It really is amazing how diverse Christmas and New Year traditions are in Mexico. Please take the time (if you want!) to read about how we celebrate this time of the year here.
Festivities and Food
The sixth of January is Día de los Reyes, or All Kings Day. This is the day that the Three Kings: Melchor, Gaspar y Beltasar, bear gifts to the baby Jesus (yes, the Three Kings have names here, as in the entire Spanish-speaking world). This is the day that traditionally Mexican children receive the great majority of their gifts—unwrapped. Whereas, on Christmas day the parents wrap the gifts (usually 1-2 per child) and put them under the tree for the children to find first thing in the morning. In recent years, Santa Claus and Christmas Day have gained significant ground.
Popular custom has been added to this day, although I have not been able to determine how, or if it has any religious significance. A very tasty bread is baked and sold all over, with sugary toppings and decorated with dyed dried fruit. It is called rosca de reyes. Inside this sweetbread are baked little plastic dolls. The enjoyable tradition is that whoever, upon cutting his piece of the bread, finds a little doll, that person is responsible to buy tamales to celebrate on the second of February. Apparently, some people even dress up these 1 ½ long figurines as they would the baby Jesus doll.
The ponche made mainly during this time of the year is also a practice uniquely Mexican. Although ingredients vary from home to home, some of the essential elements are apples, guayaba, tejocotes, and pieces of raw sugar cane, prunes, jamaica flower, tamarindo and cinnamon. Half of these ingredients are unattainable in the U.S. but abound here in Mexico, especially during the Christmas season. The above is sliced and put in water to season for a couple of hours. Sugar is added to taste. The result: a wonderfully delicious treat, somewhat addicting I might add.
Many tastes are acquired. Initially, I did not enjoy many foods that I’m crazy about now. But, there are six dishes that I can’t swallow—literally, even seven that I can’t stand. Three of these dishes are popular Mexican Christmas delicacies. Anyone who has traveled at all to other countries and cultures realizes that the word “delicacy” is a word full of danger. Romeritos, a Christmas food I mentioned earlier, is basically a green, grassy herb that I, for the life of me, do not understand how people can appreciate. The description that I found on the Internet for Romeritos is as follows: “wild slightly acidic greens with needle-like leaves clustered around a thickish stem.” I’ve seen them usually in a brownish pasty sauce. Mmm…sounds good, doesn’t it?
Another holiday treat (for some) are tortas de camarón, or shrimp croquets. That sounds like something I would love, but the catch is that these croquets are made from dried shrimp, often ground shell and all. The result is very much like chewing fine sand, and somehow the shrimp taste all but disappears. The third dish I avoid during Christmas is bacalao a la viscaina. Bacalao is codfish, but this codfish is dried and salted and sold, unrefrigerated, in white slabs at all the supermarkets. The “a la viscaina” part involves a sauce made of olives, potatoes and pimiento and has its roots in Spain.