The month of December in Mexico is characterized by traditions, color, spectacle, music, and merry-making. Local markets in towns and villages bustle with activity, and in urban areas it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing Christmas trees, singing Santa dolls, and other Christmas-festivity activities taking place.
In villages, towns, and cities across the country, local people prepare for and celebrate a range of Christmas and New Year festivities, with particular emphasis on Posadas—processions that re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn, and which end with a party, featuring music, dance, costume and, quite often, fireworks.
Christmas is one of Mexico’s most important annual events. It’s a time when families travel – sometimes long distances – to be in each other’s company and, in addition to the large influx of foreign tourists who flock here for a Christmas vacation away from home, millions of Mexicans travel, too. Many Capitalinos use Christmas to take a vacation away from the capital, and many Mexicans travel abroad between Christmas and the New Year to visit relatives.
Supermarkets and shopping centers in big towns and cities become cram-packed with festive shoppers; roads in and around larger urban centers tend to reach grid-lock by Christmas Eve. (If you live in an urban area, it’s best to get your Christmas shopping done early and spend the days leading up to Christmas Eve well-away from the shops.)
Town squares across the country become drenched in color as they are adorned with lights and festive decorations; Christmas fairs and markets pop-up in plazas, along streets, and even in local neighborhoods. Brightly decorated Piñatas appear in earnest—an essential item at any Mexican Christmas party, and traditional posada.
The week between Christmas and New Year is one of the quietest in Mexico City. The capital’s now-infamous traffic congestion dissolves, the air becomes cleaner, and the city feels almost nostalgic for those who remember what it felt like to be there thirty years ago. It’s the perfect time to visit if you prefer a quieter, more serene, capital city to wander about in.
Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day in Mexico. Stores close early on the 24th as everyone leaves their work behind to rest with their families and to take Christmas supper: roast turkey is now a popular dish, although bacalao, (codfish) cooked with a mixture of spices and olives, remains a traditional and tasty Christmas Eve supper meal enjoyed by many. Christmas Eve festivities tend to linger on into the early hours, making Christmas Day one of rest and recovery.
Traditionally, Mexicans wait to exchange their gifts on January 6th — Día de Reyes although modern influences have changed routines and today, gifts are more often exchanged on Christmas Eve with children receiving additional gifts on Kings’ Day, when the traditional Rosca de Reyes is also sliced and eaten.
Families tend to pass New Year’s Eve at their homes in Mexico, although you’ll find New Year’s celebrations taking place at central plazas in larger towns and cities as well as all the popular vacation resorts. The celebrations at Mexico City’s famous Zocalo tend to be the prime focal point for TV programs which beam a live count down to midnight across the country, and local churches and plazas become gathering places for people in provincial towns and cities; most churches ring their bells at the stroke of midnight, and you can also expect to hear a torrent of fireworks welcoming-in the New Year. People passing the event at home often follow the tradition of eating twelve grapes, one for each toll of the midnight bells, in hope of good fortunes throughout the New Year.
If you plan to take a Christmas vacation in Mexico at any of the country’s principal beach locations or favored colonial cities, it’s advisable to book ahead: the best hotels and resorts at popular destinations sell-out as demand swells, driven by the influx of foreign visitors as well as Mexican families taking time away for the holidays.
When you’re traveling in Mexico during the Christmas holiday period, allow plenty of extra time to get to and from airports and bus stations, especially between December 17th and December 24th, and again between December 29th and January 6th.
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