Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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2013 Fall Festivals: Our Favorite Week of the Year

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Given how often food gets featured on this site, you may find it hard to imagine us setting aside that heaping bowl of mole de caderas — available from only mid-October to mid-November — to write this post. But we were inspired by the recent Mexico chat on Twitter to share two of our (other) favorite fall festivals in Puebla before it’s too late to enjoy them. Both are happening this week, or Oct. 26 to Nov. 3.

We’ve written about Day of the Dead and the National Christmas Tree and Ornament Fair before, but this post contains updated information for 2013. Enjoy!

Day of the Dead

A chalk Catrina decorates Puebla's main square for Day of the Dead.Few traditions in Mexico rival Día de los muertos in their mixing of ancient and modern beliefs. The national holiday, which is celebrated around the state of Puebla from Oct. 28 to Nov. 2, honors lost loved ones by paying tribute to — and praying for — their spirits. Its origins can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when the Aztecs held a monthlong ritual for the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. Nowadays, families set up altars in their homes or businesses to remember people who’ve passed away (often during the past year). The notion is that, by doing so, they welcome, nourish, guide, and otherwise assist the souls in their journey after death.

Looking for ofrendas, calaveritas, and the like? The IMACP plans to show off the semifinalists in its annual altar-building contest at the Galería del Palacio Municipal (Portal Hidalgo #12, Col. Centro) on Oct. 31 from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 1, 2 and 3 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Its elaborate entries, which last year ranged from miniature to life-size, are made of paper and cardboard; admission is free.

Visitors to the city of Puebla who want to take part in the 2013 festivities should head for the historic center.

Next door, in the lobby of the Teatro de la Ciudad, artisans will display and sell their handcrafted wares Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 from noon to 6 p.m.; the theater is also set to host two “catwalk shows” of Catrina costumes on Nov. 2 at 6 and 8 p.m. Elsewhere on the block, the municipal government puts together a monumental altar every year that fills its entire lobby of the Palacio Municipal — which visitors may view from Oct. 28 to Nov. 6 — and offers a free marionette show for kids of all ages, Llegó a Puebla la Catrina, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Each year, the city of Puebla erects a monumental altar inside the Palacio Municipal.Just across the zócalo, on the opposite side of the Puebla Cathedral, the Casa de Cultura (5 Oriente #5) hosts its own colorful altar-building competition, as well artists selling Day of the Dead jewelry, figurines, and snacks (hello, sugar skulls). It’s open for free to the public Nov. 1 to 3 from roughly 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; prepare to stand in line.

Other Day of the Dead events in the Puebla capital include a nighttime parade on Nov. 1, which gets under way at 6 p.m. on Avenida Juárez (at 19 Sur) and winds through the city streets to the main square, and a Gran Fandango de Calaveritas at Museo Amparo (2 Sur #708) on Nov. 1 and 2, featuring Poblano folk group Reyes Son, at 8 p.m.

If you have wheels and want to head farther afield this week, the towns of Atlixco and Huaquechula are also colorful places to celebrate Day of the Dead. Atlixco is mounting its sixth giant floral carpet in the main square and a Catrina exposition on the patio of the Palacio Municipal, and Huaquechula invites visitors into 21 local homes to view traditional altars. (See links for additional details.)

National Xmas Tree and Ornament Fair

The town of Chignahuapan aims to sell tens of millions of Christmas ornaments this year during its annual Feria Nacional del Árbol y la Esfera.

Blown-glass ornaments in Chignahuapan, Puebla.The event, which showcases the work of some 3,000 artisans, takes place from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3. The hand-painted, blown-glass ornaments range from quirky to exquisite, and shoppers will find items in varying sizes and prices. (One year, we bought a bunch of holiday earrings to take to the U.S. as gifts.) The ornaments are produced in six major factories and some 200 family workshops, according to local news reports, and primarily sold by vendors on the main drag.

The fair comprises all sorts of events, from a midnight rodeo and Mexican wrestling to a candlelight procession and a massive launch of globos de cantoya. The festivities take place in the Teatro del Pueblo and other locations in and around town; admission prices vary. Click here for the complete schedule [PDF], which is a bit hard to read (but the only one we could find, thanks to Chignahuapan Entertainment’s Facebook page).

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Holiday Lights and Family Fun in Atlixco

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Holiday lights in the main square of Atlixco.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

Holiday figures (three wise men) in the main square of Atlixco.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.

A street vendor sells ponche (hot fruit punch) in Atlixco.Holiday lights decorate the oldest archway in Atlixco.Angels herald the holidays in the streets of Atlixco.Holiday lights in the streets of Atlixco.







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

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Posadas in Puebla, from Traditional to “Punk Rock”

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Piñata and sparklersLas 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

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Eat Like a King, Donate Toys for Epiphany

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The navitity scene in the zócalo of San Pedro Cholula.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

A king’s cake decorated with dried fruits.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.

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Every Day Is Christmas in Chignahuapan

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Blown-glass ornaments in Chignahuapan, Puebla.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

A 19th-century Mudejar kiosk is the centerpiece of the town square.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.

El Sanctuario del Sr. Honguito is dedicated to a petrified mushroom bearing an image of Christ on the cross.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.

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