Tag Archives: Mexican Christmas traditions

Christmas in Mexico–Villancicos

singing to baby jesus.jpg

Villancicos are religious songs now primarily sung and performed during the Christmas season in Mexico. Quite a number of the villancicos played nowadays are just Spanish translated versions of English Christmas carols. However, there are some quite unique songs. Many of these songs came from Spain and were brought to Mexico during the conquest.

One of the songs that I was delighted to hear this past Christmas was  Los peces en el río en el río–literally The Fish in the River. The students at the school I work at did a delightful performance this past Christmas Event. Actually, they performed the song twice since there was no communication between the program coordinator and the music teacher prior to the evening’s performance. That does seem to happen a lot where I work. Anyway, in the song, the Virgin Mary calmly goes about her pre-birth preparations while fish jump in jubilation in the nearby river in anticipation of the event. She brushes out her hair, she washes the diapers and washes herself.

The English translations are my own, so it probably won’t match anything you might search out on Wiki. The translated versions I came across didn’t really make any sense.

Los peces en el río

La Virgen se está peinando
entre cortina y cortina.
Los cabellos son de oro
y el peine de plata fina.

The Virgin is combing her hair
you can see her between the curtains.
Her hair is golden
and the comb the finest silver.

ESTRIBILLO:
Pero mira cómo beben
los peces en el río.
Pero mira cómo beben
por ver a Dios nacido.
Beben y beben
y vuelven a beber.
Los peces en el río
por ver a Dios nacer.

CHORUS:
But look how they drink
the fish in the river.
But look how they drink
to see God born.
They drink, and they drink
and come back to drink some more,
the fish in the river,
to see God born.

La Virgen lava pañales
y los tiende en el romero,
los pajarillos cantando,
y el romero floreciendo.

ESTRIBILLO

The Virgin washes diapers
and hangs them on rosemary branches.
The little birds are singing
and the rosemary is blossoming.

CHORUS

La Virgen se está lavando
con un poco de jabón.
Se le han picado las manos,
manos de mi corazón.

ESTRIBILLO

The Virgin is washing herself
with a little bit of soap.
Her hands are irritated (or sore)
the hands of my love.

CHORUS

Another song that isn’t in your typical English Christmas carol list is Campana sobre Campana (The Bells of Bethlehem). Again, this song was repeated twice during the Christmas event at my school, but hey, who’s counting?

In this song, it talks about the bells of Bethlehem rung by angles when the Christ child was born. Of course, there is no more historical evidence for the heavenly bell ringing than the drinking fish of the previous song, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

Campana sobre Campana

Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana una
asómate a la ventana
verás a un niño en la cuna.


One bell after another
and after another–one (1 o’clock)
Come to the window
to see a child in the crib

(Coro)

Belén
Campanas de Belén
que los ángeles tocan
que nuevas me traéis.


Chorus:

Bethlehem
Bells of Bethlehem
that the angles ring
What news have you brought me?


Recogido tu rebaño
a donde vas pastorcillo?
Voy a llevar la portal
requesón, manteca y vino

(coro)

Among your flock (or with your flock)
where are you going little shepherd?
I’m taking the path (or way)
bringing cheese, lard, and wine.

Chorus

Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana dos
asómate a la ventana
porque esta naciendo Dios

(Coro)

One bell after another
and after bell –two. (2 o-clock)
Come to the window
because God is being born.

Chorus

Caminando a media noche
¿donde caminas pastor?
le llevo al niño que nace
como a Dios mi corazón

(coro)

Walking at midnight,
where are you walking to shepherd?
I bring my love to the child that
was born as God

Chorus

Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana tres
en una cruz a esta hora
del niño va a padecer

(Coro)

One bell after another
and after bell –three. (3 o-clock)
On a cross, at this hour
the child will suffer.

Chorus

I’m happy to report that the art of composing villancicos has not died out. I have been fortunate enough to work with maestro Sergio and have heard his original compositions performed. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

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Christmas in México–Kindergarten event

christmas play

Have I mentioned that I’m not a big fan of school events? Well, I suppose I am when I’m a parent watching comfortably in my seat while my child performs. In that case, I think school events are the bomb. But as a teacher, it’s not quite the same experience.

For the Christmas event at the school that I work at, I was given two assignments, one from the kindergarten and one from the elementary. I figured Christmas carols would be the easiest to teach. So I set about practicing on December 1 for the December 18 event. Three weeks should be good, right?

I teach three groups of kindergarten, or rather it’s more like preschool. I chose Jose Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad as our group song. Here’s how it went.

Pre-K and first grade are the littlest and are 2 or 3 years old. They love everything. They are always excited to see me–often hollering “Teacher” from across the school as I arrive. They get down and boogie with their maracas. They laugh when I get down and boogie with them. Everything was going great.

