When the Spanish Europeans came to America, they were introduced to the culture, art and agricultural products native to the Americas. Likewise, indigenous people in what is now Mexico were exposed to many practices from Europe which were new to them as well. This encounter between the Old and New Worlds illustrates what can happen When Worlds Collide, a multimedia NEH-funded EDSITEment-reviewed resource. Students may discover how native people held fast to their indigenous roots, while also embracing Christianity through one of the best examples of cultural duality, the vision and worship of the indigenous Madonna, Lady of Guadalupe.
Her festival, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) is a Catholic celebration remembering the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an Indian man in the first years of Spanish rule. This holiday, perhaps the most important day of the year is celebrated by Mexicans and Latinos in many countries on December 12th. EDSITEment lesson, Mexican Culture and History through Its National Holidays, Activity 2., Dia de Nuestra Señora De Guadalupe includes online videos of the image and the Basilica at the visitation site. There is also a Student Launchpad, Mexican Holidays to accompany the lesson.
December 12th also has been officially designated by the US Congress as National Poinsettia Day! This celebration honors the first Ambassador to the new Republic of Mexico, Joel Poinsett as well as Paul Ecke Jr. who later successfully marketed the poinsettia worldwide. Historically, Mexicans recoginzed this flower's symbolic significance and displayed it at this time of year. In the 17th century the poinsettia became known as “la flor de Nochebuena” (Holy night flower) and was used in nativity processions. Earlier the Aztec nobility held it sacred and cultivated “cuetlaxochitl” (star-flower) for coloring dye and medicine. Now poinsettias are regaled everywhere as a ubiquitous sign of Christmastime.
In addition to the poinsettia, a number of other customary holiday practices have entered American from Mexico, many with religious significance.
Traditional posadas are held in faith communities each December 16th – 24th. In these rituals, which the Spanish call "Los Peregrinos, San José y la Virgen María" believers re-enact the experience of Mary and Joseph as they journey to Bethlehem in search of lodging on the eve of the nativity. EDSITEment-reviewed Posadas and Other Traditions of Mexico from La Dirección General de Culturas Populares explores the traditions of the posadas. More can be learned about the practice through the bilingual site Mexican Traditions for Christmas. Students may want to make an ornament shaped from the country of Mexico with information on these Christmas customs.
Other examples of Mexican holiday customs include creating luminary paths (farolito), lighted candles that line walkways during the Christmas season, as well as the whimsical piñata. These colorful hollow figures made of crèpe or tissue paper, papier-maché are filled with sweets which the children of the house take turns with a stick in an attempt to bust. Students may enjoy making (and breaking) their own piñata this month!