Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’|
Thursday, December 20th, 2012
My first Christmas in Puebla, I had the pleasure of meeting my future husband’s entire extended family. My Spanish was far from perfect, and at times I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer enormousness of it all. No matter which group of kin we were visiting, the gathering always involved at least two dozen people, as well as food, drink, and hustle-bustle of epic proportions.
On Dec. 24, we gathered at his maternal grandmother’s house to share a late dinner — Basque-style salt cod, Poblano chiles stuffed with cheese, refried beans — and exchange “white elephant” gifts. With everyone crowded around the table, talking over one another and the festive background music, it was tough for me to follow (or contribute to) the conversations. So, I endeared myself to everyone by defying most gringo stereotypes and gleefully devouring several jalapeños too spicy for my other half. Charming, right?
As I sipped on a glass of cider during a reprieve, one of his cousins presented me with a beautifully wrapped box. For me? How thoughtful, thank you. We’d only just met. I proceeded to open it, with my beloved and his dad at my sides, as the chatter around me reached a new crescendo. Imagine my surprise to find a pair of red lace panties inside. I blushed, confused and embarrassed, and quickly put the lid back on the box. Only later did I come to find out that it’s customary to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve in Mexico, for good luck, particularly in love. It works, too: Four years later, Pablo and I are married.
La Villa Iluminada
The importance of family — not just mine, but everyone’s — in Mexican culture is evident around the holidays. People typically gather for traditional posadas in the days before Christmas and then continue the festivities through New Year’s Eve and Epiphany, which here is known as Día de Reyes. We kicked off our celebrations last year on Saturday with a dinner for 40 at La Aldea Hotel & Spa in nearby Atlixco, about 30 minutes by car from the Puebla capital. It was a spirited, all-night affair that included joke-telling, an indie rock concert by a trio of cousins, and an impromptu caravan into the city to see La Villa Iluminada (The City of Lights).
La Villa Iluminada is a 1.5-kilometer pedestrian route decorated with holiday lights that winds through the streets of downtown, from the main square to Insurgentes Boulevard, a major thoroughfare to the east. Millions colorful LEDs illuminate historic buildings, lampposts, and temporary fixtures. “For 45 days, the streets will form a circuit of light and color dressed up with figures, Christmas scenes, traditions, and the city’s identity,” officials said in 2011 on the city’s website.
The 2012 Villa Iluminada happens nightly, starting at 7 p.m., through Jan. 7, 2013.
We started our trek in the main square, where everything from city hall to the Italian Coffee shop is decked out in lights. After posing for photos with the three wise men and the giant Christmas tree, we strolled under a canopy of lights, listening to accordion music and savoring the smell of tejocotes, boiling away in freshly made ponche, that permeated the air. Street vendors offered all sorts of wares, from holiday handicrafts to flowers and pine trees. We passed through Atlixco’s oldest archway to reach the boulevard, where folk dancers performed on an elevated stage. The entire street, including the old train depot, glowed with multicolored flowers, stars, angels, and even avocados and pots of mole. It’s quite a sight — and well worth a visit.
The city of Atlixco reportedly invested more than 7 million pesos (US $550,000) in the expansive display, which is expected to attract 200,000 visitors during its run. Special attractions include carnival rides, various concerts through Dec. 23 and fiestas de reyes on Jan. 4, 5 and 6. For more information (in Spanish), click here. —Rebecca Smith Hurd
To get to Atlixco by car from the Puebla capital, take Vía Atlixcáyotl (head south/west from the Periférico) until it turns into a toll highway (438D). When the highway ends in a split, veer left onto the Puebla-Matamoros Highway. Turn right onto E. Zapata, which ultimately turns into Insurgentes, where you’ll run into the festival. For those traveling by bus, Linea Oro offers service to Atlixco from the CAPU station.
Post updated on December 14, 2012
Sunday, December 16th, 2012
Las posadas are a long-running Christmas tradition in Mexico, where they were introduced by Spanish Catholics some 400 years ago. In the strictest sense, the events re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25. The religious celebrations often involve a procession and the construction of a manger.
