While many people the world over celebrate Christmas, the traditions vary from place to place. With the holiday season in full swing, we’ve enjoyed learning about the traditions that are unique to the Zapotec communities of Oaxaca. We chatted with MZ artisans Jose Luis and Maria Luisa Santiago to learn more about how their family celebrates the holiday.
Similarly to the US, in Teotitlan del Valle (where the majority of the large Santiago family lives), Christmas is a religious holiday for some, and more of a cultural tradition for others. Jose Luis explained, “Some families fast on Christmas Eve, and then come together to break the fast on Christmas morning. While many go to church, others don’t because it isn’t important to them.”
The Zapotec people primarily practice a unique sort of Catholicism that is infused with their indigenous beliefs. An example of this would be the tradition of pedimentos - or petitions - that sees individuals and families bringing objects or figurines to the church to petition God for their wishes granted. “People will bring small houses if they want a new home, or little animals to ask for more chickens or sheep. Lot of people bring tiny dolls as a way of asking God to give them a family,” said Maria Luisa.
Another Christmas tradition in the village are the posadas - or holiday parties - that begin in early December. These large parties are typically hosted by a family who opens their home to the entire town! Posadas are celebrations to commemorate the Virgin Mary, and the birth of Christ. Children with candles sing a song that tell the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter for the birth of their child. These festivities are filled with food (enough to feed the village), atole (a hot beverage made of corn and spices), Christmas piñatas made with seven spikes to represent the seven deadly sins, games to play, and lots of noisy fireworks.
The Santiago family has their own way of celebrating that is unique to their family. On Christmas Eve everyone gets together at one of their houses; they take turns hosting each year. Each family brings a dish to contribute to the potluck-style feast.
Maria Luisa described the Christmas Eve meal: “For dinner we make guajolote, which is like a turkey but a little bit smaller. We have the traditional drink called ponche, which is hot punch made with apples, guavas, hibiscus, cinnamon and natural sugar. And of course we have mezcal, it wouldn’t be a celebration without the mezcal! It is a very joyous party for everyone because all of the family comes together. There is not necessarily a gift exchange, what is more important is that we are all together. We dance, sing, and eat!”
We love the emphasis on togetherness that Maria Luisa describes, and getting to learn about the distinct celebrations for a familiar holiday. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?