Feliz Navidad! Fun Christmas Traditions in Mexico

By Michele Samal Kinnon

Celebrating Christmas in Mexico: A Vibrant Fusion of Cultures and Traditions

In the heart of Mexican culture, Christmas is a festive season that transcends mere religious observance, blossoming into a vibrant celebration of life, family, and tradition. Christmas traditions in Mexico, or Navidad, are a vivid tapestry of cultural richness, reflecting the nation’s diverse historical journey. 

The beautiful christmas tree at night in the zocalo of mexico city

This festive season is a unique blend of indigenous customs and Spanish colonial influences, showcasing Mexico’s remarkable ability to weave together different cultural threads into a colorful and cohesive cultural fabric. From the bustling streets of Mexico City to the tranquil rural villages, Christmas in Mexico is a time of communal unity, vivid expressions of faith, and a celebration deeply embedded in the country’s rich heritage.

Christmas decorations in a street in oaxaca

The Historical Context

The celebration of Christmas in Mexico, dating back to the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, began as a religious observance introduced by Spanish conquistadors and Roman Catholic missionaries. Their efforts to convert the indigenous population to Christianity included the introduction of this Christian holiday, focusing on the birth of Jesus Christ. Over time, as the celebration absorbed various elements from indigenous cultures, it transformed into a unique blend of solemn religious observance and vibrant local festivities.

Christmas decorations on palm trees at night looking over the ocean in mexico

The Spanish influence on Mexican Christmas is particularly evident in the religious aspects of the celebration. Catholic traditions such as attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, setting up nativity scenes called ‘nacimientos’, and other Christian symbols became integral parts of the festivities. Spanish customs like the posadas, reenactments of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in Bethlehem, were introduced and quickly became a cornerstone of Mexican Christmas traditions.

Christmas traditions in mexico nacimiento

Indigenous traditions have also significantly influenced the way Christmas is celebrated in Mexico. The incorporation of native symbols, foods, and practices added a distinct flavor to the festivities. For instance, the display of poinsettia flowers (known as ‘Nochebuena’) in Christmas decorations is an indigenous practice. These vibrant red flowers, native to Mexico, symbolize the season and add a unique touch to the festive decor.

A family watching a boy strike a piñata, a christmas tradition in mexico

Over the centuries, Mexican Christmas celebrations have evolved to include a mix of solemn religious rituals and joyous secular practices. This evolution reflects the dynamic nature of Mexican culture, which embraces change while holding onto its historical roots. Today, Christmas in Mexico is a time for religious reflection as well as for celebrating with family and friends, marked by distinctive traditions such as the Pastorelas (nativity plays), Las Posadas and the breaking of piñatas.

A picture of the virgen de guadalupe in a church.

The Holiday Season in Mexico

The Christmas Season in Mexico seems to kick off immediately after Dia de los Muertos with festive holiday store displays and all manner of Christmas decorations filling local shops and grocery stores. In fact, the holiday season in Mexico spans from the beginning of December all the way through to the beginning of February.

Piñata christmas ornament hanging on a christmas tree

Día de la Inmaculada Concepcion (December 8)

The Day of the Immaculate Conception is a significant religious observance in many Catholic countries including Mexico. This day commemorates the belief in the Holy Conception of the Virgin Mary. This is a day of reverance and devotion characterized by special masses, processions and ceremonies to honor this belief. 

In many regions of Mexico, this day is also celebrated with community festivals and cultural events including music, dancing and traditional foods. Dia de la Inmaculada Concepcion marks the beginning of the religious Christmas season in Mexico.

Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12)

Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe holds immense significance in Mexican culture, honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, an emblem of Mexican identity and faith. The Virgin of Guadalupe is not only a religious icon but also a symbol of national pride and unity. Her image is intertwined with Mexican history, representing a blend of indigenous and Catholic beliefs.

Dia de la virgen de guadalupe

The celebrations on this day are a profound display of devotion. Millions of pilgrims from across Mexico and beyond journey to the Basílica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the site where the Virgin is believed to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego in 1531. This pilgrimage is a spiritual journey for many, reflecting their deep faith and reverence. 

