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War Against Christmas 2007 Competition [IV]: Even Mexican Anti-Clericals Leave Christmas Alone
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By Allan Wall
Each year VDARE.COM reports on—and fights against—the War on Christmas. And it's a worthy battle—Christmas is a part of American culture and Western Civilization, and there are valid reasons—religious, cultural and nationalistic—to defend it.
Christmas inspires great art and literature. Think, for example, of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, which I have assigned as reading material to high school students here in Mexico.
Those of us who are parents and teachers should bear in mind that our children's Christmas experiences—if they're allowed to have them—make a deep imprint and will be remembered the rest of their lives.
I was raised in rural Oklahoma. We would go out each year and chop down a cedar tree, bring it to the house, and hear my mother say "That's the prettiest Christmas tree we've ever had." Christmas caroling, church pageants and the arrival of Santa Claus in a fire truck downtown are among my vivid Christmas memories.
And, despite the fact that Mexico political culture is historically aggressively secular, there is no equivalent to the War on Christmas as exists in the U.S. That means Mexicans can freely celebrate the festival without having to fight the grinches who want to suppress it.
Like many Catholic countries, Mexico has a long, strong tradition of anti-clericalism. It has been officially a secular state since the 1850s. This strict civic secularism was renewed by the Constitution of 1917, in the closing years of the Mexican Revolution, which contained a number of provisions explicitly directed at the church's influence and property. This eventually provoked a Catholic rebellion in Central Mexico—the 1926-9 Cristero War. The Vatican has canonized a number of Cristero martyrs, mostly priests who did not take up arms but refused to leave their flocks.
Nevertheless, during the 71 years (1929-2000) Mexico was ruled by the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), the government, although secular, didn't meddle in the Catholic Church. And the Catholic Church didn't get involved in politics. I've never seen any evidence that the PRI tried to suppress Christmas celebrations. The closest thing I ever saw to that was once on a government educational document I saw Christmas or Easter (I can't recall which) vacation referred to as "traditional observance" rather than by its specific name.
The PAN (National Action Party) of presidents Fox and Calderon is a little more open to Catholic influence, although it still maintains the civic secularism.
To give a personal example: I recently took my family to the Christmas dinner of my National Guard unit in Texas. There were two prayers at the dinner, an invocation and a benediction. My wife pointed out that in Mexico, you'd never have a prayer at a public event.
Nevertheless, in Mexico, unlike in the U.S., they haven't tried to suppress Christmas.
For one thing, there is a whole class of Christmas carols in Spanish known as villancicos an Iberian genre which doesn't even exist in our own rich collection of English carols. I like the villancicos, and some of them are quite old, dating back centuries.
The nacimiento, the nativity scene or crèche is widespread in Mexico at Christmastime. But the ones in Mexico are not identical to those used in the United States. The Mexican nacimiento is usually made of ceramic figurines and is more elaborate. It includes features such as the nopal cactus, a hermit or ducks (I've even seen ducks with halos). My Mexican wife's grandmother had a complete nacimiento set which, after her passing, was distributed among family members.
In Mexico, the traditional time to open gifts is right after midnight on December 25th, although in southern Mexico the principal gift-giving day for children is January 6th, Three Kings' Day.
In Mexico they don't celebrate our Thanksgiving Day, but giving thanks to God for the gifts of the past year is a part of the Christmas Dinner celebration. Depending on the region or the family, the main course in a Christmas dinner might be turkey or cod.
The posada is another Mexican Christmas custom. In a recent article on VDARE.COM, Brenda Walker described a posada observance in San Francisco, California which was being re-interpreted to promote illegal immigration. That happens in the U.S., where the illegal alien lobby will utilize anything to further its ends. But you don't see that here in Mexico, where Navidad is Navidad. It isn't hijacked for political ends.
The "posada" custom is superficially similar to the Christmas caroling we practice in English-speaking countries, but it's really not the same thing. The "posada" is a dramatized call-and-response, in which the people outside the house play the part of Mary and Joseph, asking permission to enter, and the people inside the house, taking the part of the innkeeper, respond, also in song. Finally, the people outside are allowed to enter, where they partake of tamales (a customary Mexican Christmas food), champurrado and ponche which, unlike our "punch", is made of fruits and cinnamon, and is hot.)
The breaking of the piñata, suspended in midair and repeatedly hit with a stick until it breaks, is also part of the posada celebration. (The piñata is also a year-round staple at children's birthday parties).
The piñata (from the Italian pignatta, meaning pinecone) was brought to Mexico in the era of the Spanish Conquest, and used by the friars to teach Catholic doctrine. The original form was a ball with seven spikes. The ball represented the Devil and the spikes represented the 7 capital sins. Today a birthday party piñata exists in various forms —Bart Simpson, Winnie-the-Pooh, Spiderman or Sponge Bob, etc.
Another Christmas custom is the pastorela, a particular form of Christmas drama, which traces its roots to the mystery and morality plays of medieval Spain.
The Mexican Christmas has also absorbed American customs such as Santa Claus and the Christmas tree, which have both assimilated quite well without de-Mexicanizing the holiday. The biggest Christmas tree I have ever seen was a huge artificial one adorning the main plaza of Mexico City one year.
One curious result of these American customs though is the use of snow-related decorations—an inflatable snowman, for example, in regions of Mexico where it hardly ever snows.
The Christmas plant called the poinsettia is native to Mexico, where it is known as the Noche Buena (Christmas Eve). The poinsettia moniker comes from Joel Roberts Poinsett, first U.S. envoy to Mexico, who introduced it to the U.S.
This was back in 1970, remember, when the Spanish language was just a novelty for most Americans, and wasn't being forced down their throats through mass immigration and multiculturalism. This was before Univision was hosting presidential debates in Spanish, before widespread bilingual education in schools, and before you had to press "1" on the phone for English.
In other words, it was back in the days when our cultures maintained a healthier distance, so it was easier to appreciate each other. True respect for another culture recognizes that another culture is, after all, another culture.
And in that spirit, I wish all VDARE.COM readers a Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad from Mexico.
American citizen Allan Wall (email him) resides in Mexico, with a legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. Allan recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here his "Dispatches from Iraq" are archived here his website is here.