By Kathryn Boelk
Christmas is on our minds; especially that glorious Christmas dinner, which inevitably becomes something of an all-day event for those who celebrate Christmas in the United States. As I fantasize about my family’s traditional dishes, like prime rib and shrimp bisque soup, I also wonder if the women of En Vía will be celebrating this holiday and what it will look like for them and their families.
While Christian holiday traditions certainly exist in various indigenous towns throughout Oaxaca, Christmas is not universally celebrated. Though many families that we know within the program recognize Christmas, they do so with a beautiful variety of traditions distinct to their own cultures, lifestyles, and families.
On a recent tour to Teotitlán, one of our borrowers, Guadalupe, shared some of the traditions that her family takes part in on Christmas, but also noted some differences. She explained, for example, that “Santa Claus does not come to Teotitlán.” That is, gift giving is not a common Christmas practice in Oaxaca. Instead, families gather to “receive” Christmas on the night of the 24th, something which often entails wishing one another good luck and good health as well as sharing a meal.
Tamales for Christmas dinner!
Gloria, whose business is making tamales and assorted desserts to sell in Teotitlán’s market, tells us that the Christmas season is indeed a very busy one for her. She has many more customers buying tamales at this time of year, particularly on Christmas Eve and throughout the final weeks of December for the posadas (a tradition in which neighbors gather to reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for safe lodging before the birth of Jesus). Gloria says that in Teotitlán, on Christmas Eve, many people attend a late-night Mass in the town’s church at around 10:30 pm and afterwards eat a dinner at home with their families.
Gloria prepares tamales for sale over the Holidays.
In the town of Tlacochahuaya, we spoke with Maria Luisa and her husband, who told us that their favorite Christmas dinner dish is guajolote. This variety of turkey apparently has a very distinct and savory flavor, such that even when it is cooked plain, it tastes as if it has already been seasoned. It is considered something of a treat to eat guajolote and apart from Christmas, the animal is often given as a gift at weddings. The guajolote has tough meat though, so it must be cooked for a long time in an oven (above or below ground) or as a soup.
Guajolote turkey for dinner!
Maria Luisa says that she and her family often eat chickens that they raise as well. She proceeded to tell us the story of the last chicken they had raised from a little chick especially for dinner. Despite themselves the family grew rather attached to this particular chicken (they even gave it a name!) And come time to prepare for the meal, they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. I think they ate a vegetarian meal that year!
It has been a joy to learn about and even partake in a few different Christmas traditions outside of my own. From all of us in En Vía, we wish each of you, our friends, a very happy holiday! Oh, and buen provecho!