Christmas

Querétaro is a wonderful place to spend Christmas.  Every day leading up to the holiday there was something different to see:  concerts in the parks, musical events in the museums, or parades in the streets.  It was definitely a feast for the eyes and ears!

Celebrations for Christmas in Mexico start after December 12th, the Virgin of Guadalupe’s day, and continue until January 6, Three Kings’ Day.  Querétaro has a very active cultural calendar with groups singing and playing at different venues all around the historic center of town. In Jardín Zenea, which is the city’s central garden, the city puts up elaborate displays, including life-size figures representing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the immaculate conception, the Wise Men coming to see Jesus (complete with an elephant and camel), the shepherds with their flocks, the nativity scene with Mary and Joseph, and, finally, Hell with the seven deadly sins.  Here are some pictures of these displays.

Starting on December 17, each night in the historic center, the story of “Las Posadas” (the inns) was presented.  It’s a reenactment of Mary and Joseph searching unsuccessfully for a place to spend the night before Jesus is born.  In downtown Querétaro, the posada takes place on a float, filled with a choir of girls in front singing the traditional song.  Behind them are Mary on a donkey and Joseph by her side.  Joseph continually knocks on various inns’ doors, but is rejected each time by the innkeeper.  The float winds its way through the streets of the historic downtown with the choir repeatedly singing the song and Joseph being rejected.  People throw candy for the girls after they finish their song.

Other Mexican Christmas traditions we saw include the breaking of the piñata by children; the “pastorela”, a Christmas play, where the shepherds are tempted by the devil before being saved by the archangel Gabriel; and “los nacimientos”, elaborate Nativity scenes in people’s homes depicting Jesus’ birth.  Some of these Nativity scenes fill entire rooms with over 200 figures and structures making up the display.

On December 24th (Christmas Eve), each year since 1826, Querétaro puts on an elaborate parade of biblical floats in the historic downtown.  Each float depicts a different story in the Bible, starting with the Old Testament.  Characters on the floats sing and enact the various stories.  In all, there were probably 12 floats, ending with the birth of Jesus.  The downtown streets were filled with people eager to see and hear these wonderful depictions.

After the parade, Charlie and I went to his host family’s house to spend Christmas Eve.  It was a very special evening.  In all, there were 20 of us (Charlie’s host parents, their 3 adult children with their children, a younger son, an uncle and aunt and the two of us).  With seven children, the evening was filled with merriment (breaking a piñata, singing the “posada”, burning sparklers, and opening presents).  However, at 11:30pm, things got more pious with the announcement of Jesus’ birth.  A doll, representing Jesus, was blessed and passed around to be kissed by all and then added to the Nativity scene.  Each person, in turn, said a few words about their wishes for the New Year (health, peace, etc.).  At midnight, we sat down to eat Christmas dinner, which consisted of a corn soup, shrimp in various sauces, fish, potato and waldorf salads, and several different cakes for dessert.  The night finally wound down by about 2:00am. They made us feel very much at home, even though we were far from our own families.

As mentioned above, the Christmas holidays wind down on January 6th, El Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day), twelve days after Christmas.  All over the country, bakeries offer the “Rosca de Reyes”, an oval sweetbread, decorated with candied fruit.  At work, on January 6th, they served five large “roscas” for the employees with “atol”, a hot corn-based drink, mixed with chocolate.  Hidden inside each “rosca” is a plastic figurine of the Baby Jesus. Each person cuts their own slice of the “rosca”, carefully inspecting their slice, hoping they didn’t get the figurine.  Whoever gets the baby figurine has to be the host and invite everyone present to a new celebration on February 2, “Candelaria”, or Candle mass day.  When I cut my piece, I thought I was safe, since there was no figurine inside the slice.  However, the figure was visible for the next slice, meaning that it was mine!  Guess I will be helping to buy the tamales for the February 2nd celebration.

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