“The nine nights of posadas leading up to Christmas are said to represent the nine months that Jesus spent in Mary’s womb, or alternatively, to represent nine days journey to Bethlehem,” notes Suzanne Barbezat of Discover Oaxaca Tours.
Posada literally means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish. However, in modern-day Puebla, the word is often used as a synonym for “holiday party” featuring carols, piñatas, sparklers, hot beverages like ponche or atole, and the distribution of aguinaldos (“bonuses,” in this case gift bags filled with cookies, candies, nuts, and fruit). We attended a “punk rock posada” last night that involved many of those things but catered to an alternative crowd and thus featured mezcal and indie music. And, although we filled the piñatas with traditional ingredients — sugar cane, mandarin oranges, whole peanuts, tejocotes, guavas, and baby jicamas — one of them was a traditional star and the other was a caricature of the Yo Soy 132 movement.
Interested in attending a posada? The Museo Amparo hosts one tonight at 6, for 80 pesos per person.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
While most folks north of the border are packing up Christmas decorations and kicking dried-up trees to the curb, many Mexican families — three in every four of which are Catholic — are preparing to celebrate Epiphany this week. The holiday, known as el día de reyes (day of kings), commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem on January 6, twelve days after the birth of Jesus. Melchoir, Caspar, and Balthasar essentially follow in Santa’s footsteps, bringing gifts to children who’ve behaved themselves the previous year.
Waiting for the Wise Men
Pablo, my other half, recalls his childhood experiences fondly. “The night before, we put one shoe — usually the ones we wore to school — under the tree with a note for the three kings asking for toys,” he explains. “Sometimes, if we’d recently lost a tooth, we put it there, too. My brothers would leave a cookie for the kings, too, but I never did.”
While he and his brothers slept, los reyes left unwrapped toys next to each one’s shoes to be discovered on January 6. “I remember being so happy and excited, waking up in the morning and running for the tree to see what they’d brought me. One year, I got an Atari, and my dad and I stayed up playing it all night.” The family’s tradition continued every year until Pablo was about 12, he says, when he realized that his parents were the Magi.
Cutting the Cake
As part of the festivities, Mexicans typically also share a rosca de reyes and a beverage, such as hot chocolate or atole. Americans who live in the southeast (or have been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans) are probably familiar with king’s cake, a large crown-shaped pastry decorated with colored sugar that’s eaten throughout the season of Carnival, from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. In Puebla, you can find various types of roscas, including a light brioche-like cake and a denser one with nuts and a frangipane-like filling. Both are often topped with strips of dried fruit. It’s customary for the baker to hide a tiny plastic baby inside, which represents Christ.
Whoever ends up with the figurine is charged with hosting the next fiesta: a tamale dinner on Feb. 2, or Candlemas, the church festival commemorating the presentation of Christ in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.
Locals and visitors alike can take part in public cake-cutting events on Jan. 5 at Angelopolis mall and on Jan. 6 at the BUAP Cultural Complex. If you’d rather buy your own rosca de reyes, La Flor de Puebla (3 Sur #104, Centro Histórico) and Panificadora Roldán (8 Norte #1005, San Pedro Cholula) sell among the best in town. If you’d prefer to make your own, Mexconnect.com offers this poblana recipe. ¡Buen provecho!
Spreading the Joy
Antonio Prado and the good folks at the Spanish Institute of Puebla are collecting toys for the less fortunate kids in Puebla. You can help! Drop off donations of new or slightly used toys at the school (11 Oriente #10, Centro Histórico), from January 3 to 7 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The toys will be delivered on Sunday, January 9, by adults dressed up as the Three Wise Men.
“We go to the outskirts of Puebla, where there is no running water or electricity, and when the poor kids see us dressed as the Three Wise Men, they call their friends and normally within twenty minutes we will have about fifty young kids there,” Antonio says. “Once we give them toys we will drive another mile or so in the dirt road and do it again until we run out of toys. What has always amazed us is that once the kids see us instead of asking for toys they go running away to call their friends. …It is amazing the happiness these kids have from receiving these very simple gifts.”
