These are some of the greetings and goodbyes you may hear during the holiday season in Mexico City, the most populous Spanish-speaking city in the world. As you may already know, the population of Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic (87.9% in the 2000 census). For those of you who celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day, you may find it interesting to learn that December 25th is not the biggest day of the holiday season for many families in Mexico. A traditional Mexican Christmas celebration really gets rolling on December 16th, with the first of 9 Posadas. “Posada” means shelter, and Mexicans will visit each other’s homes seeking “posada” in the tradition of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem.
Posadas are organized by the community, usually with someone dressed up as Mary on a burro, accompanied by a Joseph, and followed through the streets by candle carrying neighbors, singing traditional songs. When they are received at a neighbor’s home, the fiesta starts off with some Christmas punch, tamales, bunuelos (sweet fritters), and a pinata is broken at the end of the night for the children. The 9th Posada is held on Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve. This is when the family unites, sharing food and drink, and attending a midnight mass. Some children will wake up to gifts from Santa Claus the next day, however, many families choose to focus more on Dia de los Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day (Epiphany), January 6th, in honor of the three wise men who brought gifts to baby Jesus.
neighborhood Posada (photo from Internet)
Instead of waiting in line at the mall to sit on Santa’s lap, children in Mexico City gather in Alameda Central Park to bring their wish lists to adults dressed as the magi. In other cities, they may gather in the main square and set their letters free into the air on multi-colored helium balloons. On the morning of January 6th, the children will open their presents, and a delicious ring-shaped cake will be devoured by all. The cake is rigged with a baby Jesus figurine, and whomever gets the baby in their slice has to throw another party on Calendaria Day, Feb. 2!
bunuelos (photo from Internet)
If you’re lucky enough to visit the Distrito Federal during the holiday season, the first thing you will want to do is take the Metro downtown (the best transportation deal in the world at about 20 cents per person).
Get off at the Zocalo, the largest plaza of any city in the world. Soak up the patriotism as a military guard hoists or lowers the enormous national flag, tour the Metropolitan Cathedral, built by the Spaniards in 1573, or visit the National Palace government buildings housing famous murals by Diego Rivera (admission is free, but bring a photo id-not your passport!-to leave with the guards at the entrance). If you’re here on New Year’s Eve, the Zocalo is also where you would come for fiesta and fireworks, although there will be partying pyrotechnomaniacs all over town, so if you need to catch some z’s, don’t forget your earplugs! I enjoy dipping crusty cuernitos in a viscous cup of steaming hot chocolate at El Cardenal, (23 Calle Palma, two blocks off the Zocalo), or sampling sumptuous Mexican cuisine at Los Girasoles, in the Centro Historico (Plaza Manuel Tolsa, Calle Tacuba between 8 and 10).
The Metropolitan Cathedral
Even in the winter months, the temperature in Mexico City is 60-70 degrees during the day but could drop as low as the 40’s at night, so bring an appropriate jacket for outings.
Chapultepec Park Entrance
Plaza Garibaldi is another location where you could enjoy a fun trip out. On any given day, you’ll find a half dozen mariachi bands strolling and singing their way through the plaza for tips. Tip enough (about $12USD), and they’ll even play while you sing, in your own little version of Mexican Idol! The plaza is surrounded by sidewalk cafes, restaurants and a club or two, if you require a shot of liquid courage first. If you find yourselves out after dark in this area, do not wander outside the plaza. Stick in a group and ask at a restaurant to call a sitio cab for a safe ride home.
Chapultepec Castle, former home of Emperor Maximilian, who was installed by Napoleon III during a short period when Mexico was under French control in the 1800’s, is a nice day destination.
Situated on a hill with sweeping vistas of the city, part of these former royal residences house period furnishings, and another section displays a running history of Mexico, including its rich art history and several impressive murals. Catch a nap in the manicured gardens, buy fresh papaya, mango, and jicama sticks sprinkled with chili powder from a park vendor for a quick healthy snack, or ride the Montana Rusa, the roller coaster, for a thrill. The over 1500 acre-grounds also offer a half-dozen other museums (including the Museum of Modern Art, and the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology and History), a zoo, historical monuments, and more trails than you can run before dinnertime.
Chapultepec Park grounds
In a city this large, you’ll never run out of things to do. Your hotel can probably offer organized tours and advice about any of these tourist sites, plus many more.
Enjoy your explorations of one of the world’s most fascinating urban areas!
Christmas Punch (photo from Internet)
Christmas Punch (Recipe courtesy Aaron Sanchez)
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut in 1/8ths
3/4 cup raisins
1 pound guava, quartered
3 (3 to 4-inch) pieces sugarcane, each cut in strips
1/2 cup prunes
1/2 pound crabapples, peeled and cored
2 cups (1-inch) diced pineapple
1 cup sugar
4 (2-inch) pieces Mexican cinnamon
8 cups water
In a large pot, place the fruit, sugar, cinnamon, and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower heat and simmer for 1 hour. Serve hot in a mug that has a shot of tequila in it.