Christmas in Mexico (Navidad) is a major celebration, blending Catholic traditions with Mexican culture. It’s a combination that makes for a holiday experience like none other.
Here are 25 amazing facts about Christmas in Mexico to help make your yuletide brighter than ever.
1. Piñatas originated in Mexico and are a staple at posada celebrations leading up to Christmas. The piñata is a brightly colored container often made from papier-mâché in the shape of an animal or symbol. It is filled with fruits, nuts, candies and small toys. The piñata is hung from a rope and participants take turns being blindfolded and hitting the piñata with a stick until it breaks open, releasing the treats inside. Getting the treats represents being rewarded for faith. The piñata is a fun tradition that people of all ages look forward to at Christmas posadas and parties in Mexico.
2. Piñatas originated in Mexico and are a staple at posada celebrations leading up to Christmas. The piñata is a brightly colored container often made from papier-mâché in the shape of an animal or symbol. It is filled with fruits, nuts, candies and small toys. The piñata is hung from a rope and participants take turns being blindfolded and hitting the piñata with a stick until it breaks open, releasing the treats inside. Getting the treats represents being rewarded for faith. The piñata is a fun tradition that people of all ages look forward to at Christmas posadas and parties in Mexico.
3. Farolitos made from brown paper bags line the streets and rooftops with a beautiful glow across Mexico during the Christmas season. Candles are placed inside the paper bags, which are then weighted down or tied down to light the way for the Virgin Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging as well as for celebrating Christmas. Farolitos likely originated from bonfires and torches used in early posada processions. Today, they symbolize welcoming the light of the nativity into homes. The warm flickering lights create a stunning scene throughout Mexican cities, towns, and villages during the nights leading up to Christmas.
4. Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) is arguably the most important celebration in Mexico at Christmastime. On the evening of December 24th, families gather together for a huge Christmas dinner around midnight. The traditional Mexican Christmas Eve meal varies by region but commonly includes dishes like bacalao (dried codfish), romeritos (a green) with shrimp, tamales, roast pig, and hearty stews. Families dress up in their best outfits for this grand feast. Afterwards, they attend midnight mass before returning home to exchange hugs and open gifts at Christmas day’s start. Nochebuena dinner carries great cultural significance.
5. After midnight mass on Christmas Eve, known as La Misa Del Gallo or The Mass of the Rooster, Mexican families return home to continue celebrating into the early hours of Christmas morning. The name refers to a Mexican legend where a rooster crowed at midnight on the night Jesus was born. Attending la Misa del Gallo is the main Christmas Eve tradition, with fireworks welcoming churchgoers afterwards. Back at home, families share the traditional buñuelos treats and hot chocolate, open gifts, and let children play with new toys before getting some sleep before Christmas day. The misa marks the transition from Nochebuena to Navidad.
6. El Día de los Santos Inocentes is a holiday celebrated on December 28th in Mexico playing pranks and jokes on one another. The day honors the innocence of children murdered in Bethlehem by King Herod. On this day, Mexican newspapers and TV shows typically report false news stories and silly events to catch people unaware, similar to April Fool’s Day pranks. Friends and family also play small tricks on each other, like smearing a paint mustache on someone’s face while they sleep. All in good fun, this “Day of the Holy Innocents” provides some holiday merriment before the new year arrives.
7. In Mexico, Santa Claus is known as Santo Clos. He emerged from the blending of St. Nicholas traditions with Mexico’s cultural and religious beliefs. Santo Clos dresses in red with white fur trim, much like the American Santa. However, in depictions he sometimes wears tropical flowers around his neck to signify his origins in a warmer climate. Mexican children write letters to Santo Clos with their gift wishes just like American kids do for Santa. While Santa uses reindeer, Santo Clos rides a donkey and is said to leave behind candy and small gifts on Christmas morning for children to find.
8. Las Pastorelas are nativity plays performed in Mexico retelling the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Starting in December, different neighborhoods and churches put on these live theatrical productions leading up to Christmas. The plays depict the journey of the shepherds as they follow the star of Bethlehem to find baby Jesus in the manger. Las Pastorelas often also show the conflict between good and evil, with angels guiding the shepherds while devils try to lead them astray. Players wear elaborate costumes, and the audience participates with cheers and boos. These lively plays bring the Christmas nativity story to life for Mexican families.
