Maria Ochoa grew up in Michoacán.
The Stockton housewife and mother of two shared fond memories Friday of her memories of Christmas in Mexico.
“We didn’t do gift exchanges,” she said, in contrast to the U.S. tradition. “And Christmas over there is celebrated more than just one day.”
Instead, Christmas in Mexico was about sharing time with family and friends – both old and new – coupled with fiestas and plenty of tradition.
It’s here that the baby Jesus is more symbolic of the holiday than Santa Claus.
There are no sightings of Jolly St. Nick, last-minute shopping and Christmas trees, for that matter.
“We always did Las Posadas,” Ochoa said.
That’s a re-creation of Mary – she’s often riding atop a donkey – and Joseph going in search for a room at the inn. In this pre-Nativity scene, the couple is often accompanied by a choir of small children, who go door to door requesting lodging, with no takers, as previously arranged.
Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration that originated in Spain. Posada, by the way, is Spanish for “lodging” or “accommodation.”
Christmas in Mexico is about taking time off from work during those last two weeks of December. The celebration may differ a bit in various regions.
Nancy Arias Estrada of Weston Ranch was raised in Guadalajara, the capital city of Jalisco.
In addition to Las Posadas, she recalled celebrating Jan. 6, which is Three Kings Day or the Epiphany. This is also the traditional time of gift-giving for children throughout Mexico.
Vanessa Quiroz, meanwhile, may not have grown up in Mexico but was raised with many of the traditions.
“On one of the days, my grandmother would set a plate filled with peanuts and candies. But we couldn’t touch it until after midnight,” she said.
Like Ochoa, Estrada and Quiroz are also mothers raising their children in U.S. traditions sprinkled in with some from Mexico.
“I don’t have the big family here like in Mexico,” said Ochoa. “We still try to get together with big groups (for the holidays).”
Quiroz, of north Stockton, purchased sweet bread to be shared at one of the upcoming Hispanic holiday events scheduled for the Church of the Presentation in Stockton.
“In Las Posadas (in Mexico) something different (to eat) is served every day,” she said.
They also spend this time of year providing tamales and ponche, a steaming homemade fruit punch concoction, set to be served at midnight on Christmas Eve.
“You can also drink straight alcohol,” said Estrada. “But Tequila will do.”
Ochoa added that the Nativity scene is the principle holiday ornament of Christmas in Mexico.
On Christmas Eve, the statues of Mary and Joseph are featured at most homes minus the baby Jesus. It’s only after midnight – or Christmas Day – that the baby is finally placed in the manger.
“Some places might also do a live Nativity scene,” said Ochoa, who lived in Mexico for better part of 17 years.
There’s also the procession, which occurs 12 days before Christmas. It starts up with a few people and continues to grow in numbers until the group reaches the church, where a mass is held. After that, the children can enjoy a festive piñata party.
Ochoa, Estrada, and Quiroz, in addition, noted that their children prefer the traditional U.S. Christmas Days, where presents from Santa Claus are opened near the Christmas tree, over that of Mexico.
“I know my kids like getting these big, expensive gifts for Christmas,” Quiroz said.
209 staff reporter