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Mexican Christmas menu ideas: Posadas, Noche Buena, Navidad

Karen Hursh Graber

Christmas tree in Guadalajara's Palacio Municipal
© Daniel Wheeler, 2010

In Mexico, the Christmas season is a month-long fiesta, starting with the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th, and continuing through the posadas, Noche Buena and Navidad, right up to the Three Kings Day on January 6th.

During this celebratory month, preparing seasonal dishes is an important part of the festivities, with each occasion having its own specialties. These can be easily adapted to holiday menus everywhere, and a Mexican culinary theme is fun, festive, and versatile. Feature a menu for a particular occasion, such as a posada, or combine elements from each of the menus presented here. In any case, a buffet is more relaxed and informal than a sit-down dinner, especially when entertaining a crowd. Whether you prefer to have guests at brunch or supper, try some of the following ideas and recipes.

A children's posada party

Posadas — those reenactments of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in Bethlehem — are especially suited for children. Once the posada procession, with two children dressed as Mary and Joseph, finally arrives at the home that will give them "shelter," the focal point is the piñata, filled with candy, fruit and nuts. (Posadas can be fun for adults, too, and my Mexican sister-in-law in Texas has posada parties filled with small gifts for all ages. Once in Oaxaca, a group of us had a piñata of George Bush custom made, and people had great fun whacking at it.)

Even in places where there are no religious processions, a posada theme is great for a children's holiday party. The piñata can be set up outdoors or in a room in which the furniture has been pushed to the sides. Fill it with miniature candies, nuts, and small gifts, and after the piñata has been broken and the contents gathered up, kids can enjoy refreshments from a table on which sweet tamales, cookies, hot chocolate atole and punch have been set up. The following are some suggestions for a children's posada party table.

Chocolate Atole: Champurrado
Holiday punch: Ponche navideño
Mexican Christmas cookies: Galletas de navidad
Candied walnuts: Nueces garapiñados
Sweet tamales: Tamales dulces

A Christmas Eve supper: Noche Buena

Holiday meals are usually eaten on the eve of the big day, and Christmas is no exception. Most Mexicans have their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena. The religious go to the misa del gallo, or Midnight Mass, with the big meal following. Others start the meal a bit earlier in the evening, but usually not before nine or ten, and continue the feast into the wee hours of the morning.

While the Noche Buena meal is typically a sit-down dinner, the elements of the meal can make a beautiful buffet presentation for any party during the holiday season. And if a large group of family and/or friends is expected, this is a great way to serve the food, especially if not everyone arrives at once. It is less formal than a sit-down dinner and just as enjoyable.

Bacalao, a Spanish style codfish dish which is de rigeur for Noche Buena, is perfect for a buffet, as is the Noche Buena salad. The recipe for stuffed, roasted turkey has been adapted for a buffet, but filled with a traditional Mexican Christmas stuffing. By all means serve the punch from the posada menu, spiked if desired for those who prefer a little Christmas cheer. Sidra, or bubbly apple cider, is also traditional, but any bubbly would probably be much appreciated by guests. Feel free to add any of the nut and cookie recipes from the posada menu. They go especially well with rompope, or "Mexican eggnog."

Stuffed roasted turkey roulade: Rollo de pavo relleno
Codfish with tomatoes, olives and chiles: Bacalao a la vizcaina
Christmas Eve salad: Ensalada de Noche Buena
Puebla style eggnog: Rompope

A Christmas brunch: Navidad

After the late Christmas Eve supper comes to an end, it seems nobody is up very early on Christmas morning. A late brunch is a good option for a get together no matter where you live. Mexican almuerzo — or brunch — food is great for entertaining. The jicama and mandarin orange salad incorporates two of the most important seasonal contributions to the Mexican holiday menu, and can be made the night before and refrigerated until serving. This chilaquiles recipe, unlike most, is one that can be assembled ahead and baked, along with the rice dish, while waiting for guests to arrive. This makes for a hassle free menu, hearty enough to be called a true Mexican brunch, and easy enough so that the hosts can get everything done before enjoying a pomegranate champagne cocktail. A selection of sweet rolls from the bakery is good with the cinnamon coffee.

Pomegranate champagne cocktail: Coctel de champaña y granada
Jicama and mandarin orange salad: Ensalada xec
Baked chilaquiles: Chilaquiles al horno
Green rice casserole with poblanos and cheese: Arroz verde con queso y rajas
Sweet cinnamon coffee: Café de olla

Published or Updated on: December 6, 2010 by Karen Hursh Graber © 2010
Contact Karen Hursh Graber

Follow Karen as she travels through the Central Mexican state of Puebla, meeting local cooks, tasting the food, and collecting recipes. With over 75 recipes, plus sections on ingredients and cooking techniques, the book takes the reader on a journey through one of Mexico's oldest and most renowned culinary regions. It can be ordered online.

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