One of the things I miss the most during the holidays is being in my home country surrounded by family. In Mexico, we celebrate the Christmas season for almost one month starting on December 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, until January 6 with the arrival of The Three Kings. We call this joyous time the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon and each year, I try to recreate these Mexican traditions at home with my family in New York.
In Mexico, we start gearing up for Christmas with the observance Las Posadas, a nine-day period during which we visit the homes of loved ones to eat, drink, dance, or play the piñata to depict the Virgin Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem to seek shelter before the birth to Jesus.
In addition to decorating the Christmas tree with my three children ages 14, 12, and 2, we set out our nativity scene, or nacimiento, place Baby Jesus in his little crib, rock him and sing villancicos (a Spanish version of a Christmas carol), and the children kiss his forehead in exchange for candy from their parents.
Of course, food is an important part of our Christmas celebration. Although I am not a great cook, I prepare ponche, a hot punch made with tejocotes (a small yellow fruit), tamarind, guavas, apples, prunes, and piloncillo (raw sugar cane). It’s a traditional drink that my kids love, and my friends, too, especially with a piquete of rum, tequila, mezcal, or whiskey. On Christmas Day, the menu features dishes I loved as a child, like the Christmas Salad with apple slices, romeritos con mole (boiled seaweed in mole sauce), the bacalao (codfish) and delicious tamales. They are all dishes that combine perfectly with a traditional turkey dinner, which my kids look forward to every year.
On January 5, the night before the arrival of the Reyes Magos, otherwise known as the Three Wise Men, we prepare food and water for the camel, elephant, and horse that the kings rode on, along with wine which we offer to the majesties. The next morning, the children wake up to the majority of their gifts and we all enjoy Rosca de Reyes (a sweet bread) with coffee or hot cocoa. My kids especially love this tradition because hidden inside the cakes is a tiny baby doll which represents Baby Jesus. Whoever finds it provides the tamales for the Día de la Candelaria, a separate observance in February when people dress up Baby Jesus figurines and take them to church where they are blessed.
Mexico has so many wonderful Christmas traditions that make it a special time for everyone. And I love the enthusiasm with which my kids celebrate the holidays, especially since Christmas is a bit different here in the United States. They embrace this aspect of their Mexican culture and heritage, proud that their mother raised them with these fun traditions. As for me, what I enjoy the most is making warm new memories with my children during this festive time in which the most important thing is to spend time with those you love, feast merrily, and express thanks for all our blessings. No matter where you’re from or what traditions you observe, that is the universal magic of the holiday season.