Christmas is the most favorite holiday in Mexico. A traditional excitement seizes everyone when the holiday approaches: people get ready for vacation, for the feast, for giving presents, and the coming of Magician Kings. The Catholic Christmas comes on the night of December 24-25. The celebration is preceded by nine days of Las Posadas, which means “overnight stop." Each of the nine days is celebrated every evening starting with December 16. Las Posadas represents the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy on her way to Bethlehem before the birth of the Christ. The holiday is usually celebrated by whole neighborhoods. For this purpose, lots are drawn to distribute the dates for receiving of guests, and then preparations start. First of all, a festive fir tree is to be mounted, any conifer will do for it, even a thuya. Such trees are sometimes sold with roots to be planted in pots for the period of the holiday at home and then transplanted near the house. Sometimes, people decorate artificial green or even white fir trees with different things, sweets and glass balls. Multicolored large bows and small bows made of foil, gilded and silver-plated cones and nuts of the tree’s branches, little wooden snowmen, wax figures, hand-made toys (made of felt, beads and paillettes), bells and angel figures made of metal, plastic and woven ones – such are the things you may see on Christmas fir trees in Mexico. Not a single Christmas tree can do without long garlands and electric lights, with which people sometimes decorate even buildings.
What is of great importance is the arrangement of the Christ’s birth, a toy composition representing birth of the Christ. For this purpose, a proper rural scene is created: natural moss and silver wormwood are bought at the market and laid as the foundation. Then, tiny bridges and huts are constructed, and rivers made of foil start flowing on the scenery; we may even discern miniatures of sheep, horses, geese, and other domestic animals. Only after that, the figures of Mary, her husband Joseph, the Magi, and three Oriental Wise Men are added to the composition. In the Mexican interpretation, the Wise Men turned into Magician Kings named Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, who come as riders on a horse, a camel, and an elephant to worship the new-born Christ and bring gifts. A ceramic statuette of the new-born Christ appears in the composition only at midnight of December 24.
Some families organize a real parade of the Christ’s Birth with large china or wooden figures near their houses.
Local governments also decorate the streets and buildings for the holiday. Monumental compositions are mounted on the central squares.
For Las Posadas, people buy tejocote, apples, raisins, prunes, sugar-cane, and cinnamon to make a traditional Christmas punch with a fruit base. The Mexicans also traditionally buy kilograms of peanuts, sweets, oranges, apples, and jicama for Pinata filling. Seats are usually arranged for guests near the fir tree and in the courtyard with the coming of the evening. Las Posadas begins with a procession of Mary and Joseph with a suite along the street. The parts of the key figures are performed by children dressed in fancy dresses, then adults follow with candles or sparklers (Luces de Bengala); they all sing prayer songs. After the procession, an invitation for fruit punch and Mexican sandwiches with spicy sauces sounds. Children are looking forward to breaking the Pinata. Then, finally, its turn comes. The pinata is made of papier-mache and is decorated with colored cigarette tissue. It is fixed at the end of a rope that is then thrown over the gates. The other end of the rope is to be in the hands of a man who seats on the roof. Children queue up and try to break the Pinata, which is filled with sweets. They are to do it blindfolded with a stick in their hands. The task is complicated by the man sitting of the roof who swings the Pinata. The participant whose turn comes is to be turned round first, then he is to make some attempts to break the Pinata and other children are to encourage him with a special song. When one of the participants breaks the Pinata, other children fall on the ground to snatch as many sweets that have fallen from the Pinata as is possible.
Christmas night follows Las Pasadas. Like during other great celebrations, housewives spend a lot of time cooking tasty meals. When everything is finally ready, before sitting down to table, a ceremonial with a Jesus statuette is to be performed. The statuette is placed into a reboso or a coverlet and then rocked as a cradle to the accompaniment of a lullaby. Then the baby statuette is placed into a boat, that, as the Bible tells, became a cradle for the Christ. After that, the family sits down to the table decorated with candles only and says prayers. The table is served in the last place. And, finally, real festivities begin for the stomachs! Special Christmas meals are usually offered at table, but the key dish at the Christmas table is smoked or fresh turkey stuffed with dried fruits and nuts flavored with orange juice and cheese.
Light apple champagne wine is usually served up at the Christmas supper. Different jellies and flan are cooked from beaten eggs, milk, and sugar.
On New Year’s eve, a festive supper takes place once again. One charming tradition of this supper is that everyone is to eat twelve grapes, one with each stroke of the chiming bells, for luck in the coming 12 months. Every grape is to be supplied with a wish.
The Mexican children usually look forward to coming of January 6, the Day of Magician Kings, who bring lots of presents for obedient children. For Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar not to be mistaken in the choice of presents, not later than January 5, all children are to send letters with requests. Then, the letters are placed in shoes or fastened to balloons and let out to the sky. The Magician Kings come during the night on January 6.
On the eve of the holiday, television stations organize marathons to collect toys brought by volunteers, then the toys are presented to poor and homeless children who can not send requests to the Magician Kings.
And what is really very important is that the Christmas and New Year celebrations gather the whole family together: parents and children, sisters and brothers, grandchildren and grandparents enjoy the time together.
Natalya Malinko Mexico PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/01/09/35406.html