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Merry Navidad

A few bloggers have recently provided personal accounts of spending Thanksgiving in Mexico, and what it means to them. The general gist being, it’s not quite the same in Mexico as it is the good ole US of A. But then I dare say that there was little expectation it would be. Thanksgiving isn’t an event in Mexico. If it were, it would probably be called Smallpox Day, or Massexecution Day or perhaps even Silverlooting Day.

They’d probably rather roast a Spaniard over hot coals for dinner, than roast a turkey. The indigenous peoples in both the US and Mexico shared similar fates at the hands of the invading Europeans. The difference being, the ones south of the Rio Bravo tend to prefer to identify themselves with the pre-Hispanic tribes. The world north of the border definitely identifies itself with/is dominated by the European settlers. Hence, very different takes on their respective experiences of colonisation.

But still, I do remember the comparisons I made as a Brit living in Mexico. I wasn’t entirely astonished to discover that Guy Fawkes Day isn’t celebrated on November 5th. In fact, it was probably best to keep quiet about that one. Other UKcentric festivals aren’t of much interest to Mexicans unless they are music festivals. The two countries do have some shared holidays though. The biggie of the bunch is almost upon us – Christmas.

Christmas in Mexico took some getting used to. To say the least. Warm, sunny days with blue skies somehow didn’t feel quite right. Christmas is meant to be dark, cold and bleak but brightly lit. Salted fish for Christmas dinner instead of Turkey didn’t seem terribly Christmassy either. All in all, for the first Christmas or two, I could just as well have been on Mars as in Mexico City. I properly felt like the alien I was. But I did get used to it. Then I grew to love Christmas in DF. It’s not the same as it is in the UK. I just needed to stop comparing the two experiences. And if I missed a British Christmas, there’s always the TV ads on YouTube to give me that Christmassy feeling.

Of course, there were some big pluses to Mexican Christmases. Now that I’m back in dark, cold and bleak England, the idea of warm sunny days suddenly seems very appealing. The Christmas dinners were awesome. Except for the *dessert, which usually sucked. I used to get the best part of three weeks off over Christmas. That was nice. The atmosphere was far better as well. Christmas has its commercial side in Mexico, but  that it’s a family and religious holiday still seems to be the dominant theme.

Everyone spends so much time decorating everything too. They do so much more on a limited budget. In the UK, we seem to spend more money just dragging the same old knackered crap onto the town square every December. Trafalgar Square in the centre of London hosts the most famous Xmas tree in the country, but it’s a cheap looking collection of twigs. It might well be a real tree, but I prefer Mexican Christmas trees. Fake? Check. Sponsored by Pepsi? Check. Switched on by a greasy politician? Check. Bloody fantastic? Check. Biggest Christmas ever in the whole wide world? This is Mexico….so of course. Check. I remember it well, and still have the video I shot to prove it…

I don’t need to tell you that I miss Mexico. I still feel more Mexican than British.  But I didn’t expect that I’d miss Mexican Christmases so much. It turns out that I do. There’s a caveat to this. I write from the Bournemouth, UK perspective. The London, UK perspective  is a different matter. Christmas in central London is awesome. We have our trips booked. There will be the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House and a trip to the Christmas markets on the South Bank for roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.

Then there’s a Christmas Spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall. A day in Greenwich, with a trip down the Thames on a cruise boat. And then there will be ice skating on a large rink in the Winter Wonderland site in Hyde Park. Which is a far more appropriate place for an outdoor ice rink than the absolutely mental rink they put up in the Zocalo. I would still love to know how much it costs to keep a rink frozen in the tropics? Screw it. Who cares. I like a bit of mental from time to time. So Merry Navidad. Or Feliz Christmas. Whichever takes your fancy.

*everyone who came to the dinner would bring a dish. I would bring dessert. Fortunately, there was always at least one fat kid there whose greed was a more powerful force than his tastebuds. 

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19 comments

  1. “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

    Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

    Agree – Christmas in Mexico – a good season!

    1. I suspect that taking a Christmas Day swim in a tropical ocean would take some further cultural acclimatisation! But I’m sure it’s a good one there. Are you in Escondido for Xmas?

  2. My first christmas in Mexico was a big shock! I’ve been here for 3 Christmases now, and I’m still not really used to it. The food, celebrating on the 24, everything just doesn’t really do it for me. I’m going back to the UK for christmas this year though :) Did you ever witness passing the baby doll of jesus around, kissing it and swinging it in a cradle? It was all a bit too intense for me. One brilliant thing here has got to be the christmas beer, noche buena!! Once I start seeing that in the shops i know i should start to feel christmassy.

