Mexico, Christmas in

Mexico, Christmas in

Mexicans ornament their homes, churches, and streets in joyous anticipation of Christmas. These festive decorations may include bright piñatas, multicolored Nativity scenes, scarlet poinsettias, and twinkling light displays. Religious observance and family merrymaking are also important elements of Mexican Christmas celebrations.


The Christmas season in Mexico begins in mid-December when many families retrieve their Nativity scenes from storage. Old pieces are cleaned and new figurines may be added to the family collection. In Mexico Nativity scenes are called nacimientos, which literally means "births." The central figures of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus are referred to as misterios, or "mysteries." Along with Nativity scenes, piñatas, and poinsettias, some families now add a Christmas tree to their home decorations.

Posadas, Pastores, and Novenas

Many families assemble their Nativity scenes on December 16. This date coincides with a number of other Christmas customs. It marks the beginning of the nine-night Christmas novena, a series of prayer services in preparation for Christmas. These services are called misasde aguinaldo, which means "Christmas gift masses" (see also Misa de Gallo). Las Posadas, a reenactment of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem and search for shelter, also begins on December 16. Performances of Los Pastores, a humorous folk play recounting the story of the shepherds' journey to Bethlehem, begin in the latter part of December as well.


As Christmas draws near, markets begin to fill up with colorful Christmas goods such as children's toys and figurines for Nativity scenes. Merchants also display a wide variety of piñatas, a special kind of Mexican toy popular at celebrations involving children. The traditional way of making a piñata calls for filling a clay pot with treats, such as candy, nuts, fruit, and small toys. Artisans then cover the pot with a combination of papier mâché, colorful tissue or crepe paper, paint, tinsel, and sequins. Nowadays, many artisans leave out the pot and form the piñata out of paiper mâché alone, shaping it into any form that strikes their fancy. Children may choose from a nearly infinite variety of shapes, including animals, cartoon characters, flowers, vegetables, suns, moons, stars, comets, electrical appliances, and vehicles of all kinds. During the Christmas season, homes, plazas, shops, schools, churches, and other institutions display piñatas as seasonal decorations.

What's more, children play games with piñatas at holiday season parties, such as those that follow Las Posadas. The piñata hangs from a rope which is suspended over a pulley in the ceiling. Each child is blindfolded in turn and given a chance to break open the piñata with a big stick. An adult spins the blindfolded child around several times and then takes hold of the rope. While the rest of the children call out instructions to the blindfolded youngster, an adult raises or lowers the piñata to keep it away from the swinging stick. Eventually, a child succeeds in striking the piñata, breaking it open and spilling all of its treats onto the floor. The children rush forward to gather up the sweets and toys.

Christmas Foods

Mexicans serve Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. This meal usually features roast turkey. This dish is especially appropriate to Mexican celebrations. Turkey is native to the Americas, and it was first imported to Europe by the Spanish colonists who conquered Mexico in the sixteenth century. Ensalada de la Nochebuena, or "Christmas Eve Salad," is another typical Christmas dish. It usually includes sliced fruits, beets, and nuts. Tamales, tortillas, fish, steak, punch, hot chocolate, and a special kind of doughnut often appear on the Christmas menu as well.

Christmas Activities

On Christmas Eve many families finally place the Christ child figurine into the Nativity scene. The figurines representing the shepherds, who have been inching their way towards the stable sheltering the Holy Family, also arrive on Christmas Eve. Mexicans celebrate Christmas Eve by attending the Misa de Gallo, or Midnight Mass. Often the air crackles with the sound of exploding firecrackers as worshipers approach the church. After church families return home to large, festive meals. The next morning the children may receive a small gift from their parents. They will have to wait until Epiphany to receive the rest of their gifts. Mexicans spend Christmas Day visiting with family members and friends.

Innocents' Day, Epiphany, and Candlemas

In spite of the gruesome deed it commemorates, Mexicans celebrate Día de los Inocentes, or Holy Innocents' Day, December 28, with high spirits. Tradition calls for the playing of practical jokes and tricks on the unwary. The one who is tricked is referred to as an inocente, or an "innocent."

In Mexico children traditionally receive their Christmas presents on Epiphany, which they call Día de los Reyes, or Three Kings' Day. The Three Kings, or Magi, serve as Mexico's gift bringers. According to Mexican folklore, the Three Kings journey around the world on the eve of Epiphany, rewarding well-behaved children with Christmas presents. In anticipation of these treats children place their shoes near the family Nativity scene or just outside a door or window. Often they leave straw and a dish of water to refresh the Wise Mens' camels. In the morning they find the water and straw gone and their shoes spilling over with gifts. Three Kings' Day celebrations usually feature a special ring-shaped bread or cake called La Rosca de losReyes, or "Three Kings' Cake." Bakers insert a tiny doll in the batter for each cake. Whoever finds the doll in their slice of cake will have good luck in the coming year. Lastly, Mexicans finally complete their Nativity scenes on Epiphany, moving the figurines representing the Three Kings into the stable that shelters the Holy Family.

The Christmas season ends with Candlemas on February 2. On this day many families take down their Nativity scenes and store them until the following year.

Further Reading

Christmas in Mexico. Chicago: World Book, 1976. Marcus, Rebecca, and Judith Marcus. Fiesta Time in Mexico. Champaign, Ill.: Garrard Publishing Company, 1974. Sechrist, Elizabeth Hough. Christmas Everywhere. 1936. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1998. Silverthorne, Elizabeth. Fiesta! Mexico's Great Celebrations. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1992. Wakefield, Charito Calvachi. Navidad Latinoamericana, Latin American Christ-mas. Lancaster, Pa.: Latin American Creations Publishing, 1997.

Web Site

A site sponsored by Mexico Connect, a web magazine published by Conexión México S.A. de C.V.: xmasindex.html