Christmas in Mexico vs. the UK

I’ve spent Christmas in Mexico every year for the past ten years.  The last time I was back “home” in the UK for Christmas was in 2007!  I can't believe it's been that long.  I have to say I usually feel kind of bittersweet about this time of year; I have very happy memories of childhood Christmases and so this season brings with it feelings of nostalgia and it’s the time when I tend to miss home and family the most.

This year we’ve got ourselves a bit more organised than usual with Christmas decorations and preparations (we had our tree up in the first week of December – I don’t think we’ve ever been that early before!) as we can’t make any plans to go anywhere with the baby arriving just after Christmas.  So we have to make Christmas at home as special as we can, as well as getting ready for the baby.  The overwhelming feelings at the moment are nerves and excitement, I think.

The experience of Christmas in Mexico is obviously different from in the UK, although there are many customs and traditions in common between the two countries.  Over the years the Mexican customs have become normal for me, but I still miss certain aspects of Christmas in Britain that just aren’t the same or don’t exist here.

Christmas In Mexico Vs. The UK

British traditions that don’t exist in Mexico


The Advent Calendar

I haven’t seen any advent calendars like the ones you see in the UK with little windows to open and pictures or chocolates inside.  It just isn’t a tradition here.  So that’s why we made our own!  See how we made our Owl Magic Advent Calendar here.

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Owl Advent Calendar

School Nativity Plays

Well, it’s not entirely true that they don’t exist – nativity plays do exist and even have a special name, the Pastorela.  But it’s not a universal custom for preschoolers and primary school children to be in a nativity play for the parents to watch.  In some schools I’ve worked in the teachers put on the play for the students to watch (no parents involved) and I suppose you’re more likely to have a pastorela in a Catholic school than in non-religious schools.

What you will undoubtedly experience if you have any involvement with a Mexican school as parent, teacher or pupil is the Christmas or Winter festival.  With varying levels of presentation, extravagance of costumes and organisation depending on the school, it’s usually in the format of Christmas songs sung (or not, as the case may be!) by the pupils or dance routines set to Christmas songs and performed by the pupils.  In Emma’s school they have a presentation with the children singing Christmas songs on a stage (which clearly does not have room to incorporate dancing), and a Christmas fair with food stalls, face painting, bouncy castles and other activities.  This year, Emma was really excited about it, too.

The Queen’s Christmas message

Obviously, non-existent in Mexico! It’s not something I particularly miss.

Christmas crackers

One of those things that I completely forget about until I’m reminded (by Pinterest!) and think, oh we really should make some Christmas crackers this year, it would be fun for Emma.  I haven’t made any yet…. But you can’t buy them here, I’ve never seen any either shop-bought or handmade.

Holly

Another one of those things I tend to forget about and I've never seen any holly in Mexico.  I guess that since it doesn't grow in Mexico, it's not a plant that people know about, much less associate with Christmas.  What you do see at this time of year are poinsettias everywhere - here they are even called "flor de noche buena"; Christmas Eve flower.

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Holly Leaves And Berries

Food:

Generally, it’s the food I miss the most! Well, apart from my family of course.

In Mexico there is no midday or mid-afternoon Christmas dinner on the 25th, as their main celebration is the night before.  You will not find Christmas pudding , Mince pies, or Christmas cake (thinking about my mum’s xmas cake right now with a wistful sigh…). Brussels sprouts and roast potatoes could be done, but they aren’t part of a traditional Christmas meal here, so it would be weird.



Mexican traditions that don’t exist in the UK 


Posadas

The Posada is a Christmas party in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas.  The traditional Posada has a religious aspect, sometimes with the guests reciting prayers and rosaries.  But especially with a kind of reenactment in song of when Mary and Joseph are asking for room at the inn and being turned away.  Everyone is divided into two groups, those inside the inn and those outside asking for shelter, they hold candles and sing their part of the song.  Of course, there is also food and drink and a piñata for the children.

