Christmas in Mexico: Culture Shock

Christmas in Mexico:
An Occasion for Culture Shock

photo: Christmas Star
Christmas here is so different from up north that it can cause severe culture shock. When you live or retire in Mexico, your first couple of Christmas seasons may not feel quite like Christmas. Christmas here smells like sweet fruit cider, not like pine trees. There is no holly here. The weather is warm and sunny during the day, not cold or snowy or rainy and believe it or not, you almost never hear “Christmas music.”

Is it really different enough to cause culture shock? Read about a Cuernavaca posada

Read about a posada in a small town in Michoacan

Reducing Culture Shock During Christmas in Mexico

Christmas is so loaded with memories and expectations that a good case of culture shock during Christmas can give you even more blues than during other times of year. I recommend that before you retire in Mexico, you choose a few of your favorite Christmas things to bring with you. A familiar CD of Christmas music and your favorite decoration will serve to remind you that it is, in fact, Christmas.

Want to know more about culture shock?
The author of this website has prepared an e-book that honestly talks about this part of expat life.

Before living in Mexico I had no idea how important the sense of smell is in making us feel at home. During the Christmas season I literally pine for the smell of fir trees, which are abundant in the Pacific Northwest and were always an integral part of Christmas decorations when I was little. I’m very lucky that my mother used to put mandarins in the toes of our stockings. She had no way of knowing that I would someday be living in Mexico, but the smell of mandarins is connected to Christmas for me. It is one of the few sensory triggers that I have to connect me to my childhood memories of Christmas now that I live in Mexico.

It is a good idea to think about what makes Christmas “Christmas” to you. If you are in touch with your own feelings you will probably still experience culture shock when you retire in Mexico, but it won’t be a cause for deep sadness or anger. Being aware of culture shock can turn it into a process for getting to know yourself better. And this, after all, is the ultimate goal of retiring or living in another country.

Christmas Traditions in Mexico:

No one ever said culture shock was simple. Living or being retired in Mexico at Christmas time can fill you with an odd mix of feelings, because at the same time that you are missing your own family traditions, you are enjoying a whole set of wonderful new Mexican traditions.

photo: Christmas Lights

Here we celebrate Christmas with Posadas, which are a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging. Really serious posadas have a “Mary” and a “Joseph” dressed in bright satin robes. “Joseph” and “Mary” lead a herd of participants—usually women and children (Why do men rarely participate in such things?) from door to door singing a song in which they ask for lodging, are denied lodging, then are finally accepted.

The posadas start on the 16th and end on the 24th. Every night for 9 nights, the community organizes itself into posada routes. Each night the singers stop at a series of participating homes to sing the posada song. The last home is the one which will finally sing the acceptance refrain and allow everyone to come in.

The home that accepts Mary, Joseph and their backup singers is the host of the party, offering hot Christmas punch, bags of candies, and sometimes traditional foods to all who pass through their door. The punch is prepared in one to three huge pots that must hold at least 20 gallons each! Normally these will be on an open fire near the house. 100s of Styrofoam cups are filled from the pots, then end up all over the yard and street outside, having been used for about an hour. I always find it amazing that the same people who spend hours preparing perfect punch over an open fire, never seem to get a large enough garbage bag to hold all of the cups afterwards.

Christmas Traditions in Mexico:

photo: pinata

The punch often accompanies a few piñatas. The piñatas are filled with candies, peanuts in the shell and mandarins and oranges. They are hung in an open area where people can gather around to sing the piñata song and take turns donning the blindfold, then hitting them. Someone stands to the side, usually on an adjacent roof-top, holding the rope from which the piñata hangs, raising, lowering, swinging, and moving the piñata to increase the difficulty of hitting it. Once the piñata breaks open of course everyone, especially the children, dives to the ground to gather the treats.

This is the basic idea of a posada, but just like back home in the north, each family in Mexico celebrates Christmas according to their own beliefs and traditions. Over time you will develop your own Christmas traditions for your life in Mexico. You’ll leave the culture shock far behind and won’t be able to imagine Christmas without having retired in Mexico.

Click here for traditional Christmas recipes from Mexico



  1. Grace Sep 4

    I would like to know if you have seen an album with children
    swinging at a pinata. The music has the posada, pinata song,
    armaga navidad, and many others. I listened when I was a child
    and I am trying to locate this album. I don’t know who the artist was or maybe it was a variety. I believe it said Felix
    Navidad or Christmas In Mexico. Can you help me?

  2. Julia Taylor Sep 4

    I wish I could help you, but I haven’t seen the album you are talking about. Maybe someone who has will read your post.
    Good luck finding it. Will you be hosting some posadas this year?


  3. dany Feb 20

    Mexican and American cultures are so diferents
    Mexicans are more friendly…

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