The holiday season is a time to celebrate our individual family traditions and culture. While it is a time to embrace our own traditions and culture, it is also a great time to educate ourselves about the way others celebrate theirs. I’m most familiar with the Christian tradition that remembers the birth of Jesus. Fond memories of sitting on Santa’s lap, sipping hot cocoa, watching Christmas movies, and spending most of my Christmas break at my favorite cousin’s house flow through my mind. But let’s explore the traditions of Kwanzaa and Mexican Christmas tradition to see how they celebrate. Who knows, we may find some interesting similarities and differences.
1. Kwanzaa: Celebrating the Importance of the Pan-African Family
Kwanza, another example of African American tradition, was started by civil rights leader Maulana Karenga in 1966 to unify black people, encouraging them to come together to celebrate their history. The first day of Kwanzaa starts right after Christmas and continues until January 1st. When I think of Christmas decorations, I think of Christmas trees and houses decorated with red and green lights; Kwanzaa decorations are a bit different. One of the main decorations used during Kwanzaa is the kinara, which is a candleholder that holds 7 candles. There is a black central candle that is lit first, 3 red candles that are to the left, and 3 green candles that are to the right. One candle is lit each day “alternating between red and green, which directly link to the 7 principles or Nguzo Saba.”
There are 7 symbols in total used during Kwanzaa: the kinara; the 7 candles; and the unity cup, or Kikombe cha Umoja; Mazao, or shared crops; the Muhindi; the Zawadi; and the Mkeka. The unity cup/Kikombe cha Umoja, represents family and community; all of the family members are instructed to drink from the cup and a small amount is poured in honor of past ancestors. The Mazao/shared crops are meant to represent the harvest and appreciation of hard work. The Muhindi is an ear of corn that represents each child within a family. The Zawadi are gifts for the children and represent commitment, growth, and success. The Mkeka, or placemats, are meant to represent a foundation and traditional culture.
Black, red, and green are traditional colors of Kwanzaa and are meant to represent the Pan-African movement of the 1900s, from roughly 1900-1945, symbolizing the unity of all people of African descent around the globe. The color black represents the people, the color green is for the land of Africa, and the color red represents the blood. Lastly, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are: Umoja, meaning unity; Kujichagulia, meaning self-determination; Ujima, meaning collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, meaning cooperative economics; Nia, meaning purpose; Kuumba, meaning creativity; and Imani, meaning faith.
2. Christmas in Mexico: Mexican Christmas Tradition
Several events take place during the Mexican Christmas season, celebrated by Mexicans from all over the country. The indigenous culture has been influenced by many traditions because of colonization, which introduced Catholicism in the sixteenth century. The Spanish priests that arrived brought with them multiple Christian holidays, including Christmas. This accounts for the wide variety of Christmas events which include: the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Dia de la Virgin de Guadalupe) on December 12; Las Posadas on December 12 through the 24; Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) on December 24; Christmas Day (Navidad) on December 25; Day of the Sainted Innocents (Dia de Los Santos Inocentes) on December 28; Three Kings Day (Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos) on January 6; and Candlemas (La Candelaria) on February 6.
The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Dia la Virgin de Guadalupe) on December 12, is a Catholic feast day that honors Mary the Virgin of Guadalupe. Catholics from all over Mexico, as well as other countries, come to see and pay homage to an image of Mary. There is a massive ceremony and a traditional fair that includes traditional music and fun, interactive attractions as well. December 12 through the 24th marks the Las Posadas Christmas event, in which children walk from home to home singing traditional Los Posadas songs while asking to be let in. At the end of each night, the processions re-enact Mary and Josephs’s search for shelter end at a different house for a fiesta, with an abundance of food, drink, and, of course, piñatas. Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) on December 24 is the main event in Mexico and marks the end of Posadas, concluding the main Christmas meal. Many families go to a special mass called Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) which leads into Christmas Day (Navidad) on December 25, where an array of fireworks are ignited.
Day of the Sainted Innocents (Dia de Los Santos Inocentes) on December 28, is similar to April Fools Day, where Mexicans play jokes and pranks on family and friends. The local media even gets involved and reports ridiculous and funny news. Some Mexicans chose to visit local graveyards and bring offerings to the souls of children who have passed on. During Three Kings Day (Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos) on January 6, a parade called Cabalgata de Los Reyes Magos takes place and symbolizes the arrival of the kings. The kings ride on horses or floats and throw goodies down to the children lining the streets. It is also where children open presents the Three Kings of the East have left under the Christmas tree and take part in family reunions and festivity. Candlemas (La Candelaria) on February 6th is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin where candles are brought to church to be blessed. This celebration also includes a feast and family gathering, and some even include bull runs.
Now that we have explored the traditions that other people celebrate, let’s take the time to reflect on the similarities and interesting differences. Both of the traditions we discussed had many similarities, including candles in their celebrations, food, gifts, and family. Some differences were the religions that were acknowledged and the integration of certain biblical figures and their stories. Ultimately, togetherness seemed to be a very important theme in both – as well as the ones not discussed in this article – and is the key purpose of this exploration.
So, this Christmas season, celebrate your traditions but don’t forget to explore other traditions as well.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
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Barbezat, S. (2022, September 16). How Día de la Candelaria is celebrated in Mexico. TripSavvy. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.tripsavvy.com/dia-de-la-candelaria-1588765
Cuervo, M. (2022). How Three Kings Day is celebrated in Mexico. https://www.mundocuervo.com/. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.mundocuervo.com/eng/blog/2018-01/how-three-kings-day-is-celebrated-in-mexico/
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