Then during the second week of rehearsal, R arrived. He is just barely 2 and still in diapers. He is also a crier. Not just a sniffler, mind you, but the open mouth screamer type of crier. He didn’t want to be in my class at all. He cried the entire class, every single day. But it wasn’t me, just the class because when it was time for me to go to my next class, he wanted to come with me and would begin a new set of howls. He seemed to really like music, though. The only time he wasn’t crying was when we were dancing. So I decided that since it’s the time to be jolly, I’d put Christmas carols on while we did our classwork. It worked like a charm! They say music soothes the wild beast and R was perfectly content as long as there was music playing. If there were a pause between songs, he’d run right up to the cd player and push buttons so that the music would start again. When we went into the basketball court to rehearse, he ran back to the room and carried the cd player out to me single handedly. All righty then!

Then there is the next group. Second-grade students are 3-5 years old. There are only 4 students in that class, so I teach them together with the 12 first graders. One student, A refused to enter my class. He claimed that the class was too noisy. Well, when R was hollering, I suppose it was. It didn’t help that his mother is one of the kindergarten teachers. He ran to her and hid behind her skirts. I’m not about to carry a kicking and screaming kid into my class, so I left him alone. His loss, not mine.

Then there is M. He has some sort of language issue. He’s been diagnosed with Asperbergers and Autism and delayed development and a host of other neurological problems. He definitely needs special attention and I’m still learning how to work with him, but I seem to have fewer problems than his regular kindergarten teacher. The joy on his face when he is singing is worth all the effort. He loved his maracas. One day, after we had begun rehearsals, I passed M on the way to another class. He was sitting alone on the step and looking quite dejected. Through mime, he managed to get me to understand that it was about his maracas. Then I asked where his maracas were and he pointed to the office. I asked what the problem was and he put his face in his hands. I went and asked the teacher what was going on. She told me that she had taken his maracas and hidden them in the principal’s office because he wouldn’t let go of them. So I knelt down and told him that the maracas were for English and that tomorrow when I came, he would have his maracas again. There hasn’t been a problem since.

The third-grade group is made up of  5 and 6 years old. They are so self-contained that even if I’m literally doing a song and dance routine in the front of the room, they aren’t paying me the least bit of attention. There is one exception. T is a super singer and dancer. He needs only hear the song and see the routine once, and he’s got it down pat. It was his singing and dancing that got me through the third grade lackluster rehearsals.

Two days before the event, I wanted to have a full rehearsal with all the groups. So after the elementary lunch was over, I lined up all 25 students in the basketball court and had them sit down to put on the music. However, the principal of the elementary school had all the elementary students in the basketball court lined up for a “rehearsal” as well. He knows very well that I am not able to practice with the kindergarten except for that particular hour. He knows because he set up my schedule. Here I had all the kids ready to go, maracas in hand, and we wouldn’t be able to practice. I marched the kids back to their rooms and stormed into the kindergarten principal’s office to demand to know the reason why I couldn’t practice when I had cleared this time slot with her. Apparently there is no communication between the elementary and the kindergarten, and as a result,  the shared space has become a battle zone with each school fighting for control

So the second day, I cleared the practice area again. I had everyone out and lined up, maracas in hand. I gave the principal my memory stick and guess what? The speaker would not read it. Great! Just great! So I went on a mad dash to find a cd player so that we could connect it up and get going. There wasn’t a single cd player to be found, not in any of the nearby classrooms, not the principal’s office (and he always has at least 2), nothing. So I ran over to the farthest room of the elementary school where my classroom is to bring my cd player. I gave it to the principal, but there was still the hunt for the connecting cable and the setup. Meanwhile, the kids who I had left sitting orderly on the floor had joined up a free-for-all demolition derby race. There were broken maracas, crying babies, and angry five-year-olds. Rehearsal didn’t go very well.

I gave my memory stick to the principal to make a copy, because her memory stick worked just fine, and scheduled a rehearsal in the afternoon at 1 pm when I had finished my elementary classes and before the kindergarten went home. I arrived to find that the kids were still gluing the eyes and nose on their Rudolph project. I lent a hand to get it done. Sticky hands and all, we went out to practice. It went marginally better. The routine is pretty basic. The kids sing, and during the Feliz Navidad part, we shake the maracas. When the English part comes on, we put the maracas on the floor and do the twist, ending with open arms “from my heart.” Then we pick up the maracas and repeat.

That rehearsal wasn’t so great. R didn’t seem to get the choreography and shook his maracas through the entire song. The second graders didn’t pay attention and shook when it was time for the twist. The third graders bopped each other on the head with the maracas. Sigh.

The event was scheduled for Friday morning at 9 am. I arrived a little after 8 figuring I could help with the setup. The principal arrived at 8:40 and seemed surprised that none of the teachers had arrived. They trickled in one by one just before 9, which is when the event was scheduled to begin. But, this is Mexico, and everything starts late. We started at 9:30 even though one of the three wise men hadn’t yet arrived. The kids enacted a little pastorela, the reenactment of the birth of Jesus. The missing wise man arrived just in time for his lines. After which they sang two villancicos (Christmas) songs. Then it was my turn.

