Christmas in Mexico: A Guide to Traditions, Food, and the Top Destinations

Planning to spend Christmas in Mexico this year? You’re in luck!

Christmas in Mexico is one of my favorite times to be in the country because it’s a time of delicious seasonal food, magical celebrations, and a unique blend of Spanish and indigenous customs.

A traditional Christmas in Mexico is not a one-day event.

Starting on December 12th and lasting until January 6th, it’s almost a whole month of celebrations, dazzling decorations, lively parties, mouthwatering food, and lots of piñatas.

If you’re looking for a complete guide to what Christmas in Mexico is all about, you’re in the right place. 

An ice skating rink in Mexico City filled with people and Christmas decor.

Facts About Christmas in Mexico

📌 What is Mexico’s Christmas Called?

Mexico’s Christmas is called Navidad, while Christmas Eve is Nochebuena.

📌 How Does Mexico Say Merry Christmas?

Mexico says “Feliz Navidad”.

📌 When is Christmas in Mexico Celebrated?

Although celebrations take place all throughout December and into January, Christmas is officially observed on December 25th. 

However, Mexicans traditionally gather for a late dinner on the 24th of Christmas Eve, which is called Nochebuena.

Devout Catholics attend a special mass service at midnight – Misa de Gallo or Rooster Mass –  then return for further celebrations until the wee hours. 

December 25th is a lazy day for staying home in pajamas or gathering with the family to eat the leftovers from Nochebuena dinner (recalentado).

A hammock near the beach of Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen

📌 How Long Is Christmas in Mexico

Christmas season officially starts on December 12th, with the observance of Lady of Guadalupe, and runs until Three Wise Men’s Day, or Dia de Reyes on January 6th.

Mexicans have even coined the phrase “Guadalupe-Reyes marathon” to refer to this time period, which is reserved for happy overeating and merry toasts.

It’s pretty socially acceptable to go out every night and party for the entire period, so much that you won’t even get in trouble at work for not doing much (expect things to be particularly slower at this time of the year for that very reason).

📌 Is There Santa Claus in Mexico?

Yes! Even though many Mexican children wait for the arrival of the Reyes Magos on January 7th, getting gifts from Santa Claus under their tree on the morning of December 25th is very popular as well, especially in the upper classes and the states that border with the US, where American influence is more visible.

Furthermore, Santa Claus, as well as his reindeer-led sleigh, are now firmly rooted in shopping mall marketing and decorations.

Aerial view of the Basilica of Guadalupe at sunset.
Basilica of Guadalupe

Christmas in Mexico Celebrations

Christmas season in Mexico is marked by a number of celebrations that take place between December 12th and January 6th. 

It is in no way limited to Christmas and New Year, as there are a number of special occasions that revolve around those big festivities.

🎊 Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe

Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, or Virgin of Guadalupe Day, is observed on December 12th.

It is a huge day and one of the most relevant traditions in Mexico, as the holy Mexican mother has many devouts.

Over 1 million Guadalupano pilgrims flock to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City to show their respect to the beloved dark-skinned virgin, arriving on the previous night and leaving a couple of days later. 

Special masses and concerts in her honor are offered all over the country.

🎊 Posadas

Posadas are traditional gatherings that take place every evening during the nine days that lead up to Christmas Eve. 

Literally meaning “Shelters”, they are lively parties filled with candle-lit processions, Villancicos (Spanish Christmas carols), warm fruit ponche, piñatas, and the reenactment of the Holy Family seeking and finding shelter in Bethlehem.

Truth be told, this is the way traditional family-oriented posadas are done, but in reality, a lot of people use them as an excuse to gather, exchange gifts, drink till they drop, and dance the night away (it’s not a very religious affair for many if you know what I mean).

Municipal hall in Cancun.

🎊 Nochebuena

Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, is the main celebration during the holidays. 

Families gather in the evening to share a delicious feast, exchange gifts, and partake in the merry celebrations.

A traditional Christmas in Mexico also implies interrupting the party for a little while to attend a beautiful midnight mass service named Misa de Gallo. 

Once the mass is over, it’s time to return for a few more hours of fun.

In many homes, children leave their stockings for Santa Claus to do his thing, just like they do in the US, Canada, and a few other countries.

🎊 Navidad (Christmas)

Navidad or Christmas is observed on December 25th in Mexico, the same as in many other parts of the world. 

After the big Nochebuena celebration until well after midnight, Navidad is more of a lazy day to sleep in and watch movies. 

The more restless gather with family or friends to finish off the leftovers from the previous night in what is officially named el Recalentado (the Reheating). 


🎊 El Día de los Santos Inocentes

Día de los Inocentes translates to “Innocents’ Day” and it’s very much like April Fools in the US. 

On this date, be alert, as pranks are quite common, but all in good sport.

Don’t be innocent to the point of lending money to Día de los Inocentes, though, as you will not get it back!

🎊 Año Nuevo (New Year)

New Year’s Eve – named Año Nuevo – is a lively celebration in Mexico, complete with a delicious festive dinner, fireworks, toasts, and a few fun traditions.

Unlike Christmas Eve, which is a firmly rooted family celebration, it is increasingly becoming a night to gather with friends, especially with the younger crowd. 

The lucky ones will share a scrumptious dinner with the family, then go out to party the night away with friends.

Favorite dishes for Año Nuevo might include bacalao, romeritos, buñuelos, pozole, tamales, as well as turkey. 

As for traditions and rituals, the most common one is to rapidly eat 12 grapes at the rhythm of the midnight clock chimes, making a wish with everyone.

Don’t worry if you’re not able to keep up with the rhythm, though – most people can’t!

Walking around the block carrying a suitcase to beckon lots of traveling in the coming year, eating lentils for good fortune, wearing red undies for love, and sweeping the bad vibes out of the house with a broom are quite common too!

Overview of Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta

🎊 Día de los Reyes Magos

In many parts of Mexico, Dia de Reyes is the main gift-giving day for children.

Initially brought from Spain, this day remembers the three wise men’s visit and gifts to baby Jesus. 

Children in Mexico happily wait for the arrival of Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar on the eve of January 5th.

They leave out a shoe by the Christmas tree or nativity scene for the Reyes Magos to fill with toys and candy.

You can take part in the festive spirit by witnessing several cultural events that take place on that day, as well as try the traditional Rosca de Reyes, a large, oval-shaped sweet bread with dry fruit that is baked for the occasion.

You can buy whole Roscas de Reyes in supermarkets and bakeries, or try a slice in a cafe, paired with a delicious cup of hot chocolate. 

As strange as it might sound, miniature plastic dolls that represent baby Jesus are baked inside the rosca bread. 

Whoever gets one of these dolls stuck inside their treat is traditionally obliged to pay for the tamales served on February 2nd. 

🎊 Dia de la Candelaría

A traditional religious holiday in Mexico, Dia de la Candelaria is Purification or Candlemas Day. 

Even though by this time Christmas decor and festivities are long gone in most homes and public plazas, Candelaria is observed on February 2nd.

Families and friends gather to eat tamales with atole, a tasty hot drink.

Most traditional families keep their Christmas decor until this day, which is observed by taking big baby Jesus figures dressed in lavish apparel to church to be blessed.

Christmas in Mexico Traditions & Decorations

🎄 Traditional Mexican Christmas Tree

Christmas trees have slowly but surely made their way into Mexican homes, public plazas, and shopping malls, decked out with a mix of Mexican, American, and European decor. 

Think traditional colorful Mexican ornaments mixed with Santa Claus and snowmen figures, with twinkling lights for that special holiday glow.

Christmas tree in Mexico City.
Mexico City

🎄 Nacimientos

Families across Mexico create their own “Nacimiento” or Nativity scene. 

These are not your average table ornaments – we’re talking intricate landscapes, Holy Family figures inside a stable, shepherds, animals, the Three Wise Men, the Star of Bethlehem, and even a few rivers and bridges.

Nacimientos are much like holiday storybooks coming to life. You can find them in all shapes and sizes, in homes and public plazas. 

They can be made of clay, glass, plastic, and many other materials, including corn leaves!

🎄 Piñatas

Many people all over the world are familiar with Mexican Piñatas, which can come in many shapes and forms, including American film and cartoon characters. 

However, during the Christmas season, traditional round piñatas with seven points are used both for breaking during the posadas and as decorations in homes and public plazas.

Like many important Mexican Christmas symbols, piñatas have a religious connotation.

The seven points represent the seven capital sins and breaking it while being blindfolded symbolizes the blind faith required for good to triumph over evil.

🎄 Pastorelas

Yet another centuries-old tradition brought from Spain during the Conquest, Pastorelas are representations of biblical passages portraying the obstacles shepherds encountered while following the Star of Bethlehem to meet Baby Jesus.

Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the devil, as well as a few shepherds and animals, are portrayed in every pastorela. 

Although this sounds like a serious matter, touches of humor and sarcasm are sprinkled into the plays, true to Mexicans’ merry nature.

Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Puerto Vallarta.
Our Lady of Guadalupe

🎄 Poinsettias 

Poinsettia flowers are Mexico’s bright red Christmas stars. Symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem, these lovelies decorate homes, churches, and public spaces, adding a touch of Mexican flair.

🎄 Villancicos

Christmas carols in Spanish are called illancicos. Often merry and catchy, they can be heard in posadas, homes, restaurants, and public holiday activities.

Arre Borriquito, Los Peces en el Río, Blanca Navidad, and Pastores a Belen are just a few examples of popular villancicos in Mexico.

What to Eat on Christmas in Mexico

🍽 Bacalao a la Vizcaína

Bacalao a la Vizcaína is made with salted codfish, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, and chili peppers. This scrumptious dish has its origins in Spain, having arrived during the Conquest in the late 1400s

🍽 Buñuelos

Buñuelos are thin, crispy pastries coated with sugar and cinnamon. They’re a Christmas treat that is usually served with hot chocolate.

You can buy buñuelos in local bakeries, and oftentimes you’ll encounter street vendors touting their sweet wares.

Pozole dish

🍽 Pozole (Soup)

A delicious corn and meat broth, pozole is often at the center of Mexican festivities, including Christmas gatherings. 

This warm comforting treat is served along with diced onion and radish, thinly sliced lettuce, lime, and powdered chili pepper, so you can spice it up to your heart’s content.

Tostadas (crispy-fried tortillas) slathered with sour cream make the perfect garnish for a full and scrumptious meal.

🍽 Ponche Navideño (Mexican Christmas Punch)

Ponche Navideño, a warm, spicy fruit punch, is the quintessential Christmas drink in Mexico.

Packed with seasonal fruits and spices, it is not only delicious but also comforting during the chilly December nights.

For the grown-ups, there’s sometimes a sneaky dash of rum or tequila added for further warmth!

🍽 Romeritos

Romeritos are a staple of Mexican Christmas feasts, especially in the central area of the country. 

These green herbs are cooked in a perfectly spiced mole sauce made from scratch that features shrimp cakes and potatoes, resulting in a full-flavored dish with the ideal festive touch for your Christmas dinner!

🍽 Ensalada de Nochebuena

A sweet treat to pair with all the spicy Mexican Christmas fare is Ensalada de Nochebuena, which basically amounts to a fruit salad made with diced apple, walnuts, mini marshmallows, cream, and syrup mixed together.

Variations might include strawberries, grapes, raspberries, and almonds. 

🍽 Tamales

One of the most popular Mexican foods of all time is tamales. Even though you can find tamales year-round, they are a staple in Mexican special celebrations, and Christmas is no exception. 

These tasty corn dough parcels contain various ingredients and flavors, including chicken with green or red sauce, pork, cheese, mole, and sweets.

Tamales on a wooden plate.

Weather During Christmas in Mexico

Weatherwise, most parts of northern and central Mexico see mild temperatures with cooler evenings during December. Snow is possible in some parts of northern Mexico such as Chihuahua.

As for the south, expect warm weather in places like Cancun and the rest of the Riviera Maya and Yucatan Peninsula.

Where to Stay for Christmas in Mexico

Mexico offers a wide menu of holiday experiences, each with its own style. 

Whether your Christmas travel goals include picturesque towns, dreamy beaches, or bustling cities brimming with culture, Mexico will deliver.

👍🏼 Mexico City

Christmas in Mexico City has its own flair. 

Offering a magical experience full of culture, bright colors, and a wide array of activities, Mexico’s capital becomes even more vibrant than usual.

December is a particularly special time to experience the so-called City of Palace’s culture and festive traditions.

Among the tons of things to do in Mexico City during the Christmas holidays, make sure to visit the Zocalo to see the beautiful light display, Christmas tree, and a life-size nativity scene.

A walk along Paseo de la Reforma is another must-see while spending Christmas in Mexico City.

Besides showcasing a beautiful light display, the central part and roundabouts are decked with hundreds of red Poinsettias. 

If you’re into theme parks, Six Flags hosts a cool Christmas throughout December. For ballet fans, Palacio de Bellas Artes comes alive with special Ballet Folklorico de Mexico productions. 

Bellas Artes

👍🏼 Cancun

Cancún, known for its idyllic beaches, is a fantastic destination to enjoy a warm and sunny Christmas with Mexican flair. 

Like all Caribbean destinations, it offers the best of the holiday season sans the winter cold in other parts of Mexico.

The city is adorned with bright lights and lively Christmas ornaments, and most resorts and restaurants host festive events for guests’ enjoyment. 

If you happen to spend New Year during your stay, you’ll get to witness an exciting fireworks display from the beach at midnight, a popular activity in all important coastal destinations in Mexico.

Playa Delfines shore on a sunny day.
Playa Delfines, Cancun

👍🏼 Playa del Carmen

Nestled along the stunning Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen offers a tropical Christmas paradise. 

The town’s famous 5th Avenue comes alive with festive lights and decorations, creating a magical atmosphere.

Of course, the weather is not winterlike at all, about as distant from a white Christmas as it can get, but Playa manages to conjure a lively holiday spirit. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to try the traditional ensalada navideña, a Christmas salad made with fruits, walnuts, and a creamy dressing that is both sweet and refreshing.

The colorful signage of Playa del Carmen near the beach.

👍🏼 San Miguel de Allende

A colonial gem known for its stunning architecture and artistic community, San Miguel de Allende is the perfect spot for a magical Christmas experience in central Mexico.

The cobblestone streets are lined with luminarias (small lanterns) creating a fairy-tale-like effect. 

The main plaza and the gorgeous San Miguel de Arcangel Church are beautifully decorated, while local markets come alive with holiday joy, offering unique crafts, unique ornaments, and tasty treats, including some of the best tamales.

Aerial view of the San Miguel de Allende at night
San Miguel de Allende

👍🏼 Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta‘s beautiful beaches and picturesque town make it a perfect Christmas in Mexico 2023 destination. 

The Malecón promenade becomes a hub of holiday festivities, featuring a nativity scene, colorful decorations, and live music.

This traditional beach destination in Mexico offers the perfect opportunity to experience a traditional Christmas in Mexico while sampling a mouthwatering mix of scrumptious seafood and tasty holiday fare. 

Arcs in Puerto Vallarta near the beach.
Los Arcos

Frequently Asked Questions About Christmas in Mexico

What are 3 fun facts about Christmas in Mexico?

💡 Fun fact 1: Traditional piñatas, which are used in posadas and Christmas Eve, have seven pointed cones, symbolizing the seven deadly sins.

Breaking the piñata represents the triumph of good over evil, which is rewarded with the sweet treats harbored inside.

💡 Fun Fact 2: As the big day approaches, Christmas markets, or “tianguis navideños,” pop up all over Mexico, with vendors touting decorations, gifts, and holiday treats. They stay open until January 7th.

💡 Fun Fact 3: The state of Oaxaca hosts a quirky Radish Festival, or “Noche de Rábanos.” On December 23rd, locals sculpt intricate scenes and figurines out of radishes, a local tradition that is not seen in the rest of the country.

How does Mexico decorate for Christmas?

Mexico goes all out with Christmas decorations, with Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, Poinsettias, piñatas, and colored paper predominating. 

Santa Claus, Three Wise Men, and even snowmen figures are also common. 

Monument in mexico city aerial view.
Mexico City

What is Santa called in Mexico?

Santa is called Santa Clos in Mexico. Papá Noel is also understood, but Santa Clos is used by most people.

What do Mexicans eat for Christmas?

Traditionally, Mexicans eat tamales, buñuelos, ensalada de Nochebuena, warm fruit ponche, Pozole, Bacalao a la Viszcaina, and Romeritos. 

However, it is common for some families to serve turkey slopped with gravy, cranberry sauce, pasta, and cake. That is American-like Christmas fare.

View of the white sand beach of Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen

Why do Mexicans celebrate Christmas Eve?

Mexicans are mostly Catholic, so they gather in the evening on the 24th to eat dinner together, then attend the midnight Christmas Mass (Misa de Gallo), and return to place the newborn baby Jesus on their nativity scene.

Moreover, regardless of religious orientation, they are very lively and love to party well into the night, so they prefer to stay up late and take it easy on the 25th, which is a working holiday.

What is Mexico like in December?

Mexico is busy and merry in December.

Regardless of where exactly you decide to go, you´ll find lively decor, joyful music, and a lot of busy people coming and going to prepare for the diverse festivities going on during the whole month.

Be it an idyllic beach or a cultural and historical hub like Mexico City, you’re sure to find Christmas trees, beautiful nativity scenes, piñatas, poinsettias, and busy markets.

As for weather conditions, they do vary depending on the location you choose. 

In general terms, Mexico City and other central destinations enjoy mild, cool weather which allows for great sightseeing. 

Beach spots are sunny and warm, while the border states in the north are considerably colder, with the possibility of snowfalls in December.

Mexico city zocalo By night

Wrapping Up: Christmas in Mexico

Christmas in Mexico is a unique blend of festive joy, ancient traditions, and delicious cuisine. 

No matter where you choose to spend the holiday season, you’ll be treated to a one-of-a-kind experience that will leave you with unforgettable memories and a taste of authentic Mexican Christmas cuisine.