipes: Mexican Christmas Foods.
Most Mexicans celebrate New Year's Eve by having a late-night dinner with their families. Those who want to party generally go out afterwards, so if you're looking for a night out on the town, be prepared for things to really get going after midnight.
Read more: New Year's Eve in Mexico
Día de Reyes
January 6th is Epiphany, celebrated in Mexico as Día de Reyes "King's Day." This is when children traditionally receive gifts, brought by the three wise men. Many children now receive gifts both on Christmas and on King's Day.
On this day it is also customary to share a Rosca de Reyes among friends and family. This is a special sweet bread in the shape of a wreath with a miniature baby Jesus figure inside. Whoever finds the baby Jesus (often there are several in each Rosca) is supposed to host the party on February 2nd, traditionally serving tamales.
Read more: Kings Day in Mexico
Día de la Candelaria
Candlemas, or Día de la Candelaria, on February 2nd, marks the end of the Christmas season. On this day, people dress up their Niños Dios (Christ child figures) and take them to the church to be blessed, and everyone enjoys tamales provided by the person who got the baby Jesus in the Rosca de Reyes on King's Day.
Read more about Candlemas (Día de la Candelaria).