Christmas south of the border is a busy time, with traditional celebrations extending well beyond Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The festive season lasts for close to two months and includes many holy days that are not commonly celebrated in the U.S. If you're spending the holidays in Cabo, look for festivals and observances to begin in the third week of December and extend well into the New Year. Here's a list of festivities celebrated throughout Mexico and in Cabo as part of the Christmas season.
December 16: La Fiesta de la Virgen de la Soledad
This festival actually originates in the southern state of Oaxaca, where it celebrates the patron saint of the cathedral in that state's capital city. Our Lady of Solitude, known in Spanish as La Virgen de la Soledad, officially celebrates her feast day on December 18. The festivities begin on the 16th and continue through the week, centering around the city's main church, an impressive Baroque cathedral that dates from the time of Spanish conquest.
But even if you are outside of Oaxaca, you still are likely to see a shrine, procession, or religious service that features a woman in an elaborate white, gold, or black gown, crowned with an equally impressive circle of light. There are communities representing this vibrant and eclectic southern state throughout Mexico. Many neighborhoods and small towns throughout Mexico will have a similar saint's day festival, parade, or other celebration to mark the beginning of the Christmas season.
December 18 to 24: Posada Processions
The Spanish word posada means "hotel." Children re-enact the arrival of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay. The homes of friends, family, and neighbors play a part as the inns that must turn them away. The "posadas" are usually decorated with candles, evergreen plants, and other seasonal decorations, and each one hosts a posada party until the final one on Christmas Eve. Prepare to swing at a piñata if you attend any of the parties. Hopefully, fireworks don't bother you, as they are completely legal and plentiful. The last procession is traditionally followed by attending a late-night church service.
December 24: Noche Buena
You probably refer to Noche Buena as Christmas Eve, and many of the traditional observances are the same when it comes to dining with relatives and spending an evening in a place of worship. In Mexico, families have a late meal together after attending the last Posada procession and party, which is followed by the Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) or traditional Midnight Mass. In Mexico, the poinsettia plant is also referred to as the flore nochebuena, the flower of Christmas Eve, and you'll see many of them decorating window sills and front doors.
December 28: Los Santos Inocentes
There's no time to rest after Boxing Day this year, as the calendar of Mexican festivals is full well past Christmas Day, beginning with Los Santos Inocentes. According to ancient legend, King Herod ordered all of the newborn male children in his kingdom to be killed when he heard the news that a new ruler had been born. The infant Jesus escaped, but thousands of innocents died.
Although historical records outside of the Bible are scant on this incident, it is known that Herod's fear of a usurper to the crown drove him to execute some of his own family members. Despite the somber memory that this holiday recognizes, festivities are similar to that of April Fool's Day, consisting of pranks, jokes, and tweaks at recognized authorities.
January 6: El Dia de los Reyes
Also known as the Epiphany, El Dia de los Reyes, is about food, friends, and three kings who also happened to be astronomers. This is the day when the Christ Child was visited by Three Kings. This festival marks the middle of the whole Christmas season, which still goes on for a few weeks. Children might find small gifts left by the wandering magi in their shoes, and everyone enjoys a slice of Rosca de Reyes, or King's Cake.
This distinctive cake can only be found at this time of year, and it appears often in bakeries, restaurants, and grocery stores. It's more like a pastry than a cake, decorated with colorful dried fruit and baked in an endless loop to signify a king's crown. The cake is often accompanied by corn tamales and hot chocolate. The best part of this merry feast is deciding what lucky person hosts the party for the next, and final, Christmas holiday. There is a small plastic baby hidden in the cake, symbolizing Jesus being hidden from evil Herod, and whoever bites into him organizes the Candlemas fiesta.
And a colorful sight you might see are balloon sellers in parks and squares. This fun tradition consists of children writing letters addressed to the Three Kings asking for presents. The letters are tied to the helium balloons and the balloons are set to fly.
February 2: Dia de la Candelaria
Dia de la Candelaria goes by many names worldwide and marks the official end of the Christmas season. Other titles include the "Presentation of Jesus at the Temple" or the "Feast of the Purification of the Virgin." The infant Jesus would have been just over a month old, and his parents would have presented him to the local rabbi.
Today is the day that those who found the baby Jesus in the Rosca de Reyes (King's Cake) host their parties, and occasionally attend church services, sometimes along with a night vigil. If you do attend a service, you might be given a special candle that you can burn in your home for good luck and blessings in the following year.
Celebrate the Season in Cabo
Each year, Plaza Amelia Wilkes, the town square in Cabo San Lucas, is strung with holiday-themed ornaments and decorations wrapping the central gazebo in color. The plaza is also home to a large decorated Christmas tree and beautiful nativity scene. And of course the holiday season in Los Cabos coincides with the start of whale watching season, in which tourists enjoy observing whales on the way to their traditional winter breeding grounds off the coast of Baja California Sur.
Spending the holidays in Cabo, among the lush plants and hot sunny days, is already fantastic. Participating in the local traditions will enrich your holiday and fill you with that warm fuzzy Christmas spirit. Follow the many special dates on the Mexican calendar of Christmas holidays, and wash that special cake down with some delicious hot chocolate before you hit the beach.