Mexico´s Long Christmas
by June Nay Summers
December 1996 Guadalajara-Lakeside Volume 13, Number 4

Tis the night before Chirstmas and all through the casa, not a creature is stirring...Caramba! Que Pasa?´ The Chirstmas season in Mexico commences with Las Decembrinas (Dec. 8 to Jan. 6), the Spanish priests who accompanied Cortez throughout his conquest of Mexico. The Franciscan padre sleaped the language and cultural barriers by resorting to skits and mini-dramas. They began with the story of Chistmas.

At first spontaneous. the dramas were formalized in the Franciscan theater in 1532. They begin on December 8, feast day of the purisima Concepcion, the Immaculate Conception. The stockings are hanging, con mucho cuidado, in hopes St. Nicholas will feel obligado... Then comes the story of Las posadas (literally, the inns) that depicts the nine days of wandering by Joseph and Mary, as they search for a place for Jesus to be born. This ritual begins on December 16th, as people march in pairs, carrying lighted candles and singing special carols which beseech a bed for Mary. Childre may dress as angels, others as shepherds or wise men.

Over the final night, the procession winds up inside a church, where Mary identifies herself as the Queen of Heaven Carols are sung as the village priest takes the baby from the angels and places it in the Creche. To leave a few cosas a qui y ahi, for Chico y Chica y some thing for me; A posada fiesta follows. It begins with food and drink--hot ponche, a combination of hibiscus blossom tea, guava and cinammon. it is usualty laced with alcohol. Buñuelos, a crispy confection, is also traditional. ´Los niños are snuggled all safe in their camas, some in vestidos and some in pajamas.

Then come the piñatas. The breaking of the piñatas. culminates the posada Fiesta, and possesses a religious symbolism, even for the children who seem intent on only the goodies inside. For the brightly colored paper maché piñata symbolizes Satan. The children are blindfolded and armed with a stick. When the piñata is finally broken, this symbolizes a victory over evil and the slaying of Satan. The candies and fruits falling to the ground are the reward for thosewho slew the evil spirit A similar ritual was practiced by the Aztecs.

Their little cabezas are full of good things, as they esperan lo que old Santa will bring; Between December 24 and January 6, Las Pastorelas (the Shepherds´ Songs) are sung celebrating the birth of Christ. The first scene is of the revelation of the holy birth to the shep herds, and the depicts their plan to travel to the birth site. But, Lucifer and his evil cohorts plot to thwart the shepherds´ pilgrimage.

The stage is set: Good vs. Evil. Lucifer and his devils appear, breathing fire, and assault the shepherds. After much mayhem, St. Michael and St. Gabriel step in and save the day. The Pastorela ends with the adora tion of the Christ child amidst great rejoicing. ´Santa is down at the corner saloon, muy borracho since midafternoon. Mama, sitting at the ventana, is shining the rolling pin para mañana;

The Mexican Creche (the Cristian Nativity scene) was first devised in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi and portrays the birth of Christ in tableaux, using real people and animals. The custom of the Nativity and the Creche (which the Spaniards call pesebre,) was introduced to Mexico by Cortez´s priests. Mexican Creche scenes are beautified by the scarlet Flor de Noche Buena, Flower of Christmas Eve. It was later introduced to the United States by Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, first American ambasador to Mexico, in 1825. The flower, named after him, became the Poinsettia and the christmas flower of the Western Hemisphere. Mexicans, as they built their Creche, relate the legend of the poinsettia...of the ragged beggar girl who wept because she had nothing to put on the Christmas altar. Her tears, falling on the snow, bloomed as bright red flowers, so that she too had an offering for the Christ child.

Cactus and sarape clad wise men are also touche of the na tive Mexican culrture, as are are tiny parrots, miniscule chicks and pigs, all made of clay. Tiny Mayan homes, carved out of bits of raw wood with the tree bark left around the base, represent the village of Bethlehem. The Magi are tiny Mexican peons wearing the peak-crowned hats of cane-cutters and the sarapes of shepherds. Then comes the Epiphany on January 6th, when children place their shoes outside the door and the Wise Men leave gifts for the childre who have been good. In many Mexican homes, the festivities center around the family Creche, rather than a tree. Thus the long Mexican Chirstmas, which began on December 8, comes to an end.