Celebrating Las Posadas and Christmas in Mexico and Latin America
Throughout Mexico and Latin America the Christmas season is celebrated from December 12 to January 6. Much like in the United States, the holidays are filled with gatherings of friends and family, gift exchanges and traditional holiday foods.
- December 12: On Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, or Our Lady of Guadalupe Day, thousands of people make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to visit and pray to an icon of the Virgin Mary. After church, Mexicans celebrate with fireworks and live music and feast on buñuelos, flaky pastries topped with honey or sugar.
- December 16 to 24: Las Posadas celebrates the story of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph searching for a place for Jesus to be born. While posadas are celebrated differently in many Latin American countries, in Mexico every posada is kicked off with a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search, followed by a gathering where guests enjoy drinks, food, sweets and music. They also break open piñatas, which are traditionally filled with fruits, cookies and peanuts (but at some modern posadas they’re filled with candy). At the end of a posada, the host hands out party favors of small bags filled with candy.
- December 25: Christmas, or Fiestas Navideñas, is a much calmer day in Mexico, with the last posada of the season having been held the night before on Christmas Eve. A midnight feast is typically served on Christmas Eve night, so leftovers are offered on Christmas Day. These foods may include a cod dish called bacalao, turkey or ham, and, most importantly, tamales.
- January 6: On Dia de Reyes, or Three Kings Day, children receive gifts that symbolize those brought by the Three Wise Men. A traditional wreath-shaped sweet bread called Rosca de Reyes (Kings’ Bread) is served. Each bread wreath has a hidden baby Jesus figurine baked into it. Whoever finds the figurine must host a party on February 2, which is a day called Dia de la Candelaria, or Candlemas.
Mexican Christmas Traditions
Many Christmas traditions celebrated in the United States are also popular in Mexico and Latin America. For example, Christmas trees and poinsettias are standard decor. But, there are a few traditions that are particular to Mexico and some Latin American countries:
- Nacimientos: To celebrate the Christmas and Las Posadas season, many families create nativity scenes in their homes, adding different characters to the scene as days go by. Large-scale, elaborate displays are also made in town centers.
- Villancicos: In addition to singing Spanish translations of English-language carols, Mexico has its own Christmas carols, including “Los Peces en el Rio,” or “The Fishes in the River.”
- Fireworks: From Las Posadas to Christmas Eve celebrations to Three Kings Day, fireworks and firecrackers are a popular part of the festivities, providing an energized holiday spirit.
- La Tamalada: A tamalada is a tamale-making party that brings family and friends together for the labor-intensive practice of cooking, assembling and eating tamales. At a tamalada, assembly lines are formed within families with one person (or team) cooking the meats, another prepping the masa, and yet another soaking the corn husks and assembling the tamales before steaming them. It’s a tradition that brings generations together and is enjoyed by all (especially because everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of their labor).
A Taste of the Holidays
In addition to tamales, these traditional foods are eaten during Las Posadas:
- Churros are long dough sticks that are fried and covered in cinnamon and sugar. They’re eaten dipped in molten chocolate.
- Pozole is another traditional holiday dish. It’s a Mexican stew featuring hominy with chicken or pork, and spices.
- Ensalada de Nochebuena is a salad served at Christmas Eve dinner. This colorful salad is sweet and savory, and often includes beets, pineapple, oranges and pomegranate seeds, with other additions depending on the chef.
Ready to celebrate? Explore more traditional Mexican holiday foods with our easy recipes below or visit our Tamalada shop.