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Piñatas

Piñatas 

Piñatas are not just for Christmas, but they are an important part of any Christmas party where there are children.  The Christmas piñata is in the form of a star and can come in different sizes.
  Traditionally, they were made of clay and filled with oranges, nuts and sugar cane, all of which sounds a bit dangerous to me!  I wonder how many children got hit on the head by showers of broken clay and sticks of sugar cane while diving to catch the spoils falling from the piñata!  Nowadays the piñatas are usually made from papier maché and filled with sweets.

El Nacimiento 

It's a nativity scene, which I know does exist in Britain, but in Mexico it's much more of a tradition to set up a nativity scene in your house, with little figurines

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - A Nativity Scene

Food:

Christmas dinner here is on Christmas Eve, quite late, often approaching midnight, not on Christmas Day.  For the Mexicans, Christmas is the 24th more than the 25th and people often exchange presents after dinner on the 24th.  It is generally a big family dinner with various typical dishes served:

Bacalao

This is cod, but the dried salted variety, rehydrated, flaked and cooked with lots of other ingredients and condiments to make this traditional Christmas dish.  The other ingredients are usually tomato, potato, green olives, red pepper, flaked almonds, a light green pickled chilli called chile guero and I may be missing out a few things and I guess every cook has their own variation.  I’ve never attempted to make it myself as it’s a bit complicated and you can buy it ready made.  Why create more stress for myself than necessary?!

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Bacalao, Mexican Christmas Dish

Romeritos 

This is probably even more elaborate to make than the bacalao.  Romeritos are a kind of herb with small thin leaves like the shape of rosemary but much softer.  You basically have to pull all the leaves off and cook them in a mole sauce with small potatoes, nopalitos and shrimp cakes.  It is really delicious.

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Image Shows Romeritos Being Washed

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Image Shows Romeritos, A Typical Mexican Christmas Dish


Spaghetti or ravioli

Doesn’t sound very Mexican or Christmassy but it is also an important part of the Christmas dinner.  The spaghetti is often in a creamy sauce with pecan nut.

Pierna or lomo or turkey

The main meat dish will usually either be turkey or pork leg or pork tenderloin

Ensalada de manzana

Apple salad, or Christmas salad is a sweet dish as it’s made with cream and evaporated milk, apple chunks, pineapple chunks, grated carrot, pecan nuts and maybe raisins too.  Again, each cook will have their own recipe.  You might serve it on the same plate together with the other savoury dishes, or separately as dessert.

Ponche Navideño

Christmas punch is a nonalcoholic drink which is typically prepared with various types of fruit, hibiscus flowers and sugar cane and served hot.  It's traditional throughout the Christmas/winter season, at Christmas parties, fairs and in restaurants.  You can buy the ingredients in a packet in supermarkets or you could try this recipe: Ponche Navideño

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Ponche Navideño Or Christmas Punch


One of the fun things about Mexican Christmas, especially if you have a large family gathering, is the recalentado.  This is when all the guests from the night before are invited back the next day and you reheat the leftovers, usually to make tortas (like a sandwich in a typical Mexican bread roll).  You need to make sure you have enough food for there to be leftovers!

Christmas In Mexico Vs The UK - Image Shows Bolillos Or Mexican Bread Rolls


At least they have more than a few things in common;  the Christmas tree, decorations, Santa, the sense of magic and excitement…  hey, but I'm forgetting the Reyes Magos.  Lucky Mexican children don't just get presents from Santa at Christmas.  On January 6th they wake up to find that the Three Kings, or Reyes Magos have also brought them presents during the night!  Nice way to end the holidays before the start of school again.


What traditions and customs would you miss, or do you miss, from your home country?  If you're living abroad, how do you feel about experiencing this time of year away from your home country and how is it different?  Let me know in the comments below!

If you're living abroad or bringing your children up to be bilingual, I've just started a Facebook group for Expat and Bilingual Parenting and I'd love you to join!  Expat & Bilingual Parenting Facebook Group



1 Comments

  1. In this year you have got the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a new place other than UK.There are much differences in the way in Christmas is celebrate in Mexico and UK. Everything starting from the decorations to the food are contrasting. It's surprising to hear that Christmas dinner in Mexico is conducted during the previous day of Christmas.Anyways I appreciate you for getting adjusted to the Mexican culture very soon. It is very clear from the post that you had a wonderful Christmas time in Mexico!

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