Do you ever wish you could escape the cold, snowy holiday season here in Utah and venture off to somewhere warmer like Mexico? The Christmas season in Mexico is one of the most festive and beautiful things that anyone could ever experience. Celebrations start in early December and continue into early January with a related holiday capping off the season in February.
In the United States, commercialism launches the season on November 1st and there may be a party or two to attend during the season, but the real celebrations typically only take place on December 24th and 25th. In contrast, Mexico has purposeful events marking the different phases of the season—making it last for over a month! Keep reading to learn more about these celebrations.
Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe—December 3-12
For nine days leading up to December 12, most of Mexico joins together for a novena. This is a nine-day religious celebration of the Virgin Mary’s miraculous appearance to Juan Diego in 1531. The novena is spent honoring her through prayer. The final day of the novena ends with feasting on tamales and hot chocolate.
Las Posadas—December 16-24
Meaning “inns” and “shelters” in English, Las Posadas is one of the more important parts of the traditional Mexican Christmas celebrations. It resembles the Bible story of Mary and Joseph who went from inn to inn searching for a safe place where Mary could deliver the baby Jesus. Today, this search for refuge is celebrated all over Mexico with candle-lit processions and carols. One traditional song even acts out the Nativity scene where Mary and Joseph beg for shelter and aren’t let in until the one innkeeper takes pity on them. Posadas are typically held at a community member’s house. Partygoers arrive singing a song about seeking shelter and the people inside respond in kind, singing a song of rejection. This goes on and on until the host of the house lets everyone in.
Noche Buena & Misa de Gallo—December 24
Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, is one of the biggest celebration days in Mexico. Families spend it together and often attend the final posada. The evening meal is the biggest feast of the season with delicious traditional dishes like pozole, roast turkey, tamales, and fried pastries. Many people choose to end the day by attending a Misa de Gallo—Mass of the Rooster—which is a midnight religious service honoring the legend that says that the only time a rooster has crowed at midnight was when Jesus Christ was born.
Christmas Day—December 25
Because Noche Buena is a long day of celebration, many people spend Christmas Day as a day of rest. They enjoy their gifts, watch movies, and spend quality down time with their families. Because receiving gifts from Santa Claus is a more modern custom, many children will wait until Three Kings’ Day to open gifts.
Los Santos Inocentes—December 28
The Day of the Innocent Saints is a day where people remember the babies killed by King Herod as he tried to hunt down the baby Jesus. Despite solemn origins, it is the celebratory equivalent of April Fools Day in the US. The day is about festivity and humor with pranksters pulling practical jokes, or inocentadas.
Three Kings’ Day—January 6
This is the day that every child looks forward to. It honors the arrival of the Magi or los Reyes Magos who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. According to tradition, their names are Melchor, Baltasar, and Gaspar. It is also the day that children traditionally receive gifts from the Magi—some children to receive gifts from Santa Claus on Christmas Day, but that is considered to be an imported custom.
Candlemas, or Día de la Candelaria, is a special day symbolizing 40 days after the birth of Jesus. According to ancient Jewish custom, women would take their children to the temple 40 days after giving birth, and so it is supposed that Mary would have done the same. In Mexico, this day is honored by dressing up figurines of the Christ Child, Niño Dios, and taking them to the church to be blessed. Families will often get together and celebrate together with good food. In some areas of Mexico, there are parades and even bull fights.
Celebrate Like You’re in Mexico!
You might not be able to catch the next flight to Mexico, but you can make the drive on over to Blue Iguana in downtown Salt Lake City. We’ll be celebrating the holiday season the entire month of December. Come enjoy authentic holiday treats like tamales, pozole (weekends only), huevos divorciados, and sopapillas served with Mexican hot chocolate. To make a reservation, call us at 801-533-8900. ¡Feliz Navidad!
Interested in Learning About Other Mexican Holdiays?
Make sure to check out our blog on the Day of the Dead!
***Come celebrate on Monday, September 16, 2019! In Celebration of Mexican Independence Day, are having several $10 entree and $5 beverage specials. These will only be available on the 16th. Please see the below menu for full details.***
Stepping into Blue Iguana, you can feel the love we have for the Mexican culture. Most of our cooks and waiters are from the beloved country of Mexico, and you can see the pride we have in our homeland in every part of the restaurant. You can hear it in the music and taste it in our food. Yes, we love Mexico! We love everything from the authentic flavors we cook up every day to the rich history that gave birth to the country it is today. Continue reading to discover the history behind how Mexico came to be.
