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Adventures in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas in Playa del Carmen 2014

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 10, 2014

“Christmas in the Caribbean…we’ve got everything but snow.” ~ Jimmy Buffett

I'm dreaming of a Playa del Carmen Christmas
More and more people these days are discovering a new holiday tradition…running away to the tropics. Instead of fighting crowds in the malls or on the highway, some folks are spreading a blanket on a white sand beach. They have replaced sleigh bells with steel drums and eggnog with margaritas. And they have traded snow boots and heavy winter coats for flip flops and bikinis. As a result, the holiday season has become one of the most popular times of year to visit the paradise of Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

It’s easy to see why. It is hard to beat a Christmas Day that begins on a Caribbean beach and ends with a gourmet dinner at a world class restaurant. And New Years Eve in Playa is celebrated with an all-night, non-stop party that fills the streets with revelers and continues on to the beach at dawn.

Now some of you reading this are saying, “That’s just fine, but it’s too early to think about Christmas.” Actually it’s not if you are thinking about joining us down here for the holidays. Things are already filling up. However with a little advance planning you can still get some of the best deals on transportation and hotels.

And while most hotels double or even triple their prices during this time of year, the Luna Blue Hotel stands by its reputation as being the best bargain in town. Our holiday prices are often as much as half of other small hotels in town!.

Just take a look. For this upcoming holiday season, rates at the Luna Blue Hotel range from $130 – 165 per night. Compare that to the rates of other properties which are increasing their holiday rates to as much as $200-400 per night! No wonder the Luna Blue Hotel has won Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award for Best Bargain for two years in a row.

However, we are booking up fast. If you are thinking about spending the holidays in Playa, now is the time to plan. You can make a reservation directly with us by going to our reservations page. We guarantee you won’t find our prices listed for less anywhere else on the web. Or, if you have questions please feel free to Email Us.

This year give yourself the gift of some time in paradise. It will be the best present you ever receive.

Posted in Activities, Events & Happenings, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Head to Mexico for Christmas…if only in song

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 18, 2011

Photo by Ken Bartle.  Thanks to our models Mackenzie and AmandaWe love Christmas music. Over the years we have collected thousands of carols and songs on our ipod. We love it all, from traditional hymns to rock and pop standards. We even love the more esoteric music of the holiday, like Less than Jake’s punk rock version of Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, and Reggae star Eek-A-Mouse’s drugged out version of The Night Before Christmas.

Yet there is a small often overlooked genre of holiday tunes that is a favorite of ours: songs about running away to a tropical beach in Mexico and the Caribbean. We, and many others it seems, prefer our white Christmas to be made of sun bleached sand instead of snow. We like to hang our Christmas lights from our palm thatch palapas instead of storm gutters. Santa hats are worn with swimsuits, and on Christmas Eve we still remember to leave a little something for Santa… although we set out a margarita instead of cookies (the old boy seems to prefer them with a salted rim, over ice instead of blended).

Of course we know everyone can’t go on a tropical vacation at Christmastime, so as a present for our friends stuck in chillier climates, here are a few of our favorite “Christmas on a beach in Mexico” holiday tunes. We hope they bring a little Mexican-Caribe sun and warmth into your holiday celebrations.

Christmas in the Caribbean

First on our list comes from the King of the Tropical Troubadours, Jimmy Buffett. This song contains all the iconic images one expects from a holiday season in paradise: “snowbirds” filling the air, Santa on a dolphin, stockings hung from a boat’s mast. Most of all it reminds the listener why life, and Christmas, is better in the tropics: because down here “we don’t live in a hurry.”

All I Want for Christmas is a Real Good Tan

Kenny Chesney convinces his girlfriend (and the rest of us) that two tickets to a tropical shore is the best present he can get. A new bikini, toes in the sand and grilled mahi-mahi are Kenny’s suggestions as the best way to celebrate the season.

Christmas in Mexico

Key West entertainer Brent Burns says the best way to get over a broken heart is to head south of the border for the holidays. Since he says, “I try never to offend anyone wearing a thong,” he fits right in. When Brent meets a “pretty señorita” he concludes that “dancing by the pool, it’s hard to go wrong.”

Santa’s Going South (to Mexico)

Toby Keith and Sammy Hagar let the secret out: Santa’s “too old to take this much cold.” He is heading to Mexico this year. It’s all about “jet skis, margaritas and palm trees” for Christmas. So the boys are joining him by grabbing a “first class non-stop down Mexico way.”

Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rhum

Jimmy Buffett again; this time he is telling the story of poor Santa who is “tired of the whole reindeer scene.” Santa wants to turn into a pirate and “dance with a sword in the sand.” He decides he needs rum, steel drums and the Caribbean… and so away he goes.

We hope these tunes help brighten your holiday. And we leave you with one more song: Mexico’s very popular singer Luis Miguel singing
“I’ll be Home for Christmas” in Spanish. Home of course is where we all spend our holidays if only in our hearts and dreams.

From our home here in the paradise of Playa del Carmen on the edge of the Caribbean Sea to all of you wherever you may be, we wish all of you the happiest of holidays and a Merry Christmas.

Posted in Friends, Living the Dream, Recommendations, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Christmas in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 10, 2011

It’s Christmastime again, and Mexico, like the rest of the world, is celebrating. Here in our home of Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Caribbean coast we have found that celebration is a unique mixture of holiday customs drawn from America, Europe and Mexico.

Mexico’s historical Christmas traditions have usually been centered around the religious nature of the holiday and have focused more on church, family and friends and less on the commercial rush to buy things so often seen in the United States. That’s something we enjoy. While the stores are more and more filled with holiday gifts and toys, there still does not seem to be the near hysterical feeling that one must find the perfect gift or buy the latest electronic gadget in order to make the holiday special.

Instead there is an emphasis in Mexico of taking time to enjoy people during the holidays. Schools, city offices and many businesses shut down from the middle of December until after the new year to allow people to spend more time at home.

Christmastime is made a little easier for folks by the fact that business are required by law to give a Christmas bonus called an “alguinaldo” to employees. Many employers also give a little more or give gifts to their employees, as well. A common present given to employees is a dispensa. This is a package or box of practical items for the home. It could include foods like rice or beans, cleaning products or other things used in the household. Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club will sell pre-packaged dispensas, much like fruit baskets or boxes of candy can be found on the store shelves in the US and Canada.

With the holiday vacations from work and school, people have more time for socializing. Many families host “posada” meals to gather together their friends and loved ones. Posada means “inn” and refers to the inn that had no room for Mary and Joseph. Guests ask to be admitted to the dinner but are told there is no room until they produce a statue of the baby Jesus. A traditional dish for a posada meal is Chiles en Nogada, a poblano chili stuffed with rice, nuts fruits and meat, covered in a creamy walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds. It is one of our favorite dishes in Mexico.

Of course children are a big part of any celebration in Mexico, especially at Christmas when the little ones expect wondrous gifts to appear. Traditionally it was not Santa Claus who brought gifts to good girls and boys, but the three kings, the same kings who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. However, in modern times Santa Claus has become a popularly-accepted figure, and children in Mexico now often receive gifts from both Santa on Christmas Day and from the Kings on Three Kings Day (January 6th).

It’s also common for children in Mexico to go caroling. They take a branch from a tree and decorate it with tinsel, ribbons and a picture of Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe. They then go through the streets singing. On 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen the little ones, usually accompanied by an older sister or brother (who often stand nearby talking with friends on their cellphones) go door to door or even table to table in a restaurant singing an enthusiastic but often humorously tuneless version of a Spanish Christmas carol like Peces in El Rio (Fishes in the River). They hope for a reward of a few pesos before going on to the next table.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas the town of Playa begins to decorate. At the Palacio Municipal (City Hall) a giant Christmas tree can be found right next to an large inflatable Santa Claus and a life-sized nativity scene. In fact you can find decorated trees all over town.

When we first moved to Mexico, we brought our own artificial tree with us as we had been told the Christmas tree was not a custom which was celebrated in this part of Mexico. That was true back then. However over the last five or six years the custom of having a decorated tree has caught on among locals. Fir trees are hauled in by the truckload and can be seen lined up for purchase at Walmart and Mega stores.

Living here in Playa del Carmen we have been able to continue our own beloved Christmas traditions while enjoying the slower, less commercial feel of Mexico’s version of the holiday. However we must admit, our first Christmas in Mexico wasn’t exactly idyllic.

Our first Mexican Christmas occurred only a few days after we had our grand opening as the Luna Blue Hotel. We had been working frantically for months trying to get the property ready. We finished only a few days before Christmas, and when December 24th came every room was occupied. We worked late into the evening that night to get everyone checked in and taken care of. Then we walked home to the little house we had moved into the week before (up until then we had been living in the hotel while we renovated it). We had not even unpacked yet and were sleeping on a mattress on the floor among piles of boxes.

We had not put up a Christmas tree or bought a single present. We had just been too busy and there had been no time with all the demands of getting ready for the hotel to be opened. We had been too busy to even go food shopping. There was no turkey or ham or a single candy cane to be found in our little house.

When we realized we hadn’t eaten all day we headed out to find a restaurant, but by then it was 11 o’clock on Christmas Eve and everything was closed. We finally gave up walking the deserted streets and went home to have peanut butter on white bread for our Christmas Eve dinner. Then we got a few hours sleep.

The next day we arose early to go the the hotel to clean the rooms and take care of the guests. Finally in the late afternoon of Christmas Day we finished our work and went down to the beach to swim in the warm Caribbean Sea. After a dip we laid down in the white sand side by side…and fell asleep. That nap beside the ocean was our Christmas present to each other.

Since then our Christmas celebrations have become a little less exhausting. With our wonderful staff and with the hotel now being well established we now happily have more time to enjoy the season.

We put up our tree early (Before Thanksgiving this year!) and decorate it with ornaments we have picked up on our travels around the world. A lot of the decorations are tropical themed…things like a snorkeling Santa, tropical fish, and Santa flying over palm trees. This year we also topped our tree with a large colorful mermaid.

We decorate the house and will have friends over for dinner or drinks through the holiday time. Christmas Eve we will call family back in the US and then settle down with some treats and a few favorite videos (A Charlie Brown Christmas, Love Actually, The Night of the Meek and a few others). Then we will get some sleep because…of course…we will have to be at that hotel front desk early Christmas morning. Yes…that is still part of our tradition. And afterwards we will go down to the Caribbean Sea. That too is part of our Christmas celebration now.

What we have learned living in Mexico is that how the holidays are celebrated is not as important as making sure they are filled them with love and happiness. So however you celebrate the holidays…be it Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Buddha’s Enlightenment Day…we wish you peace and joy.

Posted in Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Christmas by the Bay

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 16, 2008

“It’s Christmas by the Bay, time to celebrate in a San Francisco way.”
~Tim Hockenberry

The holiday tree in Union Square, San FranciscoWe spent thirty years in San Francisco, and even though we now live in Mexico, we still return to California as often as we can to see family, friends and the beauty of one of the world’s truly great cities. And since that beauty is enhanced when the holiday season comes around, we decided a little early December trip was in order to help us get in the Christmas spirit. Here is a trip report about our “Christmas by the Bay.”

As always, we stayed at the Chancellor Hotel. It’s an old style San Franciscan hotel, built in the early 1900’s, and owned by the same family for years. It sits right at the corner of Union Square, the heart of the shopping district. It is comfortable, with wonderful service from a dedicated staff which has been there for a long time (some for as much as twenty years). We always get a room on the street side. From our window, we could see the City’s official holiday tree, the ice skating rink and the various stores’ decorations. At night we would leave our window open to hear the clickety-clack of the cable cars that run past the front of the hotel and the street musicians below playing Christmas carols.

Once we got to the Bay Area we had some personal stuff to take care of. Middle age brings a fair amount of doctors poking and probing on occasion. However, it turned out all was well and a clean bill of health was issued. Yay!

Then it was a couple of days visiting family up in Sacramento. We saw Cheri’s mom’s new house (of which she is very proud) and got to hang out with the rest of the family, including Cheri’s brothers, sister & nephews. When we first left San Francisco and started our long drive to Mexico, Cheri’s family up in Sacramento took us in for a few nights so we could get our bearings. It always feels a little like home away from home when we go back to visit, but we wish they would come to Mexico and visit more often. Sadly, our son Chris couldn’t join us as he was in the middle of a faculty presentation for his Master’s Degree in Digital Media down in San Diego. But there were lots of phone calls and birthday wishes (he turned 26 on December 6th!).

Tony with poet Gary SnyderWhen we got back to San Francisco we tried to make the most of our visit, experiencing as many of the unusual and fascinating places and things the Bay Area has to offer as we could. Here are some of the fun things we did:

….We went to a book reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder. Snyder is a renaissance man. He has by turns been a scholar of Chinese and Japanese literature and art, a logger, a fire lookout in national forests, a university professor, a sailor in the merchant marine, Chair of California Arts Council, an adamant spokesman for the environment and the author of a couple dozen books of poetry. On this evening Snyder was talking about his friendship with the late Beat poet and icon, Allen Ginsberg, and reading from a recently published collection of their correspondence. At 78 Snyder still dominated the room with the power of his voice, his intelligence and his personality. He was warm, funny and friendly, taking time to sign books and chat with the crowd of about fifty who came to see him. It was a very special evening with a true national treasure.

…We attended an afternoon Christmas concert at Grace Cathedral featuring the Cathedral’s Men and Boys Choirs. Grace Cathedral is a magnificent Gothic structure of stone and space and is one of our favorite places to have a few minutes of peace in the middle of the City. The Choirs sang Christmas carols to the accompaniment of a string quartet and the church’s massive pipe organ. The sounds echoed around the candlelit church as the day’s final rays of sunlight shone through the giant stained glass windows above us. It was a wonderful way to start the holiday season.

Our good friends Jan & Eric…We went to a tree trimming party at the home of our dear friends Jan and Eric. They are about as perfect a couple as you ever want to meet. They are smart, funny and loving to each other and to their friends. They are also gourmet cooks and have made their small Russian Hill apartment our favorite restaurant in San Francisco. That night there was great wine (Eric’s a wine connoisseur …or snob as we tell him) terrific food (baked panko- and cayenne pepper-encrusted prawns among many other goodies) and old friends gathered about the tree in the living room telling new stories and re-telling old ones all night long. Thank you guys. It was a delight.

…We went to restaurants. Lots of restaurants! It being San Francisco we of course ate waaaayyy too much. This trip we discovered some new treasures. We ate at Brenda’s French Soul Food Restaurant on Polk near Eddy, a miniscule dining room serving the best Creole cooking outside of New Orleans French Quarter. We had the Andouille Sausage and Crawfish bread pudding as well as the beignet assortment. We also ate at Puccini & Pinetti on Ellis Street, a warm, modern Italian eatery with a great bar and unusual menu. We loved the filet set in a bed of warm spinach with cherries and gorgonzola. Of course we hit some old favorites including Firenze by Night on Stockton. Sergio has made his classic Italian restaurant a must for visitors and home to many locals. It’s the best pasta in town. We also ate pretty regularly at Luques which is in the Chancellor Hotel. They have wonderful breakfasts and afternoon snacks with a Cajun flavor. One night we had a North Beach Pizza (our favorite pizza in all the world!) delivered to our room. One afternoon we indulged in Dim Sum (Chinese Tea Lunch) at Yank Sing. Oh, and In -N Out Burgers. And Pasta Pomodoro in Noe Valley, our old neighborhood. And Egg Nog Lattes at Starbucks. And hotdogs from the Stanley Steamer Cart sitting beside the skating rink. And don’t forget Ghirardelli chocolate. The list goes on and on. We are going on a diet the minute we get home.

Entrance to the Green Gulch Zen Center…We went to the Actor’s Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) for their annual musical production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. They stage it every year and it has become, along with the Ballet’s Nutcracker, a San Francisco performance tradition. It is a close call as to which is more adorable, the kids in the production in their 18th Century costumes or the little ones in ties and frilly dresses for a special evening out with Mom and Dad, or Mom and Mom