9. Fireworks light up the skies across Mexico during the Christmas season, especially on Christmas Eve. The loud, colorful displays are associated with festive occasions in Mexican culture. People set off firecrackers and rockets outside their homes and in public squares to celebrate Nochebuena. Fireworks also accompany religious events like the misa del gallo midnight mass. The bright lights and booming noises liven up the holiday festivities. While fireworks on Christmas are common worldwide, they hold special significance for Mexicans as part of treasured cultural traditions.
10. Ponche navideño is a warm Christmas punch served at celebrations in Mexico throughout the holiday season. Family recipes vary, but it traditionally contains dried and fresh fruits like guava, prunes, plantains, and apples, simmered with sugar and cinnamon. Some versions include tejocotes, a Mexican hawthorn fruit. Spices like cloves and anise add flavor, and rum or brandy give it a kick. Ponche navideño is often served from a big bowl with ladles at parties along with other treats like tamales and bunuelos. Sipping this fruity punch is a tasty Mexican Christmas tradition.
11. Bunuelos are a beloved traditional Christmas treat in Mexico, especially at Christmas Eve celebrations. These bite-sized fritters are made from a simple dough mixed with cinnamon, fried to golden perfection, and then coated in a sweet cinnamon sugar mixture. Street vendors often sell them fresh and hot around Christmastime. Families also make batches to serve with other desserts and hot chocolate after midnight mass on Nochebuena. Their sweet, crispy taste makes bunuelos a favorite part of the season. Adding a touch of anise or rum to the dough puts a signature Mexican twist on these festive fritters.
12. Rompope is a Mexican version of eggnog that adds unique Latin American flavors. It’s a drink made with egg yolks, milk or cream, vanilla, cinnamon, and rum or brandy. The alcohol gives rompope a kick to enjoy during the holiday revelry. Other spices like nutmeg or anise may also be used. Rompope differs from American eggnog in that it’s much thicker and richer, since it’s not diluted with as much milk. Sipping rompope is a delicious Christmastime custom during Nochebuena dinner or at parties. Custom-decorated bottles make popular holiday gifts too.
13. The poinsettia flower actually originated in Mexico, where it is known as La Flor de Nochebuena, or Flower of the Holy Night. The plant’s red and green leaves resemble flames and are said to represent the Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to Jesus. Joel Poinsett first brought the plant to the United States from Mexico in 1828. Today, the poinsettia is one of the most popular holiday plants, with over 100 varieties grown around the world. In Mexico, poinsettias in their native land decorate homes, churches, businesses, and plazas, blooming in time for Christmas celebrations.
14. In nativity plays and processions for posadas in Mexico, farolitos are used to light the way for Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter. The brown paper lanterns line the path for the enactment and represent the luminary flames that would have guided the way to the manger where Jesus was born. Farolitos also symbolically light the way for the Christ child to come into people’s homes and hearts during the Christmas season. Once simple torches and bonfires, today’s paper lanterns create a warm, inviting glow. Their flickering lights are now an integral part of Mexican Christmas traditions.
15. Mexican children write heartfelt letters addressed to the Christ Child sharing their wishes and asking for gifts, similar to writing Santa. On Christmas Eve, they place their letters in elaborately decorated boxes along with their shoes, leaving them out overnight. It is believed that the Christ Child reads each letter and if the children were good, their shoes will be filled with treats and small gifts on Christmas morning. This Mexican tradition allows children to thoughtfully consider the true meaning of Christmas beyond material gifts. Finding their treats in the morning brings joyful holiday surprises.
16. Sparklers and pinwheels are festive decorations used during the posada processions in the nights leading up to Christmas in Mexico. Children light up sparklers as they walk along with the reenactment of Mary and Joseph searching for shelter. Pinwheels spun by the air whirl colorfully as the procession stops at each home to ask for lodging. The bright spinning lights contribute to the festive atmosphere of the posadas. Vendors sell the sparklers and pinwheels on the streets too. The lights and movement add excitement and holiday magic as an integral part of the beloved tradition of posadas.
17. Romeritos is a traditional Mexican Christmas food that is part of the classic Christmas Eve dinner. Romeritos are greens that resemble rosemary and have a tangy flavor. The leaves are simmered in a pot along with shrimp, moles, onions, and other spices and served as a side dish. Romeritos dates back to pre-Hispanic times but is now closely associated with Navidad celebrations. The shrimp and greens represent the colors of the Mexican flag, adding to their significance. Romeritos provide a unique and tasty contribution to the Nochebuena feast.
