It’s beginning to look a lot like (Mexican) Christmas

For Mexicans, Christmas is one of the most important holidays on the calendar.

Just like in the United States, seasonal music is heard in almost all public spaces, decorations abound, and people focus on family. However, it is spiced up with the Mexican flair and puts a big emphasis on celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Yesterday, I took some photos at one of the many Christmas markets to share the scene with you.


For the past several weeks, my sleep has been disrupted even more than usual by party noise and fireworks. The nighttime cityscape is dotted with almost seizure-inducing flashy Christmas lights, and the government center boasts a giant tree that is three-stories high. It seems that the holidays are popping up everywhere like mushrooms in the rainy season.

My commute to work now passes by stores selling Santa hats, glittery tinsel, and copious amounts of candy. I often arrive at the office with songs from Alvin and the Chipmunk’s Christmas – translated into Spanish – stuck in my head. There is something so funny about these classic songs translated into the Mexican context.

As reminders that the holiday is taking place in Mexico, the following items are sold among with snowflakes and santas:

  • Colorful pinatas that will be broken after the typical turkey or salted-cod dinner;
  • Miniature cacti and donkeys that get integrated into manger scenes;
  • Colorful plastic streamers that adorn altars for the Virgin Mary.

And let us not forget about the red and yellow underwear stands! These are for New Year’s Eve: the lore is that if you wear red underwear while the clock strikes midnight, you will find new love in the year to come. Yellow should result in money coming your way.



While the tree is the centerpiece for Christmas in the United States, a very Catholic Mexico focuses on the nativity scene. For several weeks, market stalls stop selling pirated DVDs and winter vests. Instead, sales skyrocket for figurines of the three kings, porcelain baby Jesuses, and moss that serves to set the scene.

And while moss has been a nativity-tradition for generations, my national park encourages the use of alternatives: the current demand is unsustainable for the forest.

Last year, Mexico’s environmental police seized many bales of moss identical to the picture on the right that were illegally harvested from the park. Luckily, this year we had had fewer such problems.


Did you know…

The tradition of Christmas Poinsettias came from Mexico?

The red flower synonymous with the holidays is indigenous to Mexico, and was first linked with the holiday in the 16th century. More than 300 years later, the symbol made its way north to the United States.

Poinsettias abound!

Poinsettias are everywhere!

Come midnight on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena, or The Good Night), people across the country will hug and shake hands, fill up on tamales and ponche, a heated fruit and cinnamon drink, and sing to their porcelain baby Jesus well into the morning.

I, however, will be relaxing on a sailboat on the Pacific Ocean. I will trade in my warm layers for a snorkel and shorts, and see whales and sea turtle hatchlings with a subset of my family.

Happy holidays to all!


 Making me smile, Spanish language edition

  • One of my co-workers recently tried to teach me an impossible tongue twister. Give it a try! El volcán de parangaricutirimícuaro se quiere desparangaricutiriguarizar, y él que lo desparangaricutiricuarizare será un buen desparangaricutirimizador
  • I have been using and hearing the word pendiente a lot recently. It is a good example of how complex it can be to pin down the meaning of a word; I though it just meant “pending, things to do, and questionable”. However, I learned that it also means: “earrings, necklace, slope of the ground, outstanding and exceptional, hanging, and dip,” among other things. Seriously?!
  • I love saying that something is cool or neat in Mexico. Translated, here are a few ways that you can say it: windy; how father; what a canyon. Or you can say one of those words that Speedy Gonzalez taught you: andele or orale
  • I also enjoy cute little Mexican phrases that rhyme for the single purpose of being cute: Me late chocolate (I would love it, chocolate) OK maguey (OK, cactus)
  • A nice way to say shoot is to say: aaaaaaaaaye Chihuahua!
  • My brain is now mostly able to work at normal speed in the correct Spanish word order: (it) would be loved (by me) that me it (you) bring a napkin = I would love it if you bring me a napkin

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