”¡Viva México!” Visit any town square in Mexico on September 16th, and you will hear people shouting this glorious phrase. It means, “Long live Mexico!” and is known as El Grito de la Independencia or The Cry of Independence. Behind these words are a lot of emotions—passion, patriotism, and pride.
You see, Mexicans are a proud people with a very rich heritage. Much like their northern counterparts in los Estados Unidos (United States), Mexican history includes a bittersweet story of a brutal fight for independence and a trail of leaders who helped make it happen. Before we tell this story, you must know one thing: the story of Mexican independence has nothing to do with piñatas, beer, or even Cinco de Mayo. It’s about a people who fought for their right to be free from the Spanish army. It’s a story that deserves our respect and gratitude.
The Cry of Independence
September 16th is the day we celebrate Mexican Independence Day. However, that is not the day that the country’s independence was officially declared. In fact, it marks the day everything started when Miguel Hidalgo, a Catholic priest, decided to take action. He was frustrated with the authorities because they wouldn’t let him teach the poor people in the city of Dolores how to grow certain crops, and he wanted the people to have more opportunity. On September 16, 1810, he gave a speech called “The Cry of Dolores” that ignited a revolution against the European-born Spaniards who governed over them.
The Death of the Father of Mexico
The Mexican people heard Hidalgo’s cry and eagerly gathered to support him. Together, they formed a rudimentary army of poor farmers and civilians, including women and children, that killed many of the elite Spaniard class. In January of 1811, they found themselves at the Battle of Calderón Bridge where they met an army of 6,000 well-trained troops. There, most of Hidalgo’s army either fled or were killed. Hidalgo himself fled but was eventually captured and beheaded on July 30, 1811. The government used his head as an example of what happens to those who revolt by displaying it in the city of Guanajuato where he and his army were formally charged with the offense of causing a massacre.
Hidalgo’s fight was short, but it was the spark that set the fire in the hearts of the people of Mexico. It is his cry for independence that we celebrate every September 16th as that is what started the movement towards a free Mexico. Other leaders followed Hidalgo and continued to hold up the mantle of revolution until independence could be officially declared on September 28, 1821. These leaders are honored every year on September 15th at 11pm as the president of Mexico stands before the country’s citizens as he gives a modern patriotic cry of independence:
¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!
¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
¡Viva Aldama y Matamoros!
¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!
¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!
Long live the heroes who gave us our homeland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live the nation’s independence!
Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico!
How to Celebrate Mexican Independence Day
In Mexico, we traditionally celebrate this day of freedom in a way that is similar to how those in the United States celebrate the 4th of July. There are flags displayed everywhere, parades, fireworks, street fairs, family gatherings, and—of course—lots of food!
Maybe one day you’ll have the opportunity to visit our beloved home country of Mexico and celebrate this amazing holiday there. Meanwhile, we’d love to invite you to come celebrate with us at Blue Iguana. Our authentic Mexican restaurant is a little piece of Mexico. Some consider it to be a hidden gem here in downtown Salt Lake City, but we like to call it a home away from home. Here, you can eat delicious mole made by our head chef just like his mother used to make back in Mexico, drink the best margarita you can get in the SLC area, and dine out on our Instagram-worthy patio. We can’t wait to see you!
Día de los Muertos. The Day of the Dead. It is one of the most beautiful Mexican holidays and is celebrated October 31st to November 2nd. From an outsider’s point of view it might look like Halloween but don’t confuse the two! It’s a special holiday and some might even call it sacred. If you’ve watched Disney Pixar’s Coco™ then you know that the holiday has one central theme: family—it’s important to remember your loved ones who have passed on and the heritage you have because of them. Don’t grieve, celebrate!
Although some may argue about whether or not the holiday was accurately depicted in Coco ™, the movie did incorporate many of the unique traditions of Día de los Muertos. At Blue Iguana, we love and celebrate this very special day. Here, we will expand on some of those traditions as well as some not found in the movie and that you may not have heard of until now.
