Christmas in Mexico is kept in a very festive, very religious, and mostly Catholic manner. Over 80 percent of Mexico’s population identify as Roman Catholics, and the 92-million strong Catholic community is second only to that of Brazil.
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Mexico has many Christmas traditions, some of them held in common with other lands but many of them rather unique.
A “posada,” named after the Spanish word for “inn,” is a celebration that commemorates the time when Joseph and Mary looked for lodging in Bethlehem but, because there was no room in the inn, ended up staying in a manger instead. Many houses will be decorated during posada, with such things as paper lanterns, evergreen branches, and even moss. Children march in processions in the streets with small clay figurines of Mary and Joseph. They go door to door, singing Christmas songs concerning Mary and Joseph looking for lodging for the night. They are told there is no room at first but are later welcomed inside, where a full-fledged party with food, games, and thank-you prayers takes place.
At posada parties, there is often a time for candy-filled, Christmas-themed piñatas to be bashed open by stick-wielding children. These particular piñatas are traditionally shaped like seven-pointed stars, the seven points representing the “seven deadly sins.” They can also be donkeys or other animals, however.
Christmas plays involving the story of the shepherds seeking out the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem are called “pastorelas.” In Mexico, these particular plays are induced with a heavy dose of humour. The Devil appears to try to keep the shepherds from seeking Jesus, using various temptations, but Michael the Archangel intervenes to save the day.
Scenes depicting Christ’s birth (nativity scenes) are called “nacimientos.” The statues used are frequently life-sized, and entire rooms inside of houses are sometimes taken up with the decorations. Many families use clay statues that are family heirlooms, and there are “extra” figures besides Jesus and his earthly parents. You might see a woman making fresh tortillas, for example, in the manger with Jesus. Jesus is only added on Christmas Eve, and the Three Wise Men are added later still.
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