December is a festive month in much of the world, but in Mexico it is particularly so. This is due, in part, to a combination of the country's vibrant Catholicism and uniquely Mexican folk traditions. Yet these fiestas decembrinas are deeply marked by cross-cultural penetrations. On December 4th and 5th, Colombian ex-patriots filled a plaza in Colonia Roma with candles and prayed for peace.
The classic Mexican Christmas party is the posada, an all-afternoon binge of food, drink and music. These fiestas can be both elaborate office parties and family gatherings, and the sheer number of posadas that are held clogs the social calendars in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The jovial atmosphere at these events is enlivened with potent sugar cane-and-fruit punch and lively gift raffles and exchanges.
December 12th is the commemoration of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's spiritual mother and a powerfully unifying symbol of national identity, but this profoundly religious celebration is often blended with the general spirit of the holidays. Nearly every altar to the Virgin is adorned not only with fresh flowers, but also with strings of lights and green-and-white garlands.
Mexico's most unique Christmas tradition--the piñata--is believed to be of Chinese origin. Supposedly, the seven points of the piñata represent the seven deadly sins and with virtue--represented by the stick used to smash open the piñata--you can defeat the sins and release the rewards of clean living, which, in the case of the piñata, are the peanuts, candy and assorted trinkets hidden inside. Regardless of their provenance and meaning, for the past several weeks, piñatas have appeared everywhere, dangling from the awnings of taco stands and suspended over major streets. The ceilings of Mexico City's massive Merced market are clogged with brightly colored tinsel and paper creations that jostle for space and the attention of shoppers.
Mexicans have traditionally celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, with gift-giving occurring during the first days of January over the festival of the Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men). But, just as Halloween has infiltrated Day of the Dead, Santa Claus and flashing lights have staked a claim in Mexico.
(shoes, clothes, perfume, gifts in general)
The religious aspects of Christmas are hardly lost in the shuffle, however. Nativity scenes proliferate on the streets, and the markets are filled with countless. In the living nativity performed outside a famous Mexico City bakery chain, the Wise Men brought offerings not of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but of biscuits.
As Christmas approaches, there is a palpable excitement here. Markets buzz with higher-than-normal activity, and decorations appear on ragged doorframes. After nearly a month of anticipation, the holidays are nearly here.