1. Altars for the Deceased
It is true that a good portion of the people of Mexico are religious (in 2014, 81% of the population identified as Catholic), but don’t mistake this tradition as worshipping the dead. However, faith does play a part in some of the symbolism involved. Families create these altars to put ofrendas (offerings) to help them honor the memory of their ancestors and to guide their souls on their journey back to the world of the living. These are just some of the ofrendas typically found on an altar.
Papel picado is basically colorful tissue paper that has shapes or designs cut out of it. You’ve probably seen these displayed in many Mexican restaurants. These aren’t exclusive to Día de los Muertos but are often placed on the altars to represent how fragile life is.
When we look at pictures of those who have moved on from this life it brings back memories of them. We’ll see their smiles and remember their laughter—maybe a joke they once told or something funny they did during their lifetime.
In Mexico, you’ll see gravesites and altars covered with majestic marigold petals. They’re meant to help guide loved ones back to their place of rest.
A Candle for Each Relative
A candle is lit for every family member who is being represented on the altar to help guide them back home.
Salt & Water
These items are meant to quench the thirst of the deceased’s soul after their long journey.
Made from tree resin, copal incense is used to purify the area around the altar. It is thought that the smoke from the incense helps people communicate with their deceased family members.
Personal possessions of the dead are often placed on the altar as well. These are items, like clothing or musical instruments, that an individual was fond of during their lifetime. If the person was a child when they passed, small toys are put on the altar.
What holiday would be complete without food? Día de los Muertos certainly wouldn’t be! Traditional food items as well as the family member’s favorite meals are placed on the altar.
And speaking of food…
2. Food Offerings
Preparing food for the altar can be a big event. Some families see it as a time to come together in the kitchen and bond over good conversation and cooking. Sometimes, the older generations will use this as an opportunity to show the younger family members how to prepare the meals. These are some foods that are commonly put on altars and later eaten by the living members of the family (souls can only smell!).
Pan de Muerto
Bread of the Dead. This is a sweet bread that has bones and skulls featured on it. Sometimes it’ll be made with a circular design, symbolizing the circle of life.
Probably one of the most iconic Day of the Dead traditions, sugar skulls can be made by pressing a granulated white sugar mixture into a special mold. Icing is then used to decorate faces on them.
Pronounced like “mole-eh”, it is a sauce used in many traditional Mexican dishes. There are many different kinds. One of the more popular types is made with chocolate—like our Mole Negro (black Mole).
One very popular food during Día de los Muertos is tamales. They are made from masa, a dough made from corn flour, that is spread on a cornhusk. Meat, typically chicken or beef, is added and then the husk is closed and tied up for cooking.
True Mexican hot chocolate is not like the powder packet stuff most of us are used to. It usually is made from whole milk, chocolate, cinnamon, and ground chile.
Feeling hungry yet? We have one more tradition to share with you and then you can grab a bite to eat.
3. La Catrina
When you think of Day of the Dead, you probably think of people painting their faces like skeletons. However, it’s much more than that!
Who is Catrina
In the early 1900s, there was a lot of political tension between the rich and poor of Mexico. José Guadalupe Posada, an illustrator, created Catrina in a satirical attempt to make fun of the upper class, especially native Mexicans who were becoming too European-like. He drew her to be a skeletal woman in a long dress with fancy hat and a crown of flowers on her head. The people loved Posada’s creation and she was called the Lady of the Dead, a reference to the ancient deity and goddess of the ancient Aztec version of the Day of the Dead.
Over the last century she has become a very recognizable symbol of the holiday as people all over Mexico paint their faces in honor of her. Women will try to mirror the typical Catrina image while men will paint their faces and wear suits. There are even parades where everyone dresses up in Catrina attire.
If you’re at Blue Iguana during the Day of the Dead, some of our staff might have their faces painted in her honor too!
Celebrate Día de los Muertos at Blue Iguana!
¡Ven! Come, let us show you the many flavors of Mexico. Bring your family and feast on fajitas while enjoying the mariachi music. Or bring your friends to try the margaritas and enjoy our chef’s molcajete (his signature dish!). We can’t wait to celebrate the Day of the Dead with you! To make a reservation, call Blue Iguana today.