The Basilica, a stunning architectural marvel, becomes a hub of activity, with masses, prayers, and songs dedicated to the Virgin. The air is filled with the scent of burning candles and the sounds of mariachi bands, as people celebrate with a blend of solemnity and festivity.

Dia de la virgen de guadalupe in mexico

Las Posadas (December 16 – 24)

Beginning on December 16th and continuing for nine nights, Las Posadas represents the nine months that the Virgin Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Originating in Spain, Las Posadas was brought to Mexico by Spanish missionaries as a way to teach the Christmas story to the indigenous people. The term ‘posada’ translates to ‘inn’ or ‘shelter,’ and the celebration reenacts Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem.

During Las Posadas, processions are held each evening in neighborhoods across Mexico. 

Las posadas

Participants, often children, dress as angels, shepherds, and sometimes as Mary and Joseph themselves. They travel from house to house, singing traditional posadas songs, asking for shelter. The procession is usually refused at first, symbolizing the initial rejections faced by Mary and Joseph. At the final posada, they are welcomed in, representing the innkeeper who finally offered them a place to take shelter.

The conclusion of each evening’s procession is marked by a celebration. Families and friends gather together to share in food and drink, reinforcing community bonds. Traditional foods served include tamales, a staple Mexican dish, and atole, a warm, corn-based beverage. Piñatas, commonly star-shaped to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, are a highlight for children, filled with fruits, candies, and nuts. 

Nochenuena (December 24)

Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, is a cornerstone of Christmas traditions in Mexico, holding a special place in the hearts of Mexican families. This night is much more than a prelude to Christmas Day; it is the pinnacle of the festive season, a time for family, feasting, and religious observance. The significance of Noche buena in Mexican Christmas cannot be overstated—it’s a blend of deep spiritual meaning and vibrant family celebration.

Celebrating christmas in mexico

As the sun sets on December 24th, homes across Mexico buzz with activity and anticipation. Families gather, often traveling long distances to be together, to share in the joy of the season. The evening is marked by a grand feast, a highlight of Christmas traditions in Mexico. Tables are laden with traditional food such as tamales, pozole, and bacalao a la vizcaína (a salted cod dish), each recipe passed down through generations. This is the main Christmas meal and is highly anticipated in all households in Mexico and across Latin America. Sweet treats like buñuelos, Mexican hot chocolate and ponche navideño (Christmas punch) add to the festive spirit.

Pretty christmas lights in mexico in front of a church.

As midnight approaches, many families head to their local churches to attend the Midnight Mass, known as Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster). This tradition, deeply rooted in Catholic heritage, is a time for reflection and communal worship. The Mass is often followed by the ringing of church bells and sometimes fireworks, symbolizing the joyous announcement of Christ’s birth.

Midnight mass decorations for christmas in a mexican church.

Christmas Day (December 25)

Christmas Day in Mexico, while quieter than Nochebuena, is still a significant part of the holiday celebrations. Unlike the grandeur of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is often a time for relaxation and spending time with family in a more subdued manner. This day serves as a peaceful counterpart to the lively festivities of Nochebuena.

Three children opening presents at christmas.

In contrast to the elaborate meals and large family gatherings of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is typically more relaxed. On Christmas morning, children will be playing with gifts delivered by Santa Claus. Families might enjoy leftovers from the previous night’s feast or prepare a simpler meal together. It’s a day for enjoying each other’s company, often involving casual visits with extended family and friends. For many, it’s also a time to play with gifts received during Nochebuena or to attend afternoon church services.

Christmas tree in a zocalo (town square) in mexico

The difference between Nochebuena and Christmas Day highlights the diverse nature of Christmas traditions in Mexico. Nochebuena is characterized by its festive atmosphere, sumptuous meals, and religious observances, while Christmas Day is more about unwinding and enjoying the holiday’s quieter moments. Both days, however, are steeped in tradition and are essential components of the Mexican Christmas experience, reflecting the country’s rich cultural and religious heritage.

