December’s holidays
From December 16 to 25

Por Jessica Chilián
Fotografía por Digital Newspaper Cuenca News.es

Tiempo de Lectura: 6 minutos

 

The December or winter holidays are one of the most popular festivals in Mexico. These festivals take on a special connotation due to their variety of liturgical acts and the richness that traditions have given them. Seven are the most outstanding festivals that take place between December and the beginning of February in Mexico: the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12), the posadas (from December 16 to 24), Christmas Eve (December 24), Christmas (December 25), the New Year (night of December 31 and January 1), Three Kings Day (January 5, and January 6 with the departure of the thread) and Candlemas day (February 2)

There are four festivals whose origin is linked to the emergence of Christianity that celebrates and commemorates the Advent: Las Posadas; the moment when Mary and Joseph request lodging on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem; Christmas, nativity or birth of the baby Jesus; Three Kings Day, the day the three wise men from the East came to worship the child Jesus; Candlemas Day, the quarantine of the Virgin Mary ends, this day the presentation of the child God is made in the Temple. The two parties that are not related to biblical passages are: December 12, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the New Year’s party.

The friars of different orders took advantage of the coincidence of festivities of the indigenous ritual calendar with the Catholic liturgical calendar to support their evangelizing and missionary work. The pre-Hispanic divinities were replaced by the Christian ones, resulting in a cultural syncretism, from which distinctly Mexican expressions have emerged. A sample of this is precisely the winter festivities. We must not forget that thousands of Mexicans, especially indigenous peoples, celebrate these holidays in a particular and proper way.

Various customs and traditions characterize the festivities in Mexico and clearly reflect the religious significance of the event.

The Posadas

The official start of the pre-Christmas season is December 16. On this date the first Posada is celebrated, a representation of Mary and Joseph search for accommodation. Two people disguised as Mary and Joseph go door to door to ask for admission accompanied by a group of people holding candles and singing traditional Christmas carols; Prior to the procession, a destination is defined where Mary and Joseph (including the rest of the procession) will finally be admitted. There the Posada leads to a Mexican Fiesta with dance, music, food and typical Christmas drinks such as fritters, tamales, punch and hot chocolate. From December 16 to December 24, Posadas are held daily in Mexican cities, towns, and families, each time ending in a different house.

The Piñatas

Piñatas are not only used on children’s birthdays in Mexico but also at Christmas. They are often part of the Posadas or the Christmas Eve party. The cardboard figures wrapped in crepe paper are traditionally filled with fruit; however, as the tradition has progressed, other elements have been incorporated into the piñata, such as sweets and toys. The classic shape of the Christmas piñata is that of a 7-pointed star representing the star that guided the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem; the children try to open the piñata by hitting it with a wooden stick, to make it more difficult the children usually have their eyes blindfolded; when the piñata is opened and its content falls to the floor, the principle of “the strongest wins” applies; all the children try to collect as many candies and gifts as possible.

The Nacimientos

In Mexico, Nativity scenes are called the portals of Bethlehem and are much more important than the Christmas tree. This has only become part of the Mexican Christmas tradition as a result of European influences. The opening date to put the births is also December 16. The most important figures that should not be missing in any Nativity are Mary and Joseph, some stable animals and shepherds, as well as the angels that guard the manger. The Child Jesus is added on December 24 to symbolize his birth. The Three Wise Men, who are also a mandatory part of the Nativity scenes, join the assembly on January 5. To make the work of putting the Nativity worthwhile, the cribs usually stay until February 2.

Pastorelas

These are plays that represent the trip of the shepherds to Bethlehem, very typical of the Christmas season in Mexico. The general plot is that the shepherds must overcome the obstacles that the devil puts in their way. In the end they do it with the help of angels. In this way, shepherds can give their gifts to the newborn Jesus.

December 24
Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is celebrated on the night of December 24, it is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, and customs vary between countries, but the family gathering to have dinner and exchange gifts is quite common. Christmas Eve includes the cozy Christmas tree gathering and the family Christmas dinner that is usually held relatively late at night; turkey is considered a typical dish of Christmas dinner, although many families have their own traditions regarding the festive dinner.

Tradition dictates, in the majority that the baby Jesus is lulled at midnight and prayed. It is a practice that has its origin in the European continent. The adoption of the celebration in Mexican territory is a consequence of the process of Spanish colonization in America.

It should be mentioned that the Mexica had a celebration called Panketzaliztli, they were the celebrations that were dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, God of the Sun and War, and also commemorated the confrontation he has with his sister Coyolxauhqui, Goddess of the Moon , according to information from the magazine Arqueologia Mexicana.

One of the references that exists about a celebration associated with Christmas dates from 1519, the year in which Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico and among the entourage that traveled with him was the priest Bartolome de Olmedo (he was the person who began with the process of evangelization) and it is indicated that there may have been an approach to the celebration of Christmas in the military camps.

By 1523, Fray Pedro de Gante and 12 Franciscans arrived on the continent and continued with the evangelization process. And the first Christmas celebration happened in 1528 and the witness of said event is a letter that Fray Pedro de Gantes sent to Felipe II where he describes the celebration that they carried out and those that took place in the Chapel of the College of San Jose de los Naturales (chapel that is inside the Convent of San Francisco). In the story it is specified that so many people came that they did not fit in the place and the assistants sang to the angels that night. In order for the natives to accept the religion, the friars found similar points between both beliefs and thus they could adopt the Catholic religion. Among the adaptations that were made was that Pedro learned Nahuatl and learned about the local culture, adapted the letters to Christianity.

Representations of the birth of Christ began to be made, which later became shepherds, to transmit the moral teachings the piñatas and posadas were implemented. It was the way in which traditions merge and the result of it is what the population now replicates during the last weeks of each year.

December 25th
Christmas, Birth of Jesus

Christmas (Latin: nativitas, “birth”) is one of the most important holidays in Christianity, along with Easter and Pentecost. This solemnity, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, is celebrated on December 25 in the Catholic Church, in the Anglican Church, in some Protestant communities and in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Instead, it is celebrated on January 7 in other Orthodox churches, which did not accept the reform made to the Julian calendar to pass to the calendar known as Gregorian, a name derived from its reformer, Pope Gregory XIII.

English speakers use the term Christmas, which means “mass of Christ”. In some Germanic languages, such as German, the festival is called “Weihnachten”, which means “night of blessing”. The Christmas holidays are proposed, as the name suggests, to celebrate the Nativity (that is, the birth) of Jesus of Nazareth.

In Mexico, at Christmas you will find families reunited for the famous “reheated”, which is nothing more than eating the same dishes that were prepared for Christmas Eve the next day, but which for some reason taste much better. Among the most typical dishes for this season are turkey, cod, romeritos, apple salad, Christmas loin or leg, Christmas ham, among others.

In reality, there is no certainty on what day Jesus was born. The Gospels do not indicate the precise date, there are even contradicting data. The Catholic Encyclopedia points out: “The Gospels do not provide any help about the date of Christ’s birth; many conflicting facts are based on your information. It seems impossible that the census was carried out in winter, since an entire population could not have set out. Furthermore, it must have been in winter, since work in the fields was only suspended during this time; but Rome was not so considerate. In addition, authorities differ as to whether shepherds could or should leave their flocks out in the open during the nights of the rainy season.”

During the Middle Ages the temples celebrated Christmas on different dates. And it is likely that the Popes chose December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus with the intention of displacing the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. During the reign of Constantine the Great, the church proposed that the birth of the Savior be celebrated on December 25, which coincided with the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus.

 

Fuentes:
National Institute of Anthropology and History
Catholic Encyclopedia
Arqueologia Mexicana Magazine
Gaceta del Pensamiento