Christmas season is a beautiful time at Lake Chapala. The nine-days of Posada begin the season on December 16. It is the enactment of the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter at an inn. To see the local children pour their hearts out during this time will in turn touch your heart and prepare you for Christmas.
Annually for the past several years, an Interfaith church group of carolers visits Lakeside assisted living facilities the week before Christmas to lift holiday spirits for the senior residents. When one sees the smiles on their faces, it cannot help but put a smile on your face and enliven the Christmas spirit in your heart.
Growing up in the United States it all seemed so rushed and hectic with everyone shopping and friends and family talking holiday parties and a family Christmas dinner. And then the big day of December 25 arrived and all the anticipation was over and for many the following morning was a bit of a let-down.
For some, the Christmas tree was taken down and discarded by the end of the day. Those twinkling lights that framed the house or a window display were no longer turned on. The unwanted gifts or those that were the wrong size were returned to stores for exchange. After Christmas sale fliers went out and bargain hunters filled stores once again, as they had after Thanksgiving’s Black Friday sales. The Christmas season seemed to have climaxed.
When my wife and I retired and moved to Mexico, we discovered at Lake Chapala an all new and different perception of Christmas. The good life at Lake Chapala still had focus on family and friends, and there were parties. The Lake Chapala area year-round has no shortage of celebrations, but the rush and stress seemed gone. Schools let out the weekend before Christmas and they and non-essential businesses and many government offices closed or operated with reduced staff, so the families could travel or gather for a family-style reunion. It would be January 7, after the 12-days of Christmas, when they would re-open and things would return to normal. The family and an understanding of the true meaning of Christmas was the priority, not an emphasis on the shopping and gift-giving.
The old traditional song, “The 12 Days of Christmas” took on a new meaning. For many Mexican families, Christmas Eve was focused on attending a church service and the family’s Christmas meal, not on exchanging gifts. It was the 12th day of Christmas, January 6, designated under a variety of names such as Little Christmas or Dia de los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) or Epiphany, that children expected, and family members exchanged, gifts, as the Three Kings (Magi) brought their gifts to the Infant Jesus.
The Three Kings arrive at Lakeside, usually at the village plazas, atop the firetruck or a police pickup and children gather for candy treats or small gifts distributed by these modern-day Magi. The Christmas Season was not over in spirit on Christmas Day. It would now last for 40 more days with decorations still displayed until February 2, Dia de Candalaria.
So as the Christmas Season now begins with the posadas on December 16, it will end on Dia de Candalaria, January 6, that 12th day of Christmas that took on its own importance. There would be a special treat to celebrate on Three Kings Day, the Rosca de Tres Reyes, a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel-like candied fruit. Each year now my wife and I join in that Mexican tradition and order our rosca from a neighborhood panaderia (bakery). Nothing tops the aroma as the rosca emerges fresh and warm from their brick oven. It seems more realistic than a commercially baked rosca at the supermarket. It reminds me of those days of my youth when my grandmother or mom home baked. By tradition, tiny figures shaped like infants and made of plastic, are slipped into the dough before baking, symbolizing efforts to keep the baby Jesus hidden from the wrath of King Herod. The slicing of the rosca generates great excitement, for whoever gets a slice containing an infant. That person is designated as the padrino (godparent) who then hosts a celebration party on Dia de Candalaria for all who partook in the slicing of the rosca in January.
Christmas is very special in Mexico. Feliz Navidad and a happy holiday to all.