Tríangulo las Animas is also collecting toys for charity as part of a city-sponsored campaign called Divertón. In addition, the mall will give children an opportunity to send their wishes to the Three Wise Men on Jan. 5 by tying cards to helium balloons.
Saturday, November 6th, 2010
A 19th-century Mudejar kiosk sits at the center of an otherwise traditional town square. One Catholic church celebrates a petrified mushroom that bears a sacred image of the Crucifixion, while another is anchored by an enormous plaster virgin. And the main drag — well, it looks as if someone threw up Christmas all over it. Welcome to Chignahuapan, an enigmatic little city about a 90-minute drive from the capital in Puebla’s northern mountains.
First inhabited by Chichimecs and later the Aztecs, Chignahuapan (pronounced “chig-na-WA-pon”) officially became a municipality in 1874, when Spanish missionaries began to settle in the area and built its first church, says a local tourism and commerce website. Since then, residents have erected more places of worship and earned a reputation for making artisanal goods (red earthenware pots, bovine-wool blankets, hand-carved wood) and mutton dishes, from pit-roasted barbacoa to mixiote bundles wrapped in maguey leaves. Their talents, coupled with the proximity of Lake Almoloya and thermal baths, have turned Chignahuapan into a popular day trip or weekend escape for urban dwellers from Puebla and Mexico City.
Between August and December, visitors flock to Chignahuapan to buy locally produced blown glass. Each year, more than 200 workshops turn out some 70 million Christmas-tree ornaments in every shape, size, and color imaginable. The lion’s share of these esferas navideñas are packed, distributed, and sold throughout Mexico, but the best selection and prices can be found by visiting the stores on Romero Vargas Street (also called 2 Sur behind the municipal building), just a block from the zócalo. Need a set of spiral ornaments in rainbow hues, a decorative centerpiece for the dinner table, or a pair of dainty snowman earrings to match that holiday sweater? No problem!
La Feria del Árbol y La Esfera
For the past 16 years, Chignahuapan has celebrated its seasonal craft with an annual tree and ornament festival. The 2011 event continues this week with all sorts of events, including: a fishing tournament (Oct. 30, 7 a.m., at Lake Chignahuapan), fireworks (Oct. 30, 10 p.m., at the Explanada Municipal), mariachis (Oct. 31, 8:30 p.m., Teatro del Pueblo), and a festival of light and life for Day of the Dead (Nov. 1, 6 p.m., at the Teatro de la Laguna). For the complete program, click here and then on “Programa” and the different ornaments.
Art and Architecture, Relgious Symbols, a Waterfall, and More
Shopping aside, Chignahuapan offers a few other sites well worth seeing. A short walk to the main square rewards visitors with a wonderfully diverse mix of art and architecture. to The municipal building features a beautiful (and brand-new) mural depicting the area’s heritage and history in its entryway. Next door, the Parish of St. James the Apostle boasts a gorgeous facade, which blends Baroque and indigenous styles of the late 16th century. Across the street, an open, elevated Mudejar kiosk, built in 1871 to house public performances, demands attention with a Muslim-Spanish design that’s reminiscent of old-world bull-fighting rings in Madrid and Barcelona.
Back on the main drag, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, a rather nondescript building on the outside, houses a towering virgin on its main altar inside. When Mass isn’t being celebrated, visitors are welcome climb a small set of stairs and lay their hands at her feet for a blessing; a small donation is requested. Just a short drive away, following the street signs toward the thermal baths, the Sanctuary of Our Lord of the Fungus pays homage to a petrified mushroom that, according to local lore, was miraculously found in 1880 and contains various images, including Christ on the cross. Señor Honguito is preserved under glass in the church’s nave for public viewing, except during Mass (Sundays at 9:30am).
Lovers of the outdoors may also want to visit the waterfall at Quetzalapan. The falls used to generate power for much of the region — in fact, according to the eco-park’s website, Chignahuapan was the first city in the area to have electricity, because people in the area built their own hydroelectric plant in 1930. It stayed in business until 1980, when it succumbed to competition. The site now operates as a recreational area, offering picnic areas with barbecue pits, secure camping facilities, and activities such as zip lines and archery.
Original post updated on Oct. 29, 2011.