FELIZ NAVIDAD: CHRISTMAS IN MEXICO, CONTINUED...
Handcrafted wooden mangers are decorated with moss, bromeliads and orchids, complete with figurines and every animal imaginable. These scenes are set up on December 16, but the figure of the Baby Jesus is not put into the manger until December 24; the Three Kings are added on January 5.
The main Christmas celebration in Mexico is called Las Posadas, which refers to processions reenacting Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The processions begin nine days before Christmas, because the original journey took nine days.
Friends and family members divide themselves into two groups—pilgrims and innkeepers. The pilgrims carry small lit candles in their hands, traveling from house to house asking for a shelter. They are refused at each place until they finally reach the house where an altar and Nativity scene have been set up.
At the chosen posada for the evening, the pilgrims are admitted with great rejoicing, a traditional prayer is spoken, and the party begins. Food and drink are served, with children taking turns trying to break open a piñata filled with peanuts, oranges, sugar canes, and hard candy. For the adults there is Ponche con Piquete, which is a punch made of seasonal fruits or apple cider and cinnamon sticks, with a shot of alcohol. Each family in a neighborhood schedules a night for the posada to be held at their home, starting on the 16th of December and finishing on the 24th on Noche Buena or Holy Night.
Christmas Eve is celebrated as a family day, beginning with the last posada and ending with a sumptuous dinner. After dinner the adults exchange presents. The Baby Jesus is placed in the manger in the Nativity scene, and at midnight there is a mass called Misa de Gallo or The Rooster’s Mass.
On December 25, children wake up early to find gifts from Santa Claus. This is a relatively new addition to the Mexican Christmas tradition. Before, gifts were exchanged on January 6, Dia de los Reyes Magos or the Day of the Three Wise Men.
Although Santa Claus is not evident in many Mexican Christmas celebrations, his bright red suit is represented by the traditional flower of the season, the poinsettia. This flower is native to Mexico and is believed to have first been used in connection with Christmas in the 17th century, when Mexican Franciscans included the flowers in their Christmas celebration. There is a legend connected with the flower: A little boy named Pablo was walking to the church in his village to visit the Nativity scene, when he realized he had nothing to offer the Baby Jesus. He saw some green branches growing along the roadside and gathered them up. Other children scoffed, but when he laid them by the manger, a brilliant red, star-shaped flower appeared on each branch.