House sitting in Mexico City over the holidays last year enabled a unique experience of local culture. Authentic Mexico displayed little of the commercialism seen in the rest of North America, but instead a focus on the religious story. The Reforma, a major traffic thoroughfare in the heart of the city, was lined not with decorated trees, but life sized nativity scenes built and sponsored by local businesses. Twelve days of Christmas begin on December 16, with family and friends parading through the neighbourhood every evening, gathering in each other’s homes to share food, drinks and celebrate the season. These processions, called Las Posadas, represent the journey of Joseph and Mary, looking for a place to stay for the birth of their baby. They culminate on December 24, when everything shutters by 3 p.m., allowing families to gather for the main celebration of Christmas with a traditional meal – bacalao (salted cod), mole with romeritos (a green herb resembling rosemary), ensalada de nochebuena (beet and jicama salad), and maybe turkey (which we were pretty sure was wild as the one we bought in the local market was huge and very tough!)
Christmas in Mexico felt genuine. We stayed in Condesa, an upscale residential neighbourhood near the Centro. For street vendors selling everything from tacos to trinkets, normal life resumed by the morning of December 25. Our two French bulldogs woke us early, eager to play in the dog park across the street. The sun not yet up, we felt sorry for the woman who appeared to be arranging her stall just across from the park entrance. We watched as she selected some packages and walked away. Curious, we made our way over and upon reading tags on packages labelled with names and descriptions, realized they were not items for sale, but gifts left by someone under a wooden tree as a random act of kindness. That day, we missed our own families and traditions, but witnessed a different community holiday spirit.
By BJ Oudman