ON THE 52nd DAY OF CHRISTMAS part 2
As we pick up from the previous post about Christmas celebrations in Mexico, we have not yet gotten to Christmas Eve. Here are more of the traditions that go on during this time.
PASTORELAS: Similar to the posadas, these are staged acts played out in the weeks before Christmas. The theme, however, is different. In the posadas, the idea was that Mary and Joseph were asking for lodging on their way to Bethlehem. The term pastorelas comes from pastor, shepherd. These plays are enacted in different neighborhoods showing the shepherds on the way to see the newborn baby Jesus. They are usually comic, presenting the shepherds as dim-witted, although well meaning. There is a lot of slapstick involved as the shepherds act as dunces who trip each other, play practical jokes, and show themselves not too bright. They miss obvious cues and confuse angels with devils who both appear on their journey, each touting a way for the shepherds to take.
VILLANCICOS: Villancicos are Christmas carols. Some of them are translations of songs we know in English, such as Noche de Paz—the Spanish version of Silent Night. Some are completely different, traditional Mexican, Latin American, or Spanish carols. Two popular ones are Las campanas de Belén (the bells of Bethlehem), and Los peces en el río (the fishes in the river).
NOCHEBUENA: The culmination of all these festivities arrives on December 24, Christmas Eve. In the evening there is one last posada, also the nativity scenes at home and in public spaces are completed by placing a doll representing the newborn Jesus. After this, everyone goes to mass at midnight. Following mass, there is a major meal served with the traditional dishes such as tamales, pozole, and of course, the drink of the season—ponche.
In Mexico, gifts are not traditionally exchanged at Christmas; children have to wait until January 6, Dia de Reyes—the Day of the Kings.
The flor de nochebuena—the Christmas Eve flower, is what we call poinsettia. It is used in large quantities during the Christmas season and it’s a native plant of Mexico.
The Mexicas (pronounced Me-shi-cas) were one of the indigenous tribes in the land of the Aztecs. They used the poinsettia in rituals as a symbol of purity and new life for dead warriors, because of its red color, like blood. After Spanish colonization it began to be used in Christmas decorations. The name poinsettia, by the way, comes from Joel Robert Poinsett, the first US ambassador to Mexico. In the XIX century, he brought the flower to the United States.
The plant is a shrub and will grow to a large size in the right climate. What we consider the red “flowers” are actually leaves that turn that color.
DIA DE NAVIDAD: December 25 is Christmas Day, and as mentioned before, it is tranquil. Most families make this a quiet day and the meals are usually left-overs from the previous night’s feast. For the faithful, there is always mass.
DIA DE LOS SANTOS INOCENTES—Day of the holy innocents. December 28 commemorates the day Herod sent out his troops to slaughter all male children under the age of two, in the hopes of killing the newborn king he had heard was born in Bethlehem.
In spite of its bloody history, the day has become the equivalent of our April fool’s day. Perhaps the reason for that is that Jesus did escape after all. On this day, people play all kinds of pranks on each other and whenever someone falls for it he is called out “Inocente! Inocente!” The media also gets involved by reporting news that are too ridiculous or funny to be believed.
DIA DE REYES—Day of the Kings: January 6, which is Epiphany, is celebrated in Mexico as the day of the kings (whom we call the magi, who came to visit Jesus bearing gifts). This is the day on which the children receive gifts. Although, because of the incorporation of US traditions, many now enjoy both Christmas and King’s Day gifts!
A rosca de reyes—a ring-shaped roll of kings—is usually served. It’s a baked sweet bread in the shape of a wreath, with a miniature Jesus figure inside. Whoever finds the baby Jesus (often there are several in each rosca) is supposed to host the party on February 2nd, which is the last day of Christmas celebrations.
CANDLEMAS or DIA DE LA CANDELARIA: February 2nd marks the final day of the entire Christmas celebration. This is supposed to be the day, 40 days after Jesus’ birth when, according to tradition, Mary was “purified” and was able to enter the temple once again. On that day she also brought Jesus to the temple. People bring the small Jesus figures they had in their nativity to church, and they also bring candles to be blessed.
Then everyone gathers at the home of the person who had gotten the baby Jesus in the rosca. Tamales are served and the traditional drink, atole. It’s a thick, almost pudding-like, drink, made of milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and corn starch. Sometimes chocolate is added.
In San Miguel, Candelaria has its own tradition. It’s the unofficial beginning of spring and has become famous for plant sales held in Juarez Park.
Many vendors line the walkways of the park selling all type of plants. Young boys with wheelbarrows scurry about with plants, terra cotta planters, and potting soil.
And this completes all the Christmas celebrations. Fifty two days that culminate in a park covered with flowers and plants for sale, with vendors from many nearby towns and other states bringing their wares. It is also considered the beginning of spring in San Miguel, the end of the “harsh” winter that lasts less than two months. The city makes ready for longer and warmer days, and the blooming of many flowers throughout the city.