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Mexican Christmas Feast

By Mónica Lavín

Christmas, with its raspy voice,
knocks on the stomach's docile door.
Behind the glass, misted up by the cold,
the shop windows display all the masterpieces of gluttony.

Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, Mexican XIX century author

Part I: Introduction

Christmas parties in Mexico are a time of celebration where the ritual of the annual feast is dressed up in food. The Catholic commemoration of Christ's birth was incorporated into the Pre-Hispanic ritual during which December 26 –sixteenth month of the Aztec calendar- was the celebration of the descent of the God Huitzilopochtli and the invocation for rain in spring: the atemortli.

Mexican Christmas Feast

Mexican Christmas Feast, many different dishes

The Aztecs practiced auto-sacrifice during this ritual, wounding themselves to obtain blood from tongues, ears, calves and other body parts, this way gods wouldn't get angry, after which they offered and ate corn tamales and vegetables. They couldn't eat anything that wasn't the food prepared especially for the occasion, and spent the rest of the night in vigil, with campfires to withstand the cold of the temple's patio.

Diego Rivera

The religious spirit, the veneration of the gods, the offerings and the rituals were already part of the culture of the people conquered by the Spaniards, who with time adapted and modified their celebrations to conform to the canons of the new culture, and even though during the first years of the Colonial era in many regions of New Spain Christmas was celebrated, following the Catholic tradition, with a diet of vigil in which there were no meat dishes, the Christmas fare -be it the Christmas Eve supper or the Christmas Day meal- that evolved in the following centuries reflected a mix of both cultures' own cuisines.

Today, you can enjoy on Mexican tables, with regional variations, a Christmas menu that reflects this cultural fusion, although in large cities parts of the population are more inclined toward the European customs.

Aperitif: Posada Food

Christmas celebrations in Mexico start with the very Mexican posadas, created in Colonial times by the priests during their evangelization process, which together with the pastorelas -plays enacting the battle between Good and Evil, also intended for instruction-, took root in our country.

Mexican Posadas

Posadas, a very Mexican tradition

The posadas begin nine days before the birth of Christ and reenact Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. They are celebrated among neighbors, in schools, work places, private homes, where the tasks are distributed among the participants. Between reenacting and striking the traditional piñata -that originally had seven points like the seven deadly sins-, abundance spills from the belly of the decorated pot, from it fall seasonal fruits: tejocotes, sugar cane, peanuts and mandarins. These fruits -with the exception of the peanuts- are the main ingredients of the delicious punches that warm up the body on the cold nights of the merry celebrations.

Mexican Christmas Punch

Mexican Christmas Punch

Served in little clay jugs, the Christmas Punch -which can have some piquete or sting, that is, spirits, if the guest so desires- has that sweetness that is so typical of these season celebrations. The beverage is sweet and is drunk by sips and spoonfuls, since the pulp of the fruit, macerated by the sugar and the boiling, falls tastefully apart in your mouth.

The pinata's fruit basket provides the peanuts -one of Mexico's legacies to world cuisine- that are cracked open and eaten all night to keep the guests awake and entertained.

Mexican Piñata

Piñatas are always part of Christmas celebrations in Mexico

Tamales are usually the main course posadas. They are removed steaming from huge pots or steamers. Every region individualizes this food wrapped in corn or banana leaves by adding the meat, fish or vegetable and sauce from the region. Tamales are the itacate of Mexico's ancient inhabitants. Itacate, the Aztec word (iztacatl) for provisions, is a food carrier for which neither plate nor silverware is needed.

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