For a number of years, I’ve been waning on the Christmas spirit and even deemed by some to be a Scrooge. But truthfully – I love the spiritual aspect of Advent and Christmas. I love being with family. I love the good food, the hot spicy punches, and candlelight. What I don’t like? I guess growing up in the Charlie Brown Christmas era, it’s the tinsel town and frenzy that has wildly escalated since then that I choose to pass on whenever I can.
This year – I finally got to truly experience something I’ve dreamed about – Christmas in Mexico. Or any other country for that matter, to see what other cultures have done with much the same story. (And for those who think I’m a Scrooge – I’ve got Christmas music playing on Pandora and it will continue through Three King’s day on the 6th of January.)
The setting here in San Miguel De Allende reminds you every time you walk to the Centro that Christmas is approaching. A huge lighted Christmas tree sits outside of the massive La Parroquia with giant Nativity figurines surrounding the tree and another nativity scene nearby. If you hit it at the right time, you’ll see live nativity actors on parade called a Posada. It’s clear here that this season is about Gesu Bambino.
The feeling here is festive without crazy. Decorations are simple and the way I remember growing up. Greenery, lights, candles, nativities. No blow up Santas. Actually – there are very few sightings of anything Santa. The odd bit here is the large, pencil shaped mylar balloons that are sold each day near the Jardin to happy kids. They’re not even Christmas colors, but they seem to be a hit.
Our little group of three had planned on Christmas Eve dinner at home and a nice dinner out on Christmas Day, lacking the tools and resources to cook a fitting meal – but realized mid-day that we’d be fighting upstream. Here – everyone is out on Christmas Eve – parades, hanging out, eating, and headed to mass and then dinner – and everything closes up on Christmas Day, which is just the start of the real Christmas Season. The big gifts are often saved for Three Kings Day on January 6th.
We walked downtown in the afternoon to pick up fresh breads and were excited to find a beautiful moist fruitcake, decorated cookies and plenty of pastries for breakfast. La Europa was packed with last minute wine and liquor buyers and we grab some nice red wine and a bottle of Prosecco for the morning.
The walk home was fun as we hauled our treasures up the hill and exchanged Feliz Navidad’s with everyone. I tried to imagine being out at my local Target or grocery at 3pm on Christmas Eve and know it isn’t like this! I’m enjoying this so much – the fun of the season without the frenzy. How do they do this?
Back at the house, Joanna made tomorrow’s soup, and we dress up a litte, and head back out after dark to get dinner at one of our favorite local spots – it’s crowded but we have a table in ten minutes. I catch the end of a Posada – the last one of the season – a large, live nativity carried through the streets while everyone follows singing carols. I jump in and walk a few blocks wishing I could skip dinner and head right into the church.
Full and happy, we’re now looking for midnight mass which we discover started closer to 9pm. There are three Catholic churches within blocks and all the services are already going. We stand just outside the prettiest one, and are included when they pass the peace, and decide to head up for communion – doors are wide open during the whole thing and it’s too beautifully decorated to miss out.
A chorus of Silent Night and my favorite carol, Gloria in Excelsis Deo with choir and organ close it out. We missed much of it -including live animals for the nativity being led in– but this is still perfect.
Christmas Day was just a day of eating, drinking, and watching American TV – there honestly wasn’t anything else to do and we all loved a solid pajama day. We did light the candles and set the table for posole, salad, bread and red wine.
It is an incredible experience to celebrate a holiday in a different culture – things seem to be more clear when you’re out of the norm and you realize that holidays sort of evolve, often not by intention. I realize I want to keep the mindful and meaningful parts of celebrating this crazy, wonderful holiday.
And the rest of it can stay at Walmart.