I can remember clearly when I heard the first Christmas carol this year. It was the day after Dia de Muertos and I was in the supermarket, prodding some avocados to see if they were ripe enough to take home for a salad. Suddenly, my ears pricked up. I could have sworn they were playing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" in the background. It was the first week in November and here I was in short sleeves. The last thing I had on my mind was Christmas and snow.
Sure enough, a few days later, I was back in the supermarket doing my weekly grocery shopping when I distinctly heard "Santa Claus is coming to town". Really? But we were still a month and a half away from Christmas Eve. Looking around though, I noticed that the pumpkins and scarecrows and candy skulls had disappeared, as if by magic, and there taking their place was a tall Christmas tree and a band of cute polar bears in woolly hats and scarves, clutching chocolates. Wow! That was a quick and early transformation.
And so the Christmas season has stealthily been creeping up all around us in DF for the last month and a half. For some time now, Rudolph's red nose has been making him a laughing stock among the other reindeer and the Little Drummer Boy has been busily drumming as if to announce an early start to the Yuletide season. Frosty the Snowman's friends too have invaded the city, despite the visible lack of any snow around. Campañas sobre campañas are ringing and los peces en el rio, fish in the river, are also in a Christmas mood (for those who understand Spanish carols). You see, my ears have become adept at tuning in to the canciones de Navidad all around me. But it isn't just Christmas carols in the air. Mexico City has been undergoing a not-so-subtle change. One look around and you can tell that Navidad has arrived. To tell the truth, I think it arrived over a month ago.
One of the first signs was the disappearance of the golden marigolds or cempasúchil flowers along Reforma. With their golden locks drooping, they were dug up and replaced by thousands of bright red Christmasy poinsettias, zigzagging their way down the centre of the road. "Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches..." Christmas trees of every size, colour and decoration are now almost as commonplace as traffic lights in the streets. It was mid-November when one with enormous crinkly gold Ferrero Rocher spheres caught my eye outside the Auditorio Nacional. In the hot sunshine, I hoped they didn't have any real chocolate inside as otherwise there would soon be a sticky brown mess trickling down. The shopping centres are obviously competing to see whose tree is the biggest and most luxurious. On top of that, if you happen to find yourself in Antara Shopping Centre in Polanco, you may even be surprised by a snowfall. Artificial, of course. Every day for the last few weeks, in the evening, it feels like winter has arrived even though you took off any jumpers long ago, around midday. Perhaps it's not so far-fetched after all to be singing "Dashing through the snow...." here in Mexico City.
Poinsettias along Reforma
Giant Ferrero Rocher chocolates
Huge illuminated Christmas tree in Polanco
Christmas tree in Antara Shopping Centre
And talking about bigger and better, it's very traditional to set up a nacimiento or nativity scene in homes to remind the family of the story of Christ's birth. But you will also see large ones colonising house roofs and gardens and this year, the largest nacimiento in the world can be found down at the Azteca Stadium. It's a life-size Bethlehem-type village with 500 figures in 57 scenes created by the Colombian pesebrista, Gustavo Cano, which you can walk around to get the feel of what life what like and what happened that very first Christmas. I can hear the Spanish villancicos playing already...Vamos a Belen....
Typical nativity scene
Camel and posters inviting us to go and visit the biggest nativity scene in the world
Last week I was in the Centro Histórico where I was surprised to see a group of rather merry polar bears, enjoying a joke on the green grass in the Alameda Park. Funny place to see polar bears, was my first thought. Then I saw they were setting up an entire winter wonderland in the park for kids. Apparently, Santa Claus will be putting in an appearance here before he gets busy delivering presents on December 24th, although I'm not sure how he's going to get into some of the houses since there is a distinct shortage of chimneys around here. Maybe he doesn't need to since, like Spain, it's traditional here in Mexico for the Three Kings, Los Reyes Magos, to bring gifts to the kids on January 6th. The Kings too will be taking up their temporary residence here until then. For the last 40 years, Santa and Los Reyes Magos have been stopping off in Mexico City where thousands of children have had their photos taken with them and handed over their letters telling them what they want for Christmas. I heard on the radio that this will probably be the last year for this tradition since they will be completely remodelling the Alameda next year.
Polar bears in the park
A few Santas can be seen around the city
Santa on top of the building next to a Christmas tree made with poinsettia plants
Then as I made my way down towards the Zócalo, in the distance I spotted an enormous tree, a gigantic árbol de Navidad, whose angel was eyeing the tops of the old colonial buildings down in the large square. At least they've put the tree in the Zócalo this year and not near the Ángel de la Independencia in Paseo de la Reforma like our first Christmas here. It caused some of the biggest traffic jams imaginable, all for the purpose of getting into the Guiness Book of Records for the tallest Christmas tree. Not that this year's tree is much smaller. It towers over the nearby ice-rink which, in its turn, is also one of the largest in the world. Winter sports have come to Mexico City. As I watched the monitors skating, I wondered how on earth the ice didn't melt in the warm sun. Then the rink filled up with T-shirted novices, some of whom were having severe problems getting from one end to the other, but were obviously having tons of fun. Next we'll be seeing sleigh rides...
Looking down towards the Christmas tree in the Zócalo
Christmas has arrived in the Centre Histórico
Tinsel and illuminated decorations on the buildings surrounding the Zócalo
Feliz Navidad in lights, best appreciated at night
Looking down on the ice rink
Ice rink with the Cathedral in the background
Skaters enjoying some fun in the sunshine
And then there are all those makeshift stands set up along the road, selling Christmas trees, lights, reindeer, poinsettias and colourful adornos or decorations, often made of woven straw. The first year we were here, we couldn't resist purchasing a Rudolph, made ingeniously from twigs, since he looked so cute. He was accompanied by a few straw decorations. This year our tree and lights came from a stand which set up at the beginning of December.
Christmas stall selling trees and decorations
Stars for sale
Reindeer made of twigs
Mexican decorations made of straw
The Nutcracker Suite
I have to admit that one of my favourite Mexican traditions also reminds me of a Christmas carol."Oh-oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Light... ". All around the city, you'll see thousands of star-shaped piñatas, ranging from tiny to massive. In bright, shimmering colours, with tassles at the ends of the points, they are everything a Mexican adorno should be - eye-catching, colourful, ubiquitous, and stunning. Representations of the Christmas star which led the Wise Men to Jesus. Some have nine points, others have seven or five. Traditionally they were constructed around a clay pot filled with fruit and sweets which broke when the children hit it with a stick. Nowadays they are more likely to be cardboard and paper, not so hard on the head when they burst open.
Stars on a building façade
Although Navidad has been creeping into the city for much longer, the official start to the Christmas season was the 3rd December when the Mayor switched on the lights in the Zócalo, inaugurated the ice rink and triggered off the massive parade of Christmas floats which made their way around the city centre. Britney Spears did her bit too, with a free concert at the Monumento a la Revolución. And now that Christmas Day is just around the corner, less than one week away, it's time here in Mexico for the tradition of posadas when they enact the scene of José and Maria trudging around looking for some room at the inn (posada). "No room, only a manger of hay..." as the carol says. When they eventually find one, there is a big party with piñatas for the children.
Inauguration of the ice-rink and Christmas lights in the Zócalo
Yesterday some of the newspapers "predicted" a historic snowfall in DF. Actually, they didn't so much consult the weather people as the Mayor's weekend programme. Despite a deep blue, cloudless sky, it snowed along the Eje Central during the Gran Desfile Navideño, a Christmasy parade, which was watched by crowds. Half a million people's "dream of a White Christmas" came true. From comments I saw posted, another half a million got caught in the traffic jams due to road closures. They would have done better on the Little Donkey.... Arre borrequito... (giddy-up, little donkey).
All this to say, in case you hadn't noticed, I love this time of year... the dark nights and twinkling lights, Christmas trees covered with adornos and creative nacimientos of all shapes and sizes, wondrous stars and piñatas, turkey and tamales, paz and goodwill, Christmas carols and villancicos, Father Christmas and Los Reyes Magos, regalos and sharing with friends and family, but also with those who have little or nothing. But especially, Christmas with Christ first, as in the word itself.
Roll on Christmas!
Christmas party for the girls at Casa Daya and their children
Ozzy in a Christmas mood!