I had collected the maracas in a box beforehand, and the teachers handed them out while I lined up the kids. I thought it went pretty well. Here’s a clip for you to enjoy–

So afterward, we served the parents corundas (triangle shaped tamales cooked in corn leaves) and ponche (hot fruit beverage). Santa made an appearance. Each child received a gift from Santa. The gifts had been brought ahead of time by the parents and hidden away. The pinata was broken. And as the kids left, they were given an aguinaldo in a foamy slipper from Los Reyes Magos. And that was that!

Stay tuned for the dramatic Elementary School Event–coming soon!

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Christmas in México–La Aguinaldo

dino christmas

It is customary for employers to give their employees an aguinaldo (Christmas bonus) the last working day of the year before the official start of the extended Christmas vacation.  By law, the aguinaldo must be paid by December 20.  The amount varies for each employee as it is based on the total number of days worked during the year and the current salary of the employee.  Typically, however, it ends up being about one quicena which is one paycheck when the employee is paid on the 15th and the last day of the month.

Therefore, about the middle to end of December finds the average Mexican temporarily flush with cash.  Of course, this is known to all and results in some extra fleecing by the police in the form of mordidas (bribes).

Last year, my husband went out the first day of vacation to load us up with water so that we wouldn’t have to worry about running out on our days off.  (See Water Woes)  Only he didn’t come home that night.  Needless to say, my son and I were beside ourselves with worry.  He arrived with the truck around 7 a.m. the following day.

It seems what happened was that in El Ojo del Medio de Agua where he was filling our water storage tanks, there was an alleged robbery of a stereo.  The police arrived and searched the truck, my husband and the vehicle and person of another man who was also there filling up water containers.  Not being content at finding nothing of value either in the pockets of the accused or the vehicles, they took both men into custody.  They were taken and held in Yuriria.  My husband didn’t have any cash on him, nor did he have a phone to call me to bring any, plus he hadn’t stolen anything, so did not make the customary mordida (bribe) offer.  The police tried to force him to pay una fianza (bail) before releasing him, but again, he didn’t have any money.

He walked from Yuriria back to where the truck had been left, about 5 miles as the crow flies and drove back home, without a full water load though.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to us around the Christmas season.  The second year we were here, my husband and his brother-in-law were stopped by the police, who had removed any tags that might identify them, although they did not wear capuchis (masks). (See Safety and Security or lack thereof) Even after my husband showed them our permit from the Aduana (customs), his driver’s license, and our marriage certificate, the officers threatened to impound the vehicle.  Between the two of them, they had about $2000 pesos on hand, and that was accepted graciously by said law enforcement with a Merry Christmas to you too.

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Christmas in México–Las Posadas

posada

Las Posadas is a 9-day series of community or family gatherings that begin December 16 and end December 24 reenacting the pilgrimage of José y María (Joseph and Mary) from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  According to some sources, this tradition began in 1587 when the priest Diego Soria instituted a series of masses to replace the celebrations that occurred during this same time period to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli.  During this Aztec festival, a slave was selected to represent Quetzalcóatl and sacrificed at the conclusion of the 9 days of festivities, and the temples held ceremonies reenacting the arrival of Quetzalcóatl.

As it is currently observed, family groups or communities take turns hosting the event.  The host family plays the role of the innkeeper, and the visitors are assigned the role of peregrinos (pilgrims) in search of lodging.  The peregrinos (pilgrims) pedir posada (ask for accommodation) in song-form from the host family, standing outside a closed door with lit candles.  The song is funny, irreverent and a bit complicated to sing.  Most participants use cheat sheets provided by the host.  The complete song in Spanish and English can be found HERE.

Once the host “recognizes” Mary and Joseph, the peregrinos (pilgrims) are allowed to enter.  Refreshment is provided by the host, usually in the form of pozole (hominy stew) or another traditional dish and ponche (fruit punch) or canela (hot cinnamon tea).  This is followed by reza (prayers, usually the rosary is recited) and la piñata.  Host families also provide aguinaldos (a bag of treats and fruit) for the departing participants to take with them.

Or so this custom is celebrated in Moroleón.  Once upon a time, before I knew better, I agreed to accompany my mother-in-law to Las Posadas.  Little did I realize that we would be in for a night of posada-crashing.  We drove around until we saw a group of people huddled outside a home and follow them in.  As the whole point of the event is to express hospitality, the host could not ask us to leave although I noticed several dirty looks sent our way.  I, for one, felt extremely uncomfortable eating a stranger’s food and accepting the aguinaldo (treat bag), so much so that I tried to return it, but that wasn’t allowed either.  It’s the season for giving after all and I just further offended that host.  My mother-in-law had no such qualms and ate to her heart’s content, even asking for a second aguinaldo.  After that night, I refused to attend any more posadas that Christmas season, even though there were 8 days left.

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