Tag Archives: Nochebuena

Christmas in México–Christmas Eve

pinata December 24th is the final night of Las Posadas.  (See Celebrating Christmas—Las Posadas)  Therefore, the singing, prayers, and piñata are all part of the evening’s activities.  Unlike the other 8 days, there is a Misa de Gallo (midnight mass) afterward.  Traditionally, this is also when the image of the baby Jésus is placed in the manger of the nativity scene. But basically, this night is dedicated to the Christmas Eve feast.  Some homes serve traditional foods such as pozole or tamales, but other families have become more Americanized and serve ham or turkey.

However, my husband’s family is del rancho (from the country) and therefore, we did things just a bit differently. When my mother-in-law was alive, it was customary for all the in-México family to gather together in order to enjoy the largesse of the out-of-México family.  This generosity was usually in the form of some money wired and the subsequent purchase of some meat and tequila.  We would meet up after mass at the house up the hill in La Yacata, for the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bucket) affair. The buckets were arranged around a bonfire big enough to scorch the bejeezus out of both the meat and party-goers, but it was unheard of to have this gathering indoors.  My mother-in-law would serve the meat, and I as was one her least favorite, I had to be content with a mere sliver of bistek (beef) and a few greasy tortillas. Meanwhile, the menfolk, and some of the womenfolk gallivanted around with their tequila and poked at the bonfire every so often.

When my son was smaller, I used his bedtime to retire after my measly meal.  I didn’t see any reason to stay up and outside ‘til the wee hours of the morning in the cold.  My absence, other than a snide remark or two about my delicacy as I left, was hardly noted. Since the death of my mother-in-law, any warped togetherness my husband’s family ever had disappeared and we no longer congregate around the bonfire perched on paint buckets.  The past two years we have made feeble attempts to institute another sort of family gathering for Christmas Eve, but it’s too soon to say if a new family tradition has been adopted.

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Christmas in México—Poinsettias

poinsetta

Poinsettia gone wild!

Everyone knows that the poinsettia was adopted in the United States as a Christmas decoration when Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.  So since this weed was so highly esteemed by the neighbors to the north, the Mexican too adopted this plant as a holy Christian symbol. 

However, it was valued prior to Christianity reached the shores of México.  The Poinsettia, or Cuitlaxochitl as it was known in Nahuatl, was used by the pre-Hispanic indigenous people to make clothing dyes.  It was also thought to host the souls of fallen warriors.

Then, during the 17th Century, a group of Franciscan priests settled near Taxco and began to use the poinsettia as decoration in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre and most likely, in their Christmas celebrations.

A relatively modern story evolved to provide rational for its Christmas use.  There are several versions of this story about, and here is one more.

Once upon a time, a young boy was going to see the image of the Christ child at the altar in the local iglesia (church) on Christmas Eve.  He felt bad that he wasn’t able to bring any gifts to lay at its feet.  As he was walking, he saw a green leafy plant by the side of the road.   Having nothing else to bring, he picked the plant and went inside the church.  When he lay the plant by the image of the baby Jésus, it miraculously changed color.  It’s leaves turned bright red.   He knew his gift from the heart had been well received in heaven. From this day forth, this plant has been called La Flor de la Nochebuena.

Other versions follow the same story line, but the gift is given by a little girl. (The Legend of the Poinsettia)

Some versions of this story have the boy actually giving the plant to the baby Jésus like the Little Drummer Boy rather than visiting a local altar, but that just seems too hokey.  This plant is not native to Bethlehem and how a little Mexican indigenous boy found his way to Israel is beyond explanation, so the stories don’t even try.

However it came about, the NocheBuena is now a firmly entrenched emblem of Christmas in México.
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