Dec. 07, 2011 - Issue #842: Hroses
Yuletide traditions in a land of no snow
Mexico reigns as a warm country rich in Christmas traditions; these conventions weave together indigenous and Spanish beliefs, mythologies and cuisines. Daniel Braun, co-owner of downtown taqueria Tres Carnales, grew up in Mexico and explains, "According to the Aztec calendar, the Aztecs celebrated the birth of their god Huitzilopoxtli in mid-December. The Catholic missionaries took advantage of these festivities to teach the native Indians the mystery of the birth of Jesus Christ and thus replaced the indigenous tradition with the Christian tradition.
"Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the Convent of San Acolman Augustine, achieved this tradition by obtaining permission from Pope Sixtus V to celebrate the 'Aguinaldo' masses," continues Braun. "These masses are performed from December 16th to the 24th and each day refers to one of the nine months of Mary's pregnancy. The last one is Christmas Eve, which is the reason why the dinner on the 24th is given more importance than the morning of the 25th," he reveals. Posadas occur each of these evenings, and these entail a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's trek around Bethlehem in search of lodging.
"You could, in theory, go to nine parties over the course of those days," notes Braun. Each evening, groups of people parade through the streets, knocking on neighbourhood doors, and singing traditional songs about Mary and Joseph's journey. Occupants of each house will refuse entry to the pilgrims, thereby reflecting the actions of Bethlehem innkeepers. The pilgrims eventually reach their destination: a neighbourhood home that will host a supper that usually consists of buñuelos and hot punch made with hibiscus flowers and sugar cane. "Buñuelos are a sweet pastry that is cut like a pizza, fried in oil, and then broken into shards. They are eaten with a cornmeal dish called atole," recalls Braun, adding, "It can be many different sweet flavours like strawberry or other fruits."
Piñatas are rich with religious symbolism and were originally used by Spanish missionaries to teach the indigenous Aztecs about Christian beliefs. "Piñatas traditionally had seven peaks that represent the seven deadly sins. The person who hits the piñata represents the believer. The covering of the eyes represents faith, which is blind, and the stick represents the grace and help of God," explains Braun. The breaking of the piñata symbolizes the release of the blessings, talents and virtues inherent in each person. Braun notes that piñatas were traditionally filled with oranges, apples, sugar cane and peanuts. "These were not everyday food, so they were considered rich. Nowadays, piñatas are filled with candy and you don't see the traditional fillings so much.
"For me personally, Christmas is tamales with atole," reminisces Braun. "It's very simple, just a concoction of boiled fruits and milk thickened with masa [cornmeal]. My favourite has chocolate in it. It's amazing." Indeed, tamales exist in multiple sweet incarnations and are served as a dessert as well as a main course. "The dessert tamales are the ones I really like," confesses Braun.
"Christmas traditions in Mexico are simple and to the point," Braun says. He adds, "There is always food and it is tied to the church." Indeed, in a country where poverty is rampant, Christmas traditions are a great equalizer. Braun explains, "The nicest thing, with Mexico being the country that it is and a huge rift existing between the rich and poor, is that at Christmas everybody tries to be a better person. Everybody celebrates together and the whole idea of peace among brothers is evident." vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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