Los Santos Inocentes (December 28)

Los Santos Inocentes, celebrated on December 28th, is a unique and intriguing part of Christmas traditions in Mexico, blending historical religious observances with modern-day humor and playfulness. Also referred to as “Día de los Inocentes”, originally, this day commemorates the biblical story of King Herod’s decree to kill all newborn males in Bethlehem, an event that led to the massacre of innocent children. In the Mexican culture, this day has evolved into something akin to April Fool’s Day, marked by light-hearted pranks and jests.

Street christmas lights in the shape of a pinata, in mexico

The modern interpretation of Los Santos Inocentes involves practical jokes and trickery. Media outlets and television programs often participate, broadcasting fake news stories or humorous segments. This tradition showcases the Mexican people’s love for humor and their ability to infuse even the most solemn historical events with a sense of joy and playfulness.

New Year’s Eve (December 31)

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are significant components of the holidays in Mexico, marking the end of the festive season with customs that blend hope, joy, and reflection. As the clock ticks toward midnight on New Year’s Eve, Mexicans engage in various traditions and rituals to usher in the new year with positivity and good fortune. 

Sparklers and champagne on new years eve in mexico

One of the most cherished traditions is eating 12 grapes at midnight, with each grape representing a wish or hope for each month of the coming year. This custom, rooted in Spanish tradition, has become a staple in Mexican New Year celebrations. As the clock strikes twelve, families and friends gather to quickly eat the grapes, often laughing and joking as they try to keep up with each chime.

Christmas lights in mexico

The tradition of wearing red or yellow underpants on New Year’s Eve is a charming and colorful custom that is a fun part of the New Year’s celebrations in Mexico. These undergarments are usually gifted by friends or family members, promoting a sense of fun and optimism for the New Year. Wearing red underpants as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve is a popular tradition among those seeking love and passion in their lives. Yellow underpants are worn by those wishing for good luck, economic success and prosperity in the upcoming year. 

New Year’s Day (January 1)

New Year’s Day in Mexico is typically a time for relaxation and family gatherings. After the excitement of New Year’s Eve, the first day of the new year is often spent enjoying a leisurely meal with loved ones, reflecting on the year past, and setting intentions for the year ahead. This day is less about grand celebrations and more about the warmth of family and the quiet joy of new beginnings.

Día de Los Reyes Magos (January 6)

Día de Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, is a cherished culmination of the Christmas traditions in Mexico, celebrated on January 6th. This day honors the biblical story of the Three Wise Men, also known as the Magi, who followed a star to Bethlehem to present gifts to the newborn Jesus. In Mexican culture, this day is filled with joy and reverence, continuing the festive spirit of the Christmas season.

Modern nativity scene

The centerpiece of the celebration is the Rosca de Reyes, a sweet, wreath-shaped bread adorned with candied fruits. Hidden inside the bread is a small figurine of baby Jesus. The person who finds the figurine in their slice is said to be blessed, but they also have the responsibility of hosting a party on Día de la Candelaria, which occurs on February 2nd. In Mexico City there is an entire food festival dedicated to these breads.

Atole and rosca de reyes with the baby from the rosca. One of the typical christmas traditions in mexico

Gift-giving is another significant aspect of this day, especially for children. In keeping with the story of the Magi, all Mexican children receive gifts on this day, adding a sense of wonder and excitement to the festivities. This tradition is a delightful part of the Mexican Christmas experience, extending the joy of the season and emphasizing the importance of giving and receiving with gratitude.

Día de la Candelaria (February 2)

Día de la Candelaria, or Candlemas, observed on February 2nd, is a religious celebration that holds significant importance in the tapestry of Christmas traditions in Mexico. This day marks the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and it is imbued with both religious significance and cultural traditions.

Rosca de reyes for 3 kings day, one of the christmas traditions in mexico.

One of the central customs of Día de la Candelaria is the preparation and sharing of tamales. This tradition is linked to the Rosca de Reyes; the person who found the figurine of baby Jesus in their slice of the bread on Three Kings Day is responsible for providing tamales for the family gathering on Candlemas. This practice not only creates a sense of continuity between the two celebrations but also fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility.

