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¡Feliz Navidad!

A few weeks ago I was invited to spend Christmas with a local Mexican family from my Church. It was an honour to be invited, and I was also rather grateful given my distance from home. However, I can't say it has felt all that much like Christmas these past few weeks.

Bearing in mind that, at least during the day, the temperature here can be similar to that of a late British summertime, it seemed strange to me to see a Mexican labourer walk past me recently wearing a Santa hat. But yet apart from the weather, Christmas in Mexico shares many similarities to festivities in the UK.

The Traditions

Although perhaps decorations go up a little earlier here (November-time), Mexicans share the joy of putting up the same tacky flashing lights, tinsel and Christmas trees that likewise we adore in the UK. The commercialisation of Christmas is also well-rooted, with the same last-minute rush to the shops on Christmas Eve.

However, there are also great traditions we celebrate in Britain noticeably absent here: Carol singing (not that children would go out at dark in this city, mind!), mince pies and mulled wine, roast turkey, christmas pudding and the breaking of christmas crackers to name a few.

In lieu of christmas crackers however, Children get to enjoy wielding a stick to smash open piñatas - large star-shaped Christmas decorations filled with sweets such as peanuts, fruit and sugar. Piñatas have religious symbolism too, and is a tradition originally brought over from the Spaniards. If this wasn't my highly un-systematic treatment of Christmas in Mexico I would elaborate further on this and other traditions, so I will save that for next year...

As Christmas day approached, I began to miss some of the traditions from home, and wanted to share something of my own Christmas experience with my Mexican family. I've always been brought up eating little oranges around Christmastime, and as Mexicans don't seem to 'do' little oranges at Christmas like we do, I thought it would be a nice idea to take some to the party. As the whole family was gathering, including brothers, in-laws and cousins, I bought about a dozen to distribute on the day.

La Noche Buena

For Mexicans, the most important day of celebrations is Christmas Eve (called 'La Noche Buena', or literally 'The Good Night'). Late in the evening (and I mean *late*, 11pm onwards) families will get together for a big meal. Afterwards, in the early hours of Christmas-day morning, people exchange presents. Christmas day is spent pretty much in recovery.

When I arrived that first evening, people seemed a little bewildered why I would bring a bag full of oranges to a party. I put the bag down to one side, and waited for the right time to explain my tradition. However, after a lot of preamble it wasn't until a staggering 1am that we actually sat down to eat (and boy, I was hungry). But with plate after plate of food coming to the table, we all soon ate more than our fill. I would at this point explain the traditional Mexican Christmas meal - but I have no idea, as my family this year chose to break from tradition and eat something different (some meat-thing I won't attempt to describe), so I'll have to save that for next year.

After the meal, the family held a present interchange. Beforehand we had all been given the name of one person to give a present to. In this family's tradition, the nature of the present was agreed in advance - socks! I had bought a pair of american football socks for a 10-year-old boy who I knew was a fan. Afterwards, individual presents were exchanged.

Of all the bizzare (but enjoyable) traditions, we ended the night playing dominos, and I was returned to my house at 5am Christmas-day morning. After all the abundance of food and commotion that night, I had forgotton to hand out my little oranges.

El Dia de La Navidad

Christmas day I returned late afternoon (after sleeping away most of the day) to enjoy much of the same - eating scraps of food left over from the night before and playing dominos. For me though this was quite anti-climactic. I normally enjoy going to Church Christmas-day morning, enjoy the build up to a huge turkey lunch in the afternoon, and later to open presents and watch a film in the afternoon. But this is Mexico, and holding all the festivities the night before meant it felt more like Boxing day than Christmas day.

Still, I did enjoy the more party-like atmosphere of the large family get-togethers they have here. I think Mexicans know how to let their hair down a bit more and have fun, and I was aware throughout the night of the great privilege I had of spending this Christmas with a Mexican family, and all the experiences I was enjoying, that otherwise I would not have had.

Now I just need to find a way to eat up all these oranges.

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