Throughout Mexico kids get together each afternoon to reenact the holy family”s journey for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The procession is headed by a small Virgen MarÃa, often perched on a live burro, led by a equally tiny San JosÃ©. They are followed by other children protraying angels, the Santos Reyes, and a host of pastores y pastoras, all usually decked out in colorful handmade costumes and carrying brightly decorated bÃ¡culos or faroles.
Pastorelas are staged throughout the holiday season by both amateur and professional groups. The Pastorelas tell of the shepherds” respect of Baby Jesus. First they are visited in the fields by an angel who announces the holy birth. As the shepherds attempt to follow the great star leading them to Bethlehem they are plagued by a series of evils and misadventures provoked by the Devil. But in the end all ends well.
In most Mexican homes the principal holiday adornment is el Nacimiento. The focal point, naturally, is a stable where clay or plaster figurines of the Holy Family are sheltered. It is not unusual to also find the forces of evil represented by a serpent and a grotesque Lucifer lurking in the shadows. The figures may be simply positioned in a bed of hena, or scattered throughout an elaborate landscape.
Nowadays a decorated Christmas tree may be incorporated in the Nacimiento or set up elsewhere in the home. As purchase of a natural pine represents a luxury commodity to most Mexican families, the typical arbolito is often an artificial one, a bare branch cut from a copal tree Bursera microphylla or some type of shrub collected from the countryside.
Holiday festivities culminate on Noche Buena with the celebration of a late-night Misa de Gallo. After that families head home for a traditional Christmas supper which may feature a simple meal of homemade tamales and atole or other regional dishes. Roast turkey, ham or suckling pig are other popular menu items for those who can afford it. Ponche, sidra or other spirits are served for the holiday brindis . The evening is rounded out with the opening of gifts and, for the children, piÃ±atas and luces de Belen. As these happy family gatherings generally last into the wee hours, December 25th is set aside as a day to rest and enjoy el recalentado .
Incidentally, Santa Claus and the clatter of reindeer hooves on the roof do not generally figure in the scheme of Navidad. A Mexican youngster”s holiday wishlist is directed instead to el NiÃ±o Dios for Christmas Eve and the Reyes Magos for Three Kings Day.
LOS REYES MAGOS
The Christmas season continues full throttle in Mexico through Epiphany, which is called DÃa de los Reyes. Echoing the arrival in Bethlehem of Wise Men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus, children throughout Mexico anxiously await waking up January 6 to find toys and gifts left by the Reyes Magos. In some regions it is customary to leave out shoes where treasures may be deposited by the visiting Wise Men.