If you are looking for a huge celebration, places to dine with strangers, or lots of parties around this time of year, you will be disappointed.
Christmas in Mexico City and in almost all of Mexico (except maybe in places like Cancun or Los Cabos), is a time to be with family. It is the only time in all of the years I’ve lived in Mexico City where the city becomes something of a ghost town.
That being said, you can still enjoy the festive season and a wonderful Christmas in Mexico City if you look in the right places.
The Long Christmas Celebrations in Mexico City
Christmas in Mexico City isn’t just a one-day celebration. It goes on for over a month and you’ll be finding unique things to keep you busy during those weeks.
In Spanish, a holiday weekend where you get the Friday or the Monday off is called a puente. It means bridge, since you are “bridging” the weekend with an extra day.
The joke about Christmas is that from the 12th of December until the 6th of January, Mexico enjoys its longest puente of the year.
The first real sign of celebration in Mexico City is December 12th, which is the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Pilgrims crawl from their villages around the country to the Basilica to pay homage to Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary. The Basilica is in the northern part of the city and something like 3 million people visit on that one day.
If you’re around Mexico City for December 12th, you’ll see parades, churches will be packed, there will be fireworks, and often it’s a pretty late night. At midnight, people sing Las Mañanitas, the Mexican birthday song, to the Virgin.
The official start of the Christmas celebrations is December 16th. This is when Mexicans begin what is known as Las Posadas.
This lasts until Christmas Eve and is meant to represent the journey that Mary and Joseph take to try to find a place to stay on the evening that Jesus is born. Families and friends take turns hosting one another at their homes serving up grand meals and plenty of drinks to keep everyone merry. Most companies have posadas for their employees, a type of Christmas party.
Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration when families get together to have dinner together. Celebrations last well into the evening and you can expect to hear a few more fireworks around the city into the wee hours of the morning. Christmas Day is mostly for sleeping off your hangover.
Expect most things to be open during the morning until about lunchtime in Mexico City on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Day, most restaurants and everything else for that matter, are closed. You may find a few places in central neighborhoods like Roma Norte, Condesa, and Polanco open, but the hours will be much shorter than normal. On December 26th, everything is back open as usual.
Things liven up again on January 6th, Kings Day.
Again, families get together and share Rosca de Reyes. This is a sweet, round bread with candied fruits on top of it.
This is where my favorite Mexican tradition happens. Someone in the family hides a Jesus figurine inside the bread and then everyone tears off a piece. Whoever finds the Jesus figurine in their bread has to make tamales for everyone on February 2nd (when the Christmas holiday finally ends in Mexico).
Traditional Food for Christmas in Mexico City
Did you know turkeys are native to Mexico? If you were to head into a Mexican home on Christmas Eve, you’d likely see a turkey on the table, but you might not recognize any of the other side dishes.
Some traditional Mexican Christmastime dishes include:
- Bacalao, or salted cod. It’s usually served as a salad in Bacalao la Vizcaina which is with capers, olives, tomatoes, and potatoes. Other times it’s served in a mole sauce with Romerito, which is a leafy green that is similar in flavor to rosemary.
- Ensalada de Noche Buena is usually served on Christmas Eve and is made with lettuce, beets, jicama, oranges, and/or carrots.
- Tamales – these are popular for either breakfast on Christmas morning or simply as an additional side dish on Christmas Eve.
- Depending on where families come from, you may find pozole or menudo on the table. Both are types of soup made with hominy (Mexican corn) and require hours and hours of cooking to give it a beautiful depth of flavor. Again, these are sometimes served on Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve.
A popular dessert around Christmas time is pineapple upside down cake. It’s often washed down with a sweet drink called ponche Navideño (Christmas punch). This can be made with tejocotes, or Mexican Hawthorne, as well as cinnamon, sugar cane, prunes, and apples.
If you aren’t going to be having Christmas with the locals, you’ll still be able to enjoy a ton of these different foods during Christmas in Mexico City. Be sure to book an Airbnb in Mexico City that has a kitchen so you can prepare some of these things for yourself on Christmas Eve.
*It’s important to note that most restaurants are closed on Christmas Eve. Some will reopen for Christmas Day, but if you have plans for these days, be sure to call or email ahead of time to triple-check that places will be open for you to eat there.*
Things to Do Around Mexico City for Christmas
It’s not all about spending time with families. Tourists visiting Mexico City at Christmas will find plenty of cool stuff going on.
Head to the Zocalo for the most public celebrations. In the square, you’ll find an ice skating rink and a man-made sledding hill for kids and adults alike. It’s a pretty fun little obstacle course that they set up each year. There’s a huge (fake) tree that adds a nice Christmas feel to the city, too. (In 2018, many of these things weren’t in the Zocalo, they were around the Revolution Monument).
You’ll also see some decorations on the buildings around the Zocalo. At night, these are usually lit up. All along Paseo de la Reforma you’ll see bright red Noche Buenas, or poinsettias. They’re for sale all over the city and I absolutely love filling my apartment with them at this time of year.
Head inside the main cathedral to see what I can only describe as the largest nativity that I’ve ever seen. The baby Jesus is enormous and there are a few suspect animals in there that I’m not entirely sure were there for the real deal. You’ll be able to see similar nativity scenes in different churches all over the city.
If you want to build your own nativity, or just want to browse where everyone in the city shops for their Christmas goodies, head to the Christmas tianguis outside of the Jamaica Market where you’ll see nativity pieces, Christmas trees, and huge piñatas.
Fun fact: piñatas were originally a Christmas tradition here in Mexico. Legend has it that the Spanish used them to help convert the natives to Catholicism. The most popular piñatas at this time of year are the seven-pointed stars which represent the seven deadly sins. Break that piñata and you remove the sins from your life.
Weather in Mexico City at Christmas Time
This is my favorite time of year weather-wise here in Mexico City. The days are crisp and sunny. You can expect the days to be around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and drop a fair bit at night. The sun is so warm during the way, you can easily wear jeans and a t-shirt, but always be sure to have a jacket with you. As soon as the sun sets, it can drop to about 55 degrees, which feels even colder when you’ve been nice and warm all day.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
There are so many amazing hotels in Mexico City. If you want to be surrounded by all of the hype of the downtown area, definitely stay in the Centro Historico. Chaya B&B is one of my favorite boutique hotels in that area. You can also stay at the Hilton which is a nice mid-range option.
Get My Mexico City Guidebook
If you’re spending more than a day or two in Mexico City, you may want to know more about the best restaurants, bars, clubs, parks, and museums to visit while you’re here. I recently published a digital guidebook that gives you all of that and more. Get to know the city like a local with this guide!
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