Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Traditions In Mexico

You have not been subjected to much Mexican "stuff" on this Blog for quite a while but I want to share this write-up of how Mexicans celebrate Christmas.

In many Latin countries there are actually 12 days of Christmas with much of the gift giving done on Three Kings Day. Many will be partying from before Christmas until after Three Kings Day. Lots of fireworks. Lots of drinking. Gunfire New Years Eve. Here is a little more……….

January the 6th is a special day in Mexico. Known as 'El Dia de Reyes' (Three Kings Day), this holiday represents the height of the Christmas season. The date marks the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas and commemorates the three wise men who traveled from afar, bearing gifts for the infant baby Jesus. The children of Mexico in particular look forward to this holiday as traditionally, gifts are exchanged on this date, not on Christmas day.

In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, Santa Claus doesn't hold the cachet that he does in the United States. Rather, it is the three wise men who are the bearers of gifts, who leave presents in or near the shoes of small children. The holiday is also known by the name of the Epiphany which dates back to the 4th century. A grand feast would be held on this day to honor the occasion of Jesus' baptism and to pay homage to the three wise men.

Many believe mysterious events preceded Jesus' birth with perhaps the most notable being the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem. This new star appeared in the evening sky just prior to the arrival of Jesus. Three wise men or Magi as they were then known, whose names were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, traveled a far distance to pay homage to the Christ child. They brought with them fine gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Three Kings Day remains an important holiday for the people of Mexico. In addition to the gift-giving aspect of the day there is also a culinary treat that is specific to the holiday. Known as 'Rosca de Reyes' (King's Cake), this holiday dessert offers much in the way of symbolism. Shaped in the round to signify a king's crown, this sweet bread holds a special surprise. Baked inside is a small plastic figurine representing the baby Jesus. Whoever finds this token is obligated to host an upcoming party for the occasion of 'Dia de la Candelaria' (Candlemas Day) which occurs each year on February 2nd.

The effigy of the baby Jesus, hidden inside the cake, represents another aspect of the holiday. The reason Jesus is 'hidden' inside the bread is to symbolize how in life, the Christ child's birth location also needed to remain secret, in order that his life be spared. The ruler of Jerusalem at the time, King Herod, had been appraised of the mystical signs that indicated the new and rightful King of Jerusalem was soon to be born. Herod's reaction to these predictions was swift and horrible. He ordered his minions to murder all male infants recently born in Bethlehem. However, as destiny would have it, Mary and Joseph found their lodgings in a manger, not an inn. Herod's henchmen didn't think to look for an infant in such a location.

Another lovely custom associated with the Three Kings Day holiday centers around the evening meal. Traditionally, the supper served on this special day is delicious corn tamales accompanied by hot chocolate. This makes for a perfectly quintessential Mexican meal and one that is enjoyed by everyone in attendance.

Western Christianity celebrates the Magi on the day of Epiphany, January 6, the day immediately following the twelve days of Christmas, particularly in the Spanish-speaking parts of the world. In these areas, the Three Kings ("los Reyes Magos de Oriente", also "Los Tres Reyes Magos" and "Los Reyes Magos") receive letters from children and so bring them gifts on the night before Epiphany. In Spain, each one of the Magi is supposed to represent one different continent, Europe (Melchior), Asia (Caspar) and Africa (Balthasar). According to the tradition, the Magi come from the Orient on their camels to visit the houses of all the children, much like Sinterklaas and Santa Claus with his reindeer elsewhere, they visit everyone in one night. In some areas, children prepare a drink for each of the Magi. It is also traditional to prepare food and drink for the camels, because this is the only night of the year when they eat.

In Spain, Argentina, México, Paraguay and Uruguay, there is a long tradition for having the children receive presents by the three "Reyes Magos" on the night of January 5 (Epiphany Eve) or morning of January 6. Almost every Spanish city or town organises cabalgadas in the evening, in which the kings and their servants parade and throw sweets to the children (and parents) in attendance. 

Every year thousands of horses from all over Mexico make the peregrinacion (pilgrimage) to Cubilete near Guanajuato - then a cabalgata to the top on or around Three Kings Day. (Many pictures online).

El Cerro de Cubilete (Cubilete Hill) is located 15km west of the city of Guanajuato in the heartland of Mexico, a region known as the Bajio. At 2,579m (8,460 feet), Cubilete Hill is the highest mountain in Guanajuato state and thought to be located at the exact geographic center of Mexico.

Marvel at the towering Cristo Rey (Christ the King) statue, a 20m (65 feet) monumental sculpture, religious site and museum situated atop the summit of Cubilete Hill, and enjoy stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area. The statue faces the city of Leon and can be seen for miles.

Erected in 1950, the bronze Christ the King statue is one of the most historically important religious shrines in Mexico. It replaces a smaller statue that originally occupied the same spot atop the hill and was destroyed during the Cristeros War, an uprising against the Mexican government over anti-Catholic provisions added to the Mexican constitution during the first half of the 20th century.

Today, the Christ the King statue is a favorite Guanajuato attraction. Its history and location at the heart of the country hold significant importance for the people of Mexico and each year in early January thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the shrine to celebrate the Epiphany. 


This movement of Mexican men riding their horses to the shrine of Cristo Rey is called the cabalgata of Guanajuato. It is a mixture of a pilgrimage and a procession on horseback that ends at the foothill of the Cubilete. There, in a solemn ceremony, the riders receive a special blessing during an outdoor Mass. After the Mass, the pilgrim riders rest, don clean clothes, and then ride up the mountain individually or in small groups to venerate the famous statue of Christ the King. 



  1. Well I should find out about some of this. I'm heading to Los Algodones on the 26th and having an All on 4 done on my upper. I'll be there for 4 or 5 days so it should be fun to see.

    1. Ouch! That sounds like dental work! You are in the right place to have it done but probably not far enough into Mexico to see traditional Christmas stuff. Good luck with the dental work and let me know how it works out. Merry Christmas!