Church services are a vital part of Día de la Candelaria. Families dress up figurines of baby Jesus and take them to the church to be blessed, a ritual that symbolizes gratitude and devotion. Día de la Candelaria marks the end of the Christmas season in Mexico. 

Regional Variations of Christmas Celebrations

Christmas in Mexico is celebrated with a rich tapestry of regional variations, each adding its unique flavor to the festive season. Across the diverse landscapes of Mexico, from the bustling cities to the serene villages, local customs and traditions paint a vivid picture of the country’s cultural richness.

One of the most distinctive regional celebrations is the Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca. Held on December 23rd, “Noche de Rábanos” is a unique festival that features intricately carved radishes displayed in elaborate scenes and figures. Originating in the colonial period, this tradition showcases the creativity and artistic skills of local artisans, turning ordinary vegetables into extraordinary works of art. The Night of the Radishes is a testament to the region’s deep connection to agriculture and its ability to transform a humble harvest into a spectacular cultural event.

Another notable regional celebration is the Fiesta Negrohispana, observed in communities with Afro-Mexican heritage, such as the Costa Chica region in Guerrero and Oaxaca. This festival is a vibrant blend of African and Hispanic cultures, featuring traditional dances, music, and culinary delights. It reflects the rich cultural diversity of Mexico and the enduring influence of African heritage in this country’s cultural mosaic.

Christmas Traditions in Mexico: Decorations and Symbols

Traditional decorations play a central role in celebrating Christmas in Mexico, each with its own symbolic meaning and historical significance. These decorations are not just festive adornments but are deeply rooted in the country’s cultural and religious traditions.

The poinsettia, or nochebuena, is one of the most iconic symbols of Christmas in Mexico. Native to Mexico, this vibrant red flower is a staple in holiday decorations, adorning homes, churches, and public spaces. The poinsettia’s deep red color symbolizes the blood of Christ, while its star-shaped leaf pattern represents the Star of Bethlehem.

Hundresds of pionsettias, a traditional christmas decoration in mexico

Luminaries, or paper lanterns, are another traditional Christmas decoration, lighting up streets and homes during the festive season. These lanterns, often made from colorful paper, are used to illuminate the path for the Posadas processions, symbolizing the guiding light that led the shepherds and Wise Men to the baby Jesus.

Luminaria, paper lanterns.

Nativity scenes, or ‘nacimientos’, are a central part of Christmas decorations in Mexico. These elaborate nativity scenes depict the birth of Jesus and include figures of the Holy Family, shepherds, angels, and the Magi. The nacimiento is a focal point in homes and churches, serving as a reminder of the spiritual significance of the holiday.

Traditional nacimiento in mexico, joseph, and mary with the baby jesus in a stable with a donkey.

Piñatas, traditionally star-shaped with seven points, are a festive and fun element of Christmas celebrations. Each point represents one of the seven deadly sins, and the act of breaking the piñata symbolizes the triumph of virtue over vice. Filled with candies and fruits, piñatas are a favorite among Mexican children and add a joyful and playful dimension to the festivities.

Piñatas hanging in a shop. Christmas traditions in mexico

Traditional Christmas Foods and Drinks in Mexico

The celebration of Christmas in Mexico is as much about the delectable cuisine as it is about the festive spirit and religious significance. Traditional Mexican Christmas foods and drinks are an integral part of the holiday, bringing families and communities together around the table.

Bacalao a la Vizcaína

A traditional Mexican dish commonly served on Christmas Eve. It is a savory stew made primarily from salted codfish (bacalao), which is a key ingredient. The dish has its roots in the Basque region of Spain, but it has been adopted and adapted into Mexican cuisine, especially for festive occasions like Christmas. The preparation of Bacalao a la Vizcaína involves soaking the salted cod for several hours, or even days, to rehydrate it and remove excess salt. The rehydrated cod is then cooked with a rich sauce made from tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a variety of spices. Olives, capers, and sometimes bell peppers are also added to the mix, contributing to the dish’s distinctive flavor profile.