18. Guajolotes are elaborately decorated turkeys served as the centerpiece for Christmas dinner in many Mexican homes. Guajolote means turkey in Spanish. The plumage is brushed with honey, dried chiles are stuffed under the skin, and the turkey is layered with moles, fruit pastes, and nuts between the meat and skin. The turkey takes hours to prepare and results in a caramelized, crispy skin covering a juicy, spicy and sweet interior. Other dishes like bacalao and tamales are served family-style around the guajolote. Carving the turkey at midnight on Nochebuena is a tradition accompanying meaningful time with loved ones.
19. Noche de Rabanos, or Night of the Radishes, takes place annually on December 23rd in Oaxaca, Mexico. Artisans and farmers carve incredibly detailed nativity scenes, figures, animals and other designs into large radishes. The radish carvings are displayed in the town square and often scenes tell a story. The radish decorating contest began in the late 1800s when farmers used radishes from the winter harvest to celebrate Christmas. Today, children learn the craft starting at five years old. This unique Mexican Christmas tradition showcases amazing skill and creativity in radish art.
20. Giant paper mache balloons called globos are a spectacular part of Christmas celebrations in Mexico. Globos are filled with firecrackers and lit up to create aerial light displays. They are launched during posadas, on Christmas Eve, and through the holidays. Different designs represent things like angels, the Holy Family, or animals. After reaching hundreds of feet in the sky, the globos explode in dazzling visual displays. People light globos outside their homes and in public squares. Watching their bright colors reflect against the night sky is a beloved Mexican Christmas tradition.
21. Electric Christmas lights are widely used as decorations across Mexico during the holiday season. Homes, churches, businesses, and public spaces are adorned with festive string lights. In addition to traditional white lights, it’s also common to see lights in the colors of Mexico’s flag – red, white and green. Elaborate light displays may include images like poinsettias, the Virgin Mary, or piñatas. Sparkling trees and outlines of buildings illuminated at night help create a celebratory atmosphere. The bright, colorful lights beautify communities and are integral decorations for Mexican Christmas.
22. Nacimientos, or nativity scenes, are an important Mexican Christmas tradition. Large, intricate nativity displays depicting the Holy Family and the story of Jesus’ birth are created in homes, churches, and public spaces across Mexico for the holidays. Some nacimientos sprawl city-block-sized and include hundreds of figures handcrafted from materials like moss, wood, wax or plaster. Simple homemade versions proudly adorn family altars too. Nativity scenes remind people of the spiritual significance of Christmas. Mexicans refer to Christmas as La Noche del Nacimiento (The Night of the Nativity) highlighting this custom.
23. In Mexico, children carrying statues of the infant Jesus go caroling from door to door in the weeks before Christmas. Dressed in robes, they reenact the peregrinos who walk to Mexico City’s Basilica of Guadalupe annually. The children sing traditional hymns like “Los Peces en el Rio” asking for posada. Residents welcome the carolers into their homes to view their nativity scenes, sharing food and small gifts. The hopeful songs bring the spirit of Christmas to neighborhoods across Mexico. Caroling this way allows children to spread joy while honoring their culture.
24. Fresh, tropical fruits are an integral part of Christmas meals and desserts in Mexico. Vendors sell festive fruits at Christmas markets and families serve them at holiday gatherings. Favorites include sweet guava, mamey sapote known as “Pantheon squash,” sugar cane, the hairy rambutan relative mamoncillo, citrus fruits like orange and grapefruit, and tunas (cactus fruit). Their bright colors and flavors liven up the holiday season. Fruits may be paired with spices in ponche or eaten on their own. The fruits of Mexico’s landscapes come to life to celebrate Navidad.
25. While artificial Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments are gaining popularity in Mexico, traditional arbolitos de Nochebuena are still commonly used. These small potted pine trees are decorated simply with handmade paper flowers, berries, and ribbons. Market vendors sell the tiny trees leading up to Christmas. On January 6th, the trees are removed from homes in accordance with the Day of the Three Kings. Compared to the extravagant trees in the US, Mexican Christmas trees feature less flash but value simplicity and reflection on the nativity. Their restrained decor reflects cultural traditions.