THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS In México and Latin America
I have marked the last day of November on the calendar to enter my favorite month. December has arrived and with it Christmas. The cinnamon smell and the season’s joy invade every corner of my house. Although for years I have not had the opportunity to return home. I try to take some traditions and adapt them to my life in Hong Kong.
In Mexico and Latin America, Christmas begins on December 16, with “Posadas” day, and ends on January 6, with “Día de Reyes”. Those days are the best time of the year and families and friends love them. For us, Christmas is like Chinese New Year for the Chinese people where there are big celebrations and big parties. Yet, the most important thing is: every single family get together and enjoys it in a big way!
As in all festivities, there are typical dishes that we only make at this time of the year. My favorites are “tamales”, something similar to the Chinese glutinous rice dumplings (糭子) but made with corn paste instead of rice and filled with different stews, which are sweet, salty and spicy. I also love “churros” and “buñuelos”, a crispy fried “tortilla” glazed with sugar and cinnamon. Most of the kids love them very much.
The fruit punches or “ponches de fruta” can never be missing, since early in the morning houses are impregnated with the smell of Christmas. Nothing makes me happier than celebrating this Holiday and its tradition.
“El NACIMIENTO” (Nativity Scenes)
The Nativity Scenes are representations of the birth of Jesus Christ through porcelain figures which are placed under the Christmas tree. This serves to remember that Christmas is about remembering the birth of Jesus.
On the night of December 24, families go to midnight church; then presents are opened. We like to place the presents under the Christmas tree and next to the “Nacimiento”. However, some families are used to opening the presents on December 25, depending on the family tradition.
“EL ARBOL DE NAVIDAD” (The Christmas Tree)
The Christmas tree is something that cannot be missing in any home. Personally, I put it since the second week of November and it is a process that I enjoy a lot since it fills my home with light. In Mexico, Christmas trees are huge and are very similar to those that appear in Christmas movies. Children mainly enjoy decorating them because it represents that the holiday is near. The trees are usually green or white, surrounded by lights and adorned with colored spheres. Under the Christmas tree is usually where the “nacimientos” and the presents are placed. Also, it is the perfect spot to take pictures. Children spend much of their time guessing what gifts are inside the gift boxes decorated with paper and bows.
At this time there are also abundant fairs and craft markets, where all kinds of Christmas decorations are sold, such as fruits, Christmas spheres, piñatas and sweets, among other things.
No self-respecting Mexican Christmas forgets the moment of the piñata, which is usually made of clay or cardboard and is shaped like a star. Inside there are usually sweets, fruits and other prizes, but to get them, you have to hit the piñata with a stick when covering your eyes with a handkerchief.
The one who hits first has to turn several times to lose his sense of direction while others sing a special song for the occasion. Once the piñata is broken, everyone enjoys the delicious typical Mexican dishes: tamales, buñuelos, churros, fruit punch and hot chocolate. Well, I am sure you are familiar with this game as we had this last Christmas here at Immerse Languages.
They are theatrical performances that are performed throughout the country to stage the adventures that the shepherds went through on their pilgrimage to the birth of Jesus. They are usually represented by families in which all members participate. Personally, it is one of the traditions that I miss the most. Since in my family we never rehearse and we end up improvising the dialogues, which are very funny and spontaneous. In the future, I hope we can do something similar between teachers and students.
EL DÍA DE LOS REYES MAGOS
Although Santa Claus has become very popular throughout Latin America in recent years, many children are faithful to the Three Wise Men and write letters to them so that on January 6 they can receive gifts.
The afternoon of “Día de los Reyes” is celebrated with family and friends, while eating the “Rosca de Reyes”, a bread made of flour, eggs, yeast, sugar and butter that is garnished with fruit.
Something that has caught the attention of my students in Hong Kong is that, inside, plastic figurines of baby Jesus are placed, each person cuts their slice of bagel and whoever gets the baby Jesus will have to have a party on February 2, the day the same people who met on Three Kings Day meet again. For many Mexicans, as well as Latin Americans, the ideal companion for the Rosca de Reyes is hot chocolate or coffee.
As you may have noticed, Christmas in Catholic countries is a serious thing. I always compare it to the Chinese New Year because it is full of meanings and traditions. I feel thrilled because we are already in December and I am sure that this year Christmas will be magical.