    1. Never saw the doll being passed around! We had the speeches. Every one had to make a speech. What Spanish I possessed would suddenly become much diminished – some suspected deliberately – to keep things short. :)

  3. Thinking back over the past five Christmases, I have no idea where I celebrated them. That may be because it is one holiday that holds little interest for me. Thanksgiving is the big one for me — even if my family, none of whom have much regard for calendars, tends to celebrate it at any time during the year.

  4. After spending most of my Christmases in snowy winters in NY, I spent one in Florida many years ago. It was a hot, humid, tropical area with beautiful beaches. It felt curiously strange to see palm trees decorated with lights instead of the usual pine trees. And even though I Love the beach, spending Christmas Eve on the sand, in the ocean, and then an air conditioned restaurant, instead of in front of a fireplace, felt especially strange. It was like a strange dream.

    NYC’s Rockefellar center ice skating rink and tree(which they are lighting tonight), is lovely during this time of year. And the smell of roasted chestnuts on the street yum…Merry Navidad!

    1. I would love to do NYC at Christmas one year. I’ve done Milwaukee and Chicago. But NYC would be extra special. Alas, I will have to suffer at least one more Christmas in the UK…

  5. Bacalao. What’s with the Mexican love of salt cod, often served at room temperature, sometimes made with a prune or two? I don’t get it.

    I would rather eat fried codfish cakes, with some slaw on the side and Tartar Sauce available.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

    1. I grew up with eating Bacalao in a heavy (time consuming) soup dish called “fanesca”. To this day I have not acquired a taste for it.

    2. I have to say I love Bacalao. Mixed with olives, almonds, chilis and more. It’s just another of those Mexican dishes, like mole, which shouldn’t work. But does. Although I’m clearly in a minority on this page!

  6. On Sunday in the Zócalo, they were putting up a Christmas “tree” like the one on Reforma that you show in your video. However the Zócalo one is sponsored by Coke. I guess the soda wars are now moving on to fake Christmas tree contests.

    It’s also funny that this year it finally dawned on me that all that bacalao was dried, salted stuff. I kept seeing salted cod in stores where I had never seen it before, and suddenly it clicked in my mind. I’ve never had it, but from what I’ve read, it seems like it’d be repulsive.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we are wondering if you’ve given up responding to comments.

    1. The year they built the Pepsi tree in my photo, there was also a Coke tree in the Zocalo. I liked them both! Could I tell them apart though? I’m sure I can….

      You really should try Bacalao. It tastes much better than looks like it will when you read the recipe.

      Given up responding to comments?? Of course not! Just delayed. Life is rather busy at the moment. Work. Christmas. And a new apartment that we’ve just agreed to rent in a very nice part of town. More soon…

      1. New apartment!?! I guess you really are settling in for the long haul, then. No DF plans for the foreseeable future? Hmmm…..

        And if I had a chance, I would try the bacalao, but so far, haven’t had the chance. I usually arrive in DF after the last bacalao has been polished off.

        Saludos,

        Kim G

    1. Ay tamales!!! Talk of all this food is making me hungry! I loved Sunday mornings in Mexico City. Pop out first thing and grab some tamales (filled with mole) and some atole. Watch a bit of TV, then out for a mid morning feast of barbacoa.

      And all I have today is one slightly stale bagel with some defrosted salmon and cream cheese… :(

  7. I have lived for the most part in 6 different cities in my life, with Christmas being slightly different in each one. The best was Indianapolis. Indy gets decked out major for Christmas. The worst being a tie between Phoenix with its pathetic attempt to throw a big wreath on a building or two; or Dallas, where the holiday is mainly limited to the same type of greed-fest as they have any other day of the year. Here in Spokane, Christmas seems nice but also rather smallish, matching the small size of the city. I guess through all of it I have just learned to carry the Christmas feeling around in my heart.

    1. Isn’t Christmas just an annual opportunity to relive your childhood? Our expectations of Christmas always seem to be based on Christmases long ago. And these days, rarely seem to live up to those expectations.

      That, perhaps, is why it’s good to experience Xmas in other places in other cultures. Create a whole new festive experience from scratch, without the burden of ghosts of Decembers past. I guess that’s what I got from living in Mexico. It’s not better or worse, but different.

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