Colors, traditions, aromas, and poinsettias fill the streets and homes of Mexico from around mid-December until Christmas. Contrary to other countries, Christmas in Mexico is celebrated for more than just a few days, starting on the 16th of December (with the remembrance of Mary and Joseph’s pilgrimage searching for shelter in Bethlehem), and ending on the 6th of January (with Epiphany Day and the deliciously indulgent rosca de reyes, or kings’ cake).
Aside from the tree, lights, piñatas, and elaborate nativity scenes are an essential part of the Christmas decorations in Mexico. Little Baby Jesus is missing from the nativity scene until the night of the 24th, when families get together to enjoy Christmas Eve dinner. At midnight, the church bells ring and a figurine of Baby Jesus is placed in the manger, after being rocked to sleep and lovingly sung lullabies by each family.
Along with the many traditions observed, the abundance of food and drink is a fundamental part of the festivities. As seasonal foods become available, holidays are marked with exquisite flavors and smells, and as diverse as Mexico is, it’s only logical that the food is a mix of ingredients from both Europe and Pre-Hispanic culture.
Eating leftovers is a must (known as recalentado or “re-heating”). Families put all remaining food from the night before inside a bread roll in order to make tortas, the Mexican version of a sandwich.
Here are some popular Mexican dishes that are enjoyed over the Christmas holidays:
Romeritos (or Revoltijo)
Romeritos, a plant that grows in the wild, is known as seepweed in English. The name would roughly translate to “little rosemary” due to its visual resemblance to the herb, although there are no similarities in flavor or taste. Romeritos are doused in mole sauce and prepared with potatoes and dried shrimp patties.
As in many other Mexican typical dishes, European influence shines through this dish. Salted fish is first soaked in water to get rid of excess salt. The fish is then cooked with olive oil, tomato sauce, olives, capers, potatoes and almonds and served with a yellow, pickled, non-spicy pepper called chile güero (blond chili).
Noche Buena Salad (Christmas Eve Salad)
Christmas Eve is referred to as Noche Buena in Mexico, which gives this salad its name. One of the healthiest options for dinner, this dishis made with ingredients such as cooked beetroot, peanuts, peeled orange slices and jicama. This red tinted salad brings a delicious freshness to the table.
Mexico’s most beloved Christmas drink is Ponche Navideño, an aromatic beverage that fills the kitchen with delicious aromas as it brews. Ingredients vary, but it’s most commonly made by boiling hibiscus flowers along with seasonal fruits like guava, apples, tejocote(Mexican Hawthorn), prunes, spices like cinnamon and tamarind, and sweetened with piloncillo (raw sugar).
This warm beverage is served with a stick of peeled sugar cane and it is sometimes spiked with spirits.
Happy Holidays and Feliz Navidad!