Silent Night, Holy Night here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende. I came down south of the border a bit early this year to house sit for a friend and take care of her three cats. It’s my first Christmas in Mexico, and I must say it now ranks as my favorite holiday here. Past visits have been timed around New Years or Semana Santa (Easter,) so I am enjoying seeing the differences between the celebrations. I find Christmas has a more intimate, local feel than New Years Eve celebrations, and less crowded and a bit more upbeat than Easter. And I added a new word to my limited Spanish vocabulary, “Nochebuena” which translates to “Christmas Eve.”
Christmas takes on a more traditional meaning here in Mexico. One doesn’t see plastic Gift Cards on every store rack and a jolly fat man wearing a red velvet suit, but rather more likely to see families congregating for neighborhood gatherings with the focus being the more original Christmas story, the Virgin birth. Whether or not you are a believer, it’s still intriguing, particularly in a country like Mexico where their faith is lived more outwardly.
They take their crèches seriously here, many with real people, and some even with live animals. And something I don’t remember seeing in the US, in keeping with the authentic story, the cradle is empty until midnight before Christmas Day. (Still trying to figure out why we never see an “expectant” Mary.)
Another difference is that many Nativity scenes don’t yet include the three wise men. Those come later, after the birth, and bring presents to the children on Kings Day in lieu of a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
One of the many reasons I was excited about the chance to be in Mexico at Christmas time was to experience a traditional Posada. The word “Posada” in Spanish translates to “Inn,” but in this case, the name refers to the candlelight processions reenacting Mary and Joseph’s quest for lodging, ergo “no room at the inn.” The pilgrims try door after door until they’re finally invited in for the night in celebration. There will typically be a “Piñatasare,” or piñata in the shape of a seven-pointed star representing the 7 Deadly Sins. It’s filled with sweets and treats which are released by the children who take turns bashing it to bits with a bat.
Los Posadas take place on a varying scale from the smaller, more intimate neighborhoods to the “Public Posadas” that occur each night in the week leading up to Christmas. Since I arrived, I have been trying to catch a Posada Publica, but have had challenges with logistics. Either the times or dates in the local paper have been a misprint, or I can’t find the location. Time was running out, so I was determined to find one by the last night, Nochebuena.
I checked with the tourism office, then wandered up and down the neighborhood they suggested for two hours. Finally, it was getting late and I was growing weary, so I decided to give up and head back to the Casa. As I turned toward home, I walked about 10 steps, when it hit me…maybe that blue flashing light I had just seen down the street as I turned the corner was it? I turned around and continued further toward the flat bed truck with its lights flashing coming up the street. There were people leading the procession carrying gigantic paper mache “North stars.” And there on the back of the flat bed truck was a “live” Mary, Joseph, and a little angel. There were about 100 people following behind, singing songs, complete with strolling musicians.
The surprising part was seeing women come out of their front doors to greet the procession carrying little baskets with baby Jesus in them, part of their own Nativity scenes. The processional stopped on one of the quieter streets. The door opened up, and the “host” tossed bags of pastries and treats out the door into the crowd. It was a very touching experience, as the Mexicans are such devout followers, and no one does Holy holiday traditions any better.
If you would like to see more of my Posada experience, click here.
On the way home, I turned down narrow side street to see a crowd of about 20 people sitting out on the curb, all holding glowing candles. There was one lone guitarist strumming “Little Drummer Boy,” and they were all sitting around him singing. Just sitting there on both sides of the narrow street, singing along with this one guitar. There was a tiny crèche in the middle of their group. I stopped to listen. The intimacy and camaraderie among the group of friends moved me to tears.
I memorized two songs during my tenure as the Vice President of the High School Spanish Club; La Cucaracha (The Cockroach) and Silent Night. One of them served me well last night:
Noche de paz, noche de amor,
Todo duerme en derredor.
Entre los astros que esparcen su luz
Bella anunciando al niñito Jesús
Brilla la estrella de paz
Brilla la estrella de paz</em
Regardless of whether or what you celebrate at this time of year, I wish you Merry Wishes, Happy Festivities, Blessed Solstice, and Feliz Navidad from San Miguel de Allende.