From its Puritan roots to complaints of rampant commercialism, Christmas around the world is been filled with traditions, old and new. Some date back to 16th-century Germany or even ancient Greek times, while others have caught on only in modern times.
And, among them, Christmas trees are one of the most popular, now all over the world.
Their tradition is long and rich, and has resulted in some modern trees that run the gamut from breathtakingly beautiful, encapsulating everything that Christmas stands for, to something simply weird.
Thus, If you need a little help to get into the holiday spirit this year, get yourself a winter drink with some holiday treats and a tour of the world’s best or most unusual Christmas trees. These towering pines (or sand or bottle piles, in some cases) are decked to the nines and shine brightly for holiday season, from Florida, Brazil, Mexico all the way to Lithuania.
We are in Mexico City, a place that welcomes Christmas time with the return of a gigantic tree in Zócalo Square.
With the Metropolitan Cathedral behind it, the holiday display makes Centro Histórico even more scenic than it already is.
In past years, the Christmas experience in Zócalo Square is completed with a nearby ice skating rink and even a light and music show but, either way, Christmas in the Zócalo is always a spectacular affair.
Christmas in Mexico is observed from December 12 to January 6, with one additional celebration on February 2, La Candelaria or Candlemas.
The season begins with celebrations related to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Patroness of Mexico, followed by traditions such as Las Posadas (an extended devotional prayer), and Pastorelas. Pastorela, which roughly means “shepherds’ plays”, are theatrical works performed by both amateur and professional groups during the Christmas season. The first play in the New World occurred in the early 1700s with the establishment of early Spanish missions and Its origins are unknown, other than that it was orally passed down in Spain during Europe’s Medieval period.
On Christmas Eve, there is a mass while, on January 6, the arrival of the Three Wise Men is celebrated with Candlemas and the presentation of images of Jesus as a child at churches, all traditions that were formed from influences in both the pre-Hispanic period and Mexico’s colonial period, thus incorporating indigenous and Spanish practices.
Traditional decorations displayed on this holiday include nativity scenes, Christmas lights and poinsettias, named “Noche Buena” from the Spanish phrase that means “good night” referring to Christmas Eve. Poinsettias were cherished because indigenous people believed they were a symbol of fallen warriors receiving new life, who they believed returned as hummingbirds to drink the nectar of these flowers.
There is also a modern Mexican legend that says the poinsettia was once a weed that miraculously turned into a beautiful flower so that a child could present it to the infant Jesus.
Interestingly, the name for this plant is also used to refer to a dark bock-style beer which is only available during the Christmas season.
And, of course, Christmas trees, originally imported into Mexico for the expatriate community, but that have since become more popular with the Mexican population, and often placed with more traditional nativity scenes.
Despite in most Mexican homes the principal holiday adornment is el Nacimiento (Nativity scene), a decorated Christmas tree may be incorporated in it or set up elsewhere in the home. As purchase of a natural pine represents a luxury commodity to most Mexican families, the typical arbolito (little tree) is often an artificial one, a bare branch cut from a copal tree (Bursera microphylla), but also some type of shrub collected from the countryside.
Either way, the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree has taken off in Mexico.
So, it’s not uncommon to see massive trees in city centres, decorated with lights and ornaments to celebrate the festive season.
Back to Mexico City, little by little, streets and neighborhoods all over the city begin to feel like December and, from the windows of the homes all over the city, the silhouettes of trees flash out greetings to the night, while city squares are illuminated from every possible angle.
Christmas in the Zócalo is all focused on the 24th of December, while, in addition to our Christmas tree, monumental decorations of gold, green and red tinsel hunging from the facades of the buildings on the main square, adorning the buildings all over the Historical Center.
They include a multitude of giant ornaments, like bells, poinsettias, stars and candles, but that’s just some of the colorful decorations that will make the season sparkle throughout Mexico City.
But wait, the tree is not on display every year so if you’re thinking of traveling to it, be sure to check in advance!
Images from web – Google Research