The Best Christmas Traditions in Mexico
Mexican holiday traditions around Christmastime are an essential part of Mexican culture.
If you’re planning a holiday trip to Mexico, this post is perfect for you!
Learn about the traditions celebrated across Mexico and dive into some of the traditions that set Mexican states apart. Discover essential Mexican holiday and Christmas traditions in Mexico including foods, beverages, and activities.
¡Aprendamos de las tradiciones navideñas mexicanas!
Let’s learn about Christmas traditions in Mexico!
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Top 10 Mexican Christmas Traditions
Traditions in Mexico are colorful, full of symbolism, musical, half religious and half cultural, half Spanish and half indigenous. This mestizaje (racial mix) has led to a duality inherent to Mexicans, who tend to hold strong beliefs in both mysticism and Catholicism.
Before delving into Christmas traditions in Mexico, here’s a timeline of the main December holidays:
|December 16||Start of las posadas|
|December 24||Nochebuena – Christmas Eve|
|December 25||Navidad – Christmas|
|December 28||Día de los Inocentes – Fool’s Day|
|December 31||Año Nuevo – New Year’s Eve|
|January 1||Año Nuevo – New Year’s Day|
|January 6||Día de Reyes – Three Wise Men Day|
|February 2||Día de la Candelaria – Candlemas Day|
1. Nativity Scenes – Nacimientos
Nacimientos (nativity scenes) are the ceramic, clay, or plastic figures that form the scene of Jesus’ birth. They all have Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Some are more elaborate, with angels, wise men, animals, houses, trees, and more.
Tradition dictates adding baby Jesus to the scene in the wee hours of Christmas morning on December 25.
2. Mass – Misa
It’s customary in Mexico to go to mass on Nochebuena or Christmas Eve. They are available from morning to midnight and many people attend.
3. Christmas Food – Comida de Navidad
Bacalao (cod) is one of the most traditional Christmas dishes in Mexico. It is prepared with tomato, olive oil, garlic, onion, white wine, potatoes, red pepper, and olives.
Of course, every family has its own recipe. Since I’m not allowed to share my grandmother’s—it is, after all, a family treasure—here is an alternative: bacalao recipe.
A fun fact about this dish is that it became one of our traditions in Mexico because December used to be bacalao season. Today, you can find it year-round.
I love romeritos—rosemary in a mole with nopals. Some people make tortitas de camarón (shrimp cakes). Other classic dishes are turkey, Waldorf salad, and tamales.
4. Drinks – Bebidas
Ponche de frutas (fruit punch) and chocolate caliente (hot cocoa) are the kings of Christmas beverages in Mexico. Hot cocoa doesn’t taste like Christmas unless you use the Abuelita brand and we love to have it along with churros.
5. Carols – Villancicos
In Mexico, people play and sing carols while decorating the Christmas tree, having dinner, and opening gifts, among other moments.
Every year, the government of Mexico City organizes a long Christmas concert where you can listen to carols in many genres.
Posadas are neighborhood celebrations Mexicans attend from December 16-23. Breaking 7-peaked piñatas filled with fruits, singing the posada song, and drinking ponche are the main features of this Mexican holiday tradition.
Half of the people are outside the house, and the other half stays in with the light out. The ones outside start singing the posada song and asking for a place to stay.
Be sure to get familiar with the song before going to a posada. The posadas start 9 days before Christmas symbolizing the 9 months that Mary waited until Jesus was born.
7. Navidad is the Day Before
In many countries, including the U.S., the big day of celebration is December 25. In Mexico, the real celebration is the day before, on December 24.
Mexican families have dinner, open gifts, and tell stories and jokes. Some even dance until the sun comes up.
The day before Christmas is called nochebuena in Mexico. There is a red flower with the same name, so we have the tradition of buying them and using them as decoration inside our houses, on the street, backyard, front porch, anywhere visible.
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Pastorelas are brief plays where a hermit, his wife, and a small group of shepherds get stopped by three devils while they are on their way to see baby Jesus, the newborn king. Angels help them as they continuously fight with the devils.
In Tepotzotlán, the State of Mexico pastorelas also involve mariachi music and fireworks. If you are into spectacular shows, choose this one.
9. Family Time – Tiempo en familia
Family is the center of Mexican holiday traditions and celebrations. It’s all about being together, having meals together, and breaking piñatas together. People fly in from other cities and countries to spend the most time they can with their families.
In Mexico, it’s normal to have many Christmas dinners throughout December, some with family, others with friends, and yet others with colleagues. But the one you can’t miss out on is the one with family on December 24. That’s why you rarely find events on this date.
Traditionally, you spend this day with your close family only. On New Year’s, you’re free to do whatever you want.
10. Leftovers – Recalentado
The second most valued event in December is the 25th, where families get together again—this time in their pajamas—to reheat the food from the day before. Recalentado means reheat.
Christmas Traditions in 9 Mexican States
Christmas in Mexico City
There is one tradition that has been around for decades: getting a picture with the robotic Santa Claus at the Sears in the La Condesa neighborhood.
On the other hand, in the Iztapalapa neighborhood, there is a reenactment of the passion of Christ or Vía Crucis. When I say reenactment, I don’t mean dramatization but the real thing. It is a very raw thing to see. They actually crucify an actor who trains for years to portray the character of Jesus. It is crowded so be sure to have your wallet and cell phone in a safe pocket or purse.
Christmas in Nuevo León
Nuevo León is a state that is famous for its meat. They call their gatherings asados (grills) because they are always grilling something. Beware, if you are a vegan, you will not enjoy your time there. Carne asada (grilled meat) is a traditional dish in northern Mexican states and cities.
Christmas in Puebla and Michoacán
Many beautiful artisanal Christmas tree ornaments come from Chignahuapan, Puebla, and Tlalpujahua, Michoacán.
Christmas in Querétaro
In many cities and towns of Querétaro, people dress up and play the main characters of the Bible. In these living nativity scenes, everything is alive, including the animals.
Christmas in Michoacán
In Michoacán. traditions are half Spanish and half Purépechas, the indigenous community of the state. The purépecha Takari Party includes a dance people do through the main streets of the city while picking up hay for the nacimiento.
Christmas in Oaxaca
On December 23, Oaxacans create artistic sculpted pieces made of radishes! On the day before Christmas Eve, locals used to take everything to the plaza to sell for the Christmas menu. They made elaborate figures with vegetables to draw the buyers’ attention to their stalls.
This is an entire nacimiento made of radishes.
Christmas in Yucatán and Veracruz
Children prepare hand altars and go around their neighborhoods looking for money or candy that grown-ups give them depending on how pretty or elaborate their pieces are. Sometimes they dress up and prepare funny sketches or sing carols.
Christmas Across Mexico
The villas navideñas or Christmas villas are those cities or towns that make an extra effort with decorations, lights, food, and experiences that embody the Christmas spirit. In Mexico, the most important and touristic ones include:
- Atlixco in the state of Puebla
- Zacatecas in the state of Zacatecas
- Xico in the state of Veracruz
- Ciudad Obregón in the state of Sonora
- Monterrey in the state of Nuevo León
- Cuautla in the state of Morelos
- Querétaro in the state of Querétaro
- Dolores Hidalgo in the state of Guanajuato
- Val’Quirico in the state of Tlaxcala
Learn Spanish Before Going to Mexico
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