Bacalao traditional christmas food in mexico


Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup or stew, commonly served on Christmas Eve. Pozole is made with hominy (nixtamalized corn kernels) and typically features pork or chicken. The soup is seasoned with a blend of spices, including garlic, onions, and chilies, and is often garnished with fresh toppings such as shredded lettuce or cabbage, radishes, avocado, lime, and chopped onions. Some versions also include a red or green sauce made from chili peppers, adding depth and richness to the flavor. This hearty and flavorful dish has deep cultural roots and is a staple of Mexican cuisine, particularly during festive occasions.

Ensalada Nochebuena

A popular Mexican dish typically served during the Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) celebrations. This festive salad is known for its colorful presentation and refreshing taste, making it a popular addition to the holiday feast. The ingredients of Ensalada Nochebuena can vary regionally and by family tradition but typically include lettuce, beets, jicama, apples, oranges, pomegranates, and nuts, often dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. The combination of red from the beets and pomegranates, white from the jicama, and green from the lettuce often represents the colors of the Mexican flag, adding a patriotic element to this Christmas salad.

Ensalada nochebuena traditional christmas food in mexico


Another traditional Mexican side dish, romeritos are commonly enjoyed during the festive period around Christmas. This dish is particularly popular in central and southern parts of the country, especially in Mexico City. Romeritos, which translates to “little rosemarys,” are actually a type of seepweed (Suaeda spp.), a plant similar in appearance to rosemary, hence the name. The traditional dish typically consists of the romeritos plant cooked in a mole sauce, often accompanied by potatoes and nopales (cactus leaves). During the Christmas holidays, it’s common to add dried shrimp to the mix. Romeritos are known for their distinctive taste and are a staple in the Mexican Christmas dinner.

Romeritos traditional christmas foods in mexico


Another festive favorite, buñelos are sweet treats that add a touch of indulgence to the holiday season. These crispy fried fritters, dusted with sugar or drizzled with syrup or honey, are enjoyed by families, often accompanied by a cup of Mexican hot chocolate or atole, a traditional corn-based beverage.

Buñuelos traditional mexican food at christmas

Rosca de Reyes

Rosca de Reyes, is a sweet, wreath-shaped bread adorned with candied fruits. The Rosca de Reyes is traditionally served on January 6th during celebrations for Día de los Magos. Hidden inside the bread is a small figurine of baby Jesus. The small doll inside the rosca represents the Baby Jesus who was visited by the Three Kings and hidden away from King Herod. The person who finds the figurine in their slice is said to be blessed, but they also have the responsibility of hosting a tamale party on Día de la Candelaria, which occurs on February 2nd. 

Rosca de reyes, traditional mexican bread for the day of the three kings.


Tamales are a cornerstone of Christmas cuisine in Mexico. These steamed bundles of masa (corn dough) filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, or chilies, wrapped in corn husks, are a labor of love often prepared by groups of family members. The making of tamales, known as a ‘tamalada’, is a social event in itself, fostering a sense of togetherness and tradition.

Mexican hot chocolate and tamales

Ponche Navideño

A warm, spiced fruit punch, Ponche Navideño is the quintessential Christmas drink in Mexico. Made with a blend of seasonal fruits like guava, apples, and tejocotes (Mexican hawthorns), and flavored with cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), this aromatic beverage is a staple at holiday gatherings, offering warmth and comfort during the chilly nights of the holiday season.

Ponche navideño popular christmas drink in mexico


Atole is a traditional Mexican hot beverage, deeply rooted in the country’s ancient culinary history and often associated with festive occasions like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Christmas. This warm, comforting drink is made from masa (corn dough), which is the same base used for making tortillas and tamales. Atole is often enjoyed at breakfast or as an evening treat. It’s particularly popular during the holidays, served with tamales or Mexican Christmas cookies.

Atole, the traditional mexican hot drink made from corn dough.


Rompope is a traditional Mexican drink often associated with celebrations and festive occasions, particularly around Christmas time. It is similar to eggnog, a rich, creamy beverage popular in many cultures during the holiday season. Originating from Puebla, Mexico, rompope is made with milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. It tastes like a mildly boozy eggnog. The key distinguishing ingredient is alcohol, typically rum, which is added to the mix, giving the drink its characteristic warmth and depth. It is delicious on its own, poured over ice or even mixed with coffee.

Rompope popular holiday drink in mexico

Music and Dance at Christmas

Music and dance play a pivotal role in Christmas celebrations in Mexico, infusing the holiday with rhythm, joy, and cultural expression. Traditional Mexican Christmas music, often lively and heartwarming, is a key component of the festive atmosphere.

Singing at las posadas

Villancicos, are Spanish Christmas carols and a beloved tradition. These songs range from religious hymns to more playful tunes, often recounting the nativity story or other aspects of the holiday. From the classic “Noche de Paz” (Silent Night) to the more upbeat “Los Peces en el Río,” these carols are sung in homes, churches, and during community events like Las Posadas.

Dance is also an integral part of Christmas in Mexico. Traditional dances, often performed during ‘Las Posadas’ and other holiday gatherings, are a way for people to express their joy and celebrate their cultural heritage. The ‘Pastorelas’ a type of nativity play, often include dance performances that tell the story of the shepherds’ journey to Bethlehem, blending religious narrative with artistic expression.

Christmas in Mexico: Modern Influences and Adaptations

In the evolving landscape of Christmas traditions in Mexico, modern influences and adaptations play a significant role, especially in urban areas. The global tradition of Santa Claus, known in Mexico as ‘Santa Clos’ or ‘Papá Noel,’ has become increasingly popular. This figure, emblematic of gift-giving and Christmas cheer, has been seamlessly integrated into the Mexican Christmas experience, particularly in cities and urban centers.

Santa claus in mexico

Santa Claus complements the traditional gift-giving figures like the Three Wise Men (Los Reyes Magos), offering a blend of global and local customs. In many modern Mexican households, children eagerly await presents from both Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and the Magi on January 6th, Día de Los Reyes Magos. This integration showcases the adaptability of Christmas traditions in Mexico, where global influences are welcomed and woven into the rich fabric of local culture.

In rural areas, while traditional practices remain more prevalent, there’s still a noticeable influence of modern global customs. The extent of this influence often depends on the level of connectivity and interaction with broader cultural trends. However, even in these areas, elements such as Christmas lights, artificial Christmas trees, and Santa Claus imagery are becoming common sights.

Mexican Holiday Traditions: The Impact on Community and Family 

The essence of Christmas traditions in Mexico lies in the emphasis on community and family. Christmas is a time when social bonds are reinforced, and a sense of togetherness is celebrated. Family gatherings are central to the holiday season, with members often traveling long distances to reunite. These reunions are not just about sharing meals but also about participating in communal activities like attending Christmas Mass, breaking piñatas, and singing carols.

Christmas stars of bethlehem, one of the christmas traditions in mexico.

Community involvement is equally significant. Events like Las Posadas and Pastorelas are communal affairs, fostering a sense of belonging and collective joy. In these celebrations, neighbors come together, sharing food and festivities, and reinforcing community ties. The communal aspect of these traditions is a testament to the Mexican spirit of inclusivity and cooperation.

Modern nativity scene

In both family and community settings, Christmas traditions in Mexico serve as a vital conduit for passing down religious beliefs, cultural values and heritage. They offer a time for reflection on the past and a celebration of the present, strengthening familial and communal bonds. The gradual fusion of Spanish colonial religious practices with indigenous cultural elements has resulted in a unique and vibrant holiday season that is an integral part of Mexico’s cultural identity, celebrated with fervor and joy across the nation.

About the author

Michele Samal Kinnon

Despite the strong reservations of family and friends, in 2004 I moved from the United States to Mexico with my young family. Since then, I have made the Riviera Maya my home. I have raised two remarkable children here. I have celebrated amazing successes, made countless mistakes, and in the process, fallen in love with this beautiful country.