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Christmas traditions: Fond memories of a Mexican Christmas

Ivonne Penit and Maylen Crespo hold the baby Jesus figurine that will be added to the nativity scene on Christmas Eve, the last night of the Posadas that launches the Christmas season in Mexico. The tree is also decorated on Christmas Eve. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Ivonne Penit and Maylen Crespo hold the baby Jesus figurine that will be added to the nativity scene on Christmas Eve, the last night of the Posadas that launches the Christmas season in Mexico. The tree is also decorated on Christmas Eve.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

From early November to late December, we are surrounded by the touchstones of the Christmas season, colourful strings of lights, Santa Claus in malls, Black Friday and Boxing Day sales, special church services, long lines at the grocery store, and harried check-in counters at the airport as families travel to be together over the holidays.

But it’s not that way for everyone. As a nation of immigrants, many new Canadians, or those whose roots are elsewhere, celebrate Christmas by reforging the bonds to the culture and traditions of their homeland. It’s a way of connecting to their heritage, to relatives and friends they may not get the chance to see too often and to pass on their traditions to the next generation. Today, the NewsLeader highlights some of their stories.

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Christmas in Mexico is a nearly two-month celebration of parties, plays, pinatas and praying you don’t end up with the little plastic Jesus in your slice of rocas de reyes, or Three Kings cake.

It all begins Dec. 16 when the first of nine daily Posada processions is held in neighbourhoods, towns and villages.

The Posadas symbolize the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy with the baby Jesus and celebrate her and Joseph’s search for a room at an inn in Bethlehem to give birth. Children carry candles and figurines of Joseph and Mary riding a donkey as they parade past houses decorated with evergreen boughs and paper lanterns.

At each house where they stop, they sing songs about Joseph and Mary’s quest for a room.

Most of the time the procession is told to move along, there’s no room.

But at the last house on the day’s route, the children are welcomed to go around back where there is a party with food, sparklers, games and a chance to swat the pinata.

In the past, explains Maylen Crespo, pinatas were made of clay and took many mighty blows to crack and rain down candies and little toys.

Now they’re constructed of paper maché in a star shape with seven points, each representative of the deadly sins.

On the last night of the Posadas, Christmas Eve, a manger and shepherds are added to the nativity scene at the designated host’s house.

When the procession arrives, the children place a figure of the baby Jesus into the manger and then everyone heads to midnight, or rooster, mass.

Christmas Day is spent with family.

For Crespo, that meant gathering at her grandmother’s home with more than 30 relatives to share a lavish dinner of traditional soup, turkey, green beans, cod and desert of a bread sweetened with raisins.

The days following are spent visiting friends or enjoying one of the pastorelas, nativity plays with often satirical political overtones, that are presented by amateur and professional thespians in town squares, community and regional theatres.

“It’s really fun,” says Crespo.

“But always at the end good beats evil.”

Dec. 28 is Dia de los Santos Innocentes, the Mexican version of April Fool’s day when every story must be taken with a gain of salt and anyone who lends money to a friend better not expect to ever be repaid.

The seasonal festivities officially conclude on Jan. 6, Epiphany Day, that celebrates the arrival of the three wise men. This is when gifts are exchanged and a slice of rocas de reyes, a round bread decorated with candied fruit nuggets representing jewels is enjoyed by everyone. Well almost.

Because hidden somewhere in the loaf is a little plastic baby Jesus, and whoever finds it must then host another great party on Feb. 2, the Day of Candlemas.

“It’s really fun to cut the cake,” says Crespo. “But nobody wants to host the party. It’s a lot of work preparing all those tamales.”

 

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