When living away from your family and friends, it can be tough to get into the holiday spirit. While we know that our customers who have moved to another country likely did this for better opportunities, their sacrifice to improve the lives of themselves and their loved ones is especially felt during the holidays, when it’s difficult to be away from family.
We want to honor and celebrate the Christmas traditions of our customers and their families in Mexico, and let them know that we’re here to help them feel closer to their family during the holidays.
There are so many ways that people in Mexico celebrate Christmas and the holidays that come afterward, too! If you’re looking for ways to feel connected to your family’s traditions, or maybe even recreate them with your local community, here are some of the unique holiday celebration in Mexico around Christmas and New Years.
December 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Roman Catholic feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe—patron saint of Mexico and the Americas—falls on December 12 and kicks off the holiday season.
This day commemorates when the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec farmer who accepted the Christian religion, in December 1531 on Tepeyac hill (now located in the eastern suburbs of Mexico City).
Other Latin American countries and communities in the U.S. celebrate December 12 as well. Celebrations usually include church Masses and prayers; singing and traditional dancing (including televised renditions of the happy birthday song by famous musical artists); pilgrimages from all over Mexico to the Basílica of Guadalupe in Mexico City; and dressing of children in traditional Mexican peasant clothes to honor Juan Diego.
People often make offerings of flowers, candles, and food at churches, and many people hold an overnight vigil from the night of December 11 to celebrate this special day.
December 16-24: The Advent Season
Many people across Mexico enjoy participating in posadas, a tradition similar to Christmas caroling in the U.S. Posada means “inn,” and this interactive tradition begins in most places on December 16. A procession, usually led by a child, typically carries a nativity scene with a replica of Mary and Joseph.
The procession is meant to honor Mary and Joseph finding shelter for the holy family as Mary is about to give birth to the baby Jesus. The processors sing posada verses that request shelter and rest for the holy family while knocking on doors, only to be denied by the carolers inside the doors who respond back with their own verses of the song.
After the round of knocking and singing is finished, carolers finally enter the host home and everyone shares Bible passages, food, and drinks. Posadas generally occur nightly from December 16 right up until Christmas Eve.
This video shows a great depiction of typical neighborhood posadas in Mexico City:
Pastorelas are also an entertaining and fun way to celebrate the days before Christmas across Mexico. These Christmas-season plays are a blend of Aztec and Spanish storytelling tradition. While the comedic skits tell the story of the nativity, they often also include satire, double entendres, and elements of political humor in true Mexican fashion.
Here’s a bit of history on pastorelas (in Spanish), as well as a fun example of what they look like:
December 25 & January 1: Christmas Day & New Year
The biggest Christmas festivities unfold on the night of December 24. People attend midnight mass or simply gather together in family celebrations as they await midnight and the arrival of Christmas Day.
Some Christmas-specific traditions include:
- Nativity scenes, or nacimientos: these recreations of the holy family, gathered around the new baby Jesus in Bethlehem, appear throughout homes, churches and common spaces. In homes, Santa Claus often leaves children’s Christmas gifts by the nacimiento.
- Piñatas: Christmas piñatas are a very fun and traditional way to celebrate the season throughout Mexico. The star-shaped clay or cardboard piñatas are typically filled with fruit, candy or other treats.
- Making traditional foods, like tamales, romeritos, churros, champurrado, and rompope, among others.
Here’s a photo of a mug of champurrado — perfect for a cold winter night!
On New Year’s Eve, people often attempt to eat twelve grapes at the stroke of midnight for good luck, a custom that has its roots in Spanish tradition. It’s more difficult than it sounds! Some other fun customs include preparing lentils as part of the New Year’s dishes (also for luck), and wearing red underwear on this day.
January 6: Día de los Reyes Magos
Santa Claus has become more popular in Mexico and throughout Latin America in recent years. However, according to traditional custom, the Three Kings (los reyes magos) bring gifts to children on the twelfth and final day of Christmas—January 6. Many families continue to stay true to this tradition.
Children may write a letter to the three kings expressing their desires, and leave it out for them on the night of January 5 in hopes that they will leave the desired gifts and toys on their journey through.
In addition, families enjoy a delicious ring-shaped sweet bread called rosca de reyes (kings’ bread) on this day. Tradition dictates that whoever finds the figurine of the baby Jesus that is baked into each bread will host the final party of the holiday season: Día de la Candelaria!
Here’s a snapshot of a rosca de reyes with the baby Jesus figurine!
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February 2: Día de la Candelaria
This holiday officially marks the end of the Christmas season in Mexico. Many people may know this day as the day to prepare and eat tamales based on the recipient of the baby Jesus at the January 6 rosca de reyes celebration, but it’s also a religious celebration.
The Virgin Mary of Candelaria (from the word meaning candle, and thus light) has roots in Tenerife, an island belonging to Spain. Also very interesting to note about this celebration is that the 40-day period counting from Christmas Day, and marking the end of the Christmas holiday period for the year, coincides with the historic Aztec new year. So enjoy those tamales… we hope they’re delicious!
From Team Remitly to all of our customers and their families in Mexico, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas season and a happy New Year. Here’s to a year ahead full of family, happiness, and prosperity.
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