Big family meals have always been my favorite part of the holidays at home, and eating my first traditional Christmas dinner in Mexico is among my fondest memories of the holidays. As it was in my Irish Catholic household growing up, Christmas is principally celebrated on December 24 in Mexico. (Christmas Day is a time to eat leftovers and lounge around in your pajamas.) The traditional Mexican Christmas meal usually includes a wonderfully unusual mix of dishes, including salt cod served in the Valencian style with tomatoes, bell peppers, capers, and olives; romeritos (a native Mexican green) in mole sauce; and ensalada de navidad, a salad of shredded beetroot, walnuts, and raisins.
In truth, we didn’t make all these dishes on my first Mexican Christmas, though my husband Arturo’s traditional salt cod was a savory highlight of the meal—and, naturally, we drank tequila. After cooking all day, we started to eat late in evening, well past ten o’clock, as is traditional in Mexico. Hours of food, toasts, dishes, and second helpings followed, and we didn’t wrap up until sometime after four o’clock in the morning. The next day, everyone came back for leftovers and half-drunk bottles of wine, cementing the special feeling we’d created over dinner.
Looking back, there’s nothing particularly foreign about my first Christmas in Mexico, though it was certainly magical to me. Instead, like all great holidays, it was about the people I spent it with, and the feeling of friendship and camaraderie that I still strongly associate with Christmas in Mexico.
The holidays begin to wrap up in Mexico on Three King’s Day on January 6, when children traditionally receive their Christmas presents and families get together to eat a sweet, dried-fruit-topped bread wreath called a rosca de reyes. Within a few weeks, the weather begins to get warmer and the first signs of spring appear. The first blooms on the trees are always a welcome sight, though it’s with regret that I drink the last Noche Buena in the fridge.