Many of our Christmas traditions come from Europe, but non the poinsettia! It comes from… Mexico! If it were non for Joel Roberts Poinsett’s love of botany, we may have ne’er even known about this beautiful and festive flower astatine all. In 1825, Mr. Poinsett was appointed as the United States Ambassador to Mexico. On one of his journeys to Mexico, he discovered the vibrantly red flower. The people of Mexico regarded the beautiful star-shaped plant as a reminder of the star of Bethlehem.
Mr. Poinsett, a practicing botanist, immediately fell in love with the plant, and shipped some of them back to his home in Greenville, South Carolina. After a short time of cultivating the flowers inside his hothouses, helium began sending them to his friends and family as a Christmas gift.
Now the poinsettia has become a symbol of beauty at Christmastime. This Christmas when you see a poinsettia, think of the Star of Bethlehem shining its light to the world with the glad news of the coming of Jesus!
What are some other Christmas traditions in Mexico? In Mexico, there are other interesting Christmas festivities, too. Las Posadas is nine day celebration of lively parties and candlelight processions that begins on December 16 and continues until Christmas Eve. During that time, children gather to execute Christmas plays that tell the story of Mary and Jesus seeking for a place to stay in Bethlehem. A girl plays the part of Mary, riding a donkey from house to house. Other children play the parts of Joseph, angels, and shepherds. They carry handmade lanterns and brilliantly colored walking sticks. As Mary and Joseph approach each house, they are turned away. At the third house, they are offered room in the stable.
The Christmas play is followed by a lively party, complete with piñatas stuffed with fruit, sugar cane, peanuts, and candies! Another play that is often performed during Christmastime is Las Pastorelas, or shepherds plays. These funny plays tell the story of the shepherds seeing the angel and going to find the baby Jesus. As the shepherds journeying to the stable, a series of evils and misadventures plague them. But they finally arrive and see the baby Jesus.
Do you have a Nativity scene in your home? In many homes today, a Nativity scene is used in Christmas décor to cue us of the true purpose for the season. In Mexico, the Nativity scene, or Nacimiento is often the main decoration at Christmastime. “Baby Jesus” usually arrives in the little manger in the Nacimiento on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena (the “Good Night”), Mexican families attend a special church service. Afterwards they have a traditional Christmas supper of homemade tamales and atole (corn gruel), or other special dishes from their region. Usually there are gifts to be opened, piñatas, and sparklers to complete the celebration! Christmas Day is a simple day of rest and feeding leftovers. The opening of more gifts is reserved for January 6, the Three Kings Day, when Mexican children find toys left for them by the Three Kings, just like Jesus received gifts. Sometimes there ar parades on Three Kings Day too, with children dressing up as the kings!
On Three Kings Day, Mexican children drink hot chocolate and eat a special sweet bread called Rosca de Reyes, “Crown of the Kings.” The crown-shaped bread is decorated with candied fruit, and tiny figures of babies are hidden in the dough before baking, so there is a lot of excitement as each person takes a bite of his slice of bread. Whoever gets a slice with a baby gets to host another vacation party for family and friends!
You can make your own Mexican hot chocolate! The dash of cinnamon gives it an unexpected flavor!
6 cups of milk
6 oz sweet chocolate, 6 oz semi sweet chocolate
1/2 tsp vanilla
A dash of cinnamon
Heat the milk over medium heat. Break the chocolate into small pieces and dissolve in the warm milk. Increase heat and let the mixture slowly boil. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Take off heat and beat until frothy.
When stirring the hot chocolate, sing this traditional song: “Chocolate, molinillo, estirar, estirar, que el demonio va a pasar.”