On the evening of the 24th of December Mexico slowly shutters the stores, the streets clear and for the most part, the hustle and bustle retires around sunset for the most important night of the Christmas holiday celebration, Noche Buena.
Noche Buena or Christmas Eve is the focal point of the holiday season and sharing with family. This will be my seventh as part of a Mexican family and my seventeenth in Mexico. In that time there has been a slow invasion of the commercial Christmas that has homogenized with Mexican tradition, but the distinctions remain, here is our version of a truly Mexican.
On this evening families across Mexico will gather into the largest family groupings possible. It is the biggest travel period in Mexico, as families fragmented by modern life, return home for the holidays. The neighborhood caroling by candlelight is more common on the mainland and parties with friends and coworkers or Posadas that began on Dia de Guadalupe, drew to a close on the 23rd, this is a family night.
The doors to this fiesta open late in the afternoon, as the family trickle in from a busy day. The smell of the cooking that began early in the day drift through the house, but the fast is underway and the anticipation is forced underground to the tune of growling stomachs.
The period from your arrival in the late afternoon until everyone gathers is for family visiting, a cup of wine and a cerveza or two, but don't go sneaking around the kitchen, forcing the hunger to build. As the evening progresses someone often arrives with a bottle of fine tequila.
Roast pork is the menu leader for the Noche Buena table. Some writings attribute it to being readily available in the wild to early Spanish Caribbean settlers; others attribute it to the usual season of slaughter, making pork more available in the Christmas season. Whatever the origin, I am fortunate to husband the woman whose recipe for Roast Pork preparation is the family's choice.
Turkey, ham, and tamales make up the 'platos fuerte' or main dishes. Pozole is a traditional main dish as well, but a little hard to keep on the plate. But my wife claims in DF it is the smell of roasting pork which fills nearly every street. Here in Baja, the menu has had more northern influences. Whatever the menu, the purpose of the evening is to eat. Dinner commences late, so appetites are well seasoned. Just like every holiday you are familiar with, the food disappears much faster than the time and effort in preparation.
And as everywhere else it is declared over by your heavy sigh and slumping back in your chair, abandoning your forward position at the table. If the good tequila hadn't come out before, it is certainly time for the good sippin' stuff now. At our party, that is usually at the end of the alcohol but at other fiestas, things are just getting rolling.
After the debris of dinner is cleared away it is time to exchange gifts. In our family lots are drawn, in what North Americans would call Secret Santa. Two of the young members of our family circle are in college, so a conscious effort is made not to 'inflate' the game, and gifts are modest.
Oh goodness, I almost forgot that sometimes promptly after dinner the pinata will be hung and the kids will take multiple turns in trying to whack the candy out of the thing. The funniest moments usually coming when a bystander takes a good swat.
The party usually continues until well after midnight, as the little ones drift off to sleep, draped over arms of chairs or where they fell in the middle of the floor. They are eventually gathered up by parents and trundled off to the car.
Santa has made his commercial invasion from the north, and my wife tells me he is much more prevalent here than her neighborhood of in Mexico City. Old Santa must be keeping busy with the market growth, though, because, like up north he delivered in the night and has added a whole bunch of new trees to stash presents under, to be opened Christmas Day.
My first Christmas in Mexico was in Ensenada. It was a beautiful day and it provided sun and light jacket temps for a stroll along the Malecon and by the warmth of late afternoon, it was crowded with locals. Here in Baja California Sur we often have some spectacular weather for Christmas week and as our winter arrives in early January it is popular for pleasant outdoor activities and recovering from too much food and fiesta the night before.
However, you choose to celebrate this holiday, enjoy the sentiments of the season.
Merry Christmas from the staff of the BajaInsider.com