If you like Christmas, you should really consider celebrating in Mexico. The holiday lasts nearly two weeks, starting with nine nights of posadas (more on that below), followed by Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Here in Chacala, the holiday is festive and fun, but not overdone. There are no large displays of Christmas lights, blow-up Santas, or nativity scenes like you typically see in neighborhoods across the U.S. Rather, a Chacala home might have one string of lights, or a small tree in the family room, or a wreath on the front door, and not much else. Although the town may be light on decorations (which, personally, I don’t miss), it is rich in celebrations.
Posadas are evening processions of people to various locations around town. They are symbolic pilgrimages to find shelter – representing the one that Mary and Joseph made on the eve of Jesus’s birth. In Chacala, a posada would start by the ringing of the church bell. Kids and parents would then gather at the church, and then proceed to the posada location for that evening, all the way singing songs like Burrito Sabanero and Rudolfo el Reno. Once at the location, usually someone’s home, a special song would be sung by the procession asking for shelter from the host. The song would go back and forth, with the “pilgrims” singing a verse, and hosts singing a verse, until the end when the hosts welcomed the pilgrims in.
Once inside, there would usually be a candy-filled piñata or two for the kids to break, and other treats like cake, fruit juice, or a small meal. This goes on for nine nights. Then comes actual Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Lucky for us, the first posada was hosted by our neighbor right outside our front door! From Maya’s perspective, Mexican Christmas is like Halloween, Christmas and Hanukkah combined, otherwise known as the BEST HOLIDAY EVER. Seriously, we had more candy in our home after the end of posada season than after any Halloween we’ve celebrated thus far. And we didn’t even attend all the posadas. By the time Christmas Day rolled around, Maya had memorized the special song that is sung when kids whack the piñata, and was singing it almost nonstop for days.
Maya’s school, El Jardín, hosted a special posada for the community where the kids and teachers performed adorable renditions of the 12 Nights of Christmas and Silent Night, and put on a shadow puppet play about caring for nature. There was tamales, ensalada and ponche to eat and drink, artwork to buy that the kids had made, and even a bonfire. The teachers helped the kids throw sage branches into the fire to symbolize shedding the things that do not serve them. Later, Brian and I used the bonfire to teach the kids how to make s’mores, which quickly devolved into kids torching their marshmallows for fun and waving sticks of gooey fire around. 🙂
The whole evening was beautiful and magical and absolutely NOTHING like what you might see at a typical preschool Christmas party in the USA. (Can you imagine a bonfire at a preschool in our litigious society?) And, of course, Santa Claus showed up at the end of the evening to give the kids goodies and hear what they wanted for Christmas.
The final posada took place the evening before Christmas Eve. In Chacala, it was celebrated not with a procession and treat feast, but with a sweet and simple gathering at the local church to sing holiday songs. What made it extra special for us was to share it with Brian’s sister (Nadine), her husband (Jeff) her son (Chris) and his fiancé (Samantha), who had all flown in to visit us that very same day from Vermont and North Carolina. We literally picked them up from the airport in Puerto Vallarta, drove back to Chacala, dumped their luggage at their casitas, and then took them to the church to participate in their first Mexican cultural experience. They had a ball. It was the perfect way to kick off a great vacation together – one that my brother-in-law proclaimed numerous times throughout his stay was his BEST VACATION EVER! 🙂
We celebrated Christmas Eve by preparing an amazing dinner of fresh grilled fish and my nephew Chris’ famous General Tso’s chicken. We also made “Christmas margaritas” – margaritas colored red with a splash of jamaica (hibiscus) tea and a wedge of bright green lime. Having Brian’s family in town made our holiday celebration extra special.
Next update: A sneak peak at Maya’s new school – El Jardín!