Monday, January 15th, 2018

Holy Rythm of Christmas in Mexico

Christmas is not secular in Mexico. My husband and I have had a house in Mexico for fourteen year. We usually arrive after Christmas and stay until mid-May. It depends on what is going on with the rest of the family and our work and writing.

One brave year early in the fourteen years, all of our family came—all five kids and their husbands, wives, loves or friends came for Christmas itself. This was before any grandchildren. We gave one another experiences for Christmas here in San Miguel. One son rented a fourwheeler for his brother because we had forbidden them in their youth. The women tended to give one another the experience of pedicures. My son-in-law gave me a visit to the best gordita restaurant in San Miguel. We went to a ranch open house and rodeo. We cooked and played games and drank Margueritas.

We gussied up for Christmas Eve and walked to our church up our small alleyway. Nothing much going on. Didn’t surprise us too much. Our community church is tiny (built in 1540) and has no permanent priest. Some of us went home feeling vaguely disappointed from a ritual point of view and some of us trudged into town. Big old colonial churches were open but not many people were in them. No candlelight service. No choirs. Back to the house we went, puzzled and slightly out of sorts. No big deal. In the morning we opened presents and on we went.

Only as we got to know our Mexican neighbors over the next few years did we understand the rhythm of Christmas in Mexico. I may not have it exactly right yet but I share it as something to think about as giving a new rhythm to your own holiday.

Most houses have a large Nativity scene in the house. There can be a big background scene with rocks and moss and other additions. The figures are big if not life size. This is the central decoration with lights and adornments. Christmas trees are beginning to be part of the scene. Our community still does what is called Las Posadas (the inn). The passage of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay is re-enacted. People dress as angels or Mary and Joseph or shepherds and walk to two or three houses,knocking to enter.The procession is turned away. Finally, one door is opened, and everyone enters and there is a celebration and singing of “carols”. There used to be impromptu and many “posadas”. Now Christmas Eve is THE one. This might explain why no one was at church when we went hunting for a special service.

Next in the rhythm is Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos. The Three Kings’ Day is on January 6th. This is the day the three kings arrived and brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The next morning children wake up to find lots and lots of gifts (mostly toys). I am told lots of toys are needed because there are “three” Wise Men. Adults don’t exchange gifts. The presents are not wrapped. After the gifts are enjoyed, the breakfast has to include a “rosca” a round crown (round) shaped sweet bread with dried fruit in it. In the Rosca there is one or more tiny plastic baby Jesus figures. Whoever finds the first baby Jesus is obligated to give a party for all who are present at the gathering. Some chew very carefully because the party includes tamales and atole that are not easy to make. That party is on February 2nd.

February 2nd is Candeleria the day Jesus was presented in the temple of Jerusalem. This is the time that people take down their nativity scenes and take their baby Jesus to the church to be blessed, often dressed in elaborate Christening gowns and then packed away until the next Christmas.This is the day when people bring their candles that they will use on their altars at home to be blessed in the church. Our community has a candle lit procession with people carrying big bundles of candles.  Before that day, there is another celebration indicating when baby Jesus sat up. There is a special song sung as the figure of baby Jesus is rocked in a special cloth. Some Nativity scenes have many baby Jesus dolls.  A traditional punch is served and candy is passed out.

And so there you have it. The rhythm of Christmas in Mexico. I think. Like Wikipedia, feel free to add or correct your experience of the Mexican rhythm of Christmas. It is what my community in Valle del Maiz does. There are certainly Indian and Catholic combinations of all kinds because the early (not later) priests tried to incorporate Indian traditions when they could and to use playful and experiential activities for an illiterate people to understand Christianity.

I think about the out of control Christmas holiday in the United States. We complain and share the experience of being torn about which family to visit first, how to fit it all in with buying presents as a laborious chore and I wonder. I wonder about giving my family the gift of Christmas separate from gifts. I wonder about keeping Chrismas holy for Chrisians. I wonder about traditions that are so strong there is no choosing or deciding. The entire family must gather together even if travel is a hardship. I wonder about having gifts for kids only on January 6th? I wonder about how to design a holiday rhythm that works to allow the Holy and to enjoy giving and to keep the “delight” for children. “I wonder as I wander.” (from carol by John Jacob Nile)

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