It’s A Mexican Holiday Marathon

And you thought getting ready for Christmas was tough
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

December is a month in which we Mexicans party, a lot. Much more than any other month. We call this season the Guadalupe Reyes Marathon because it starts on December 12th, the Guadalupe Day, and ends on January 6th, what we call Dia de Reyes (Kings Day). And if you manage to survive all of the parties and drinking, then you can say that you were able to complete the marathon.

The Guadalupe Day, December 12, is one of the main holidays in Mexico, probably more important for Mexicans than any other holiday. It celebrates a sighting of the Virgin Mary that occurred in 1531.

gpereyes.JPGOn Guadalupe Day, there are huge pilgrimages to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City, which is the greatest religious center in Mexico. Annually, about 20 million pilgrims visit the shrine, nine million of which are in the days leading up to December 12.

After Guadalupe Day comes a mini marathon of Christmas celebrations. Starting nine days before Christmas are the posadas, parties that take place every night leading up to December 24th. Then we have our big Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and the “recalentado” (reheating of the food) on December 25th. After Christmas we have New Year’s Eve, like every other country of the world, and a few days after that is Three Kings Day on January 6th. Whew!

All of these parties have a different meaning, mostly religious. For example, there are nine posadas, which represent the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Sometimes, especially in the Mexican barrios and in almost all schools, these posadas include a pastorela, which is a nativity play. Everybody decorates their houses with a nativity scene and there is a posada in a different house every night. Every neighbor brings a different dish to share, like tamales, buñuelos (fritters), salads, tostadas, etc. But what can't be left out of a posada is a piñata and the ponche.

You might be surprised to learn that the piñata has a special meaning too. It is decorated with seven cones, representing the seven deadly sins. The kids have to be blindfolded, representing that faith is blind, and they have to break the piñata with a stick, which represents the power of faith.

During the party, people are drinking ponche, a hot drink made with fruit, sugar, water, and sometimes red wine. The kids drink the ponche as is, while some adults add a “piquete,” (a shot of tequila) to it. Nothing else will keep you warmer that that!

After New Year’s Eve, the parties aren’t over yet. A new year is just beginning, and in Mexico we have a holiday or a good excuse to celebrate something almost every month.
In January, we celebrate the arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem. Mexican children look forward to Dia de Reyes on January 6th because the tradition is that the kings bring the children toys and sweets. That is why you see a lot of kids riding their brand new bike or roller skates or skateboards on that day.

A traditional food served on Kings Day is “Rosca de Reyes,” a kind of fruit cake (you might know it as a Kings Cake). Each January 6th, Mexican families gather to enjoy this sweet bread with a good cup of chocolate. A baby Jesus figure is baked inside the cake, and whoever gets the baby in their piece is responsible for buying tamales for everybody, and for placing the figure in the nativity scene, which will not be removed from the house until February 2. That’s Candlemas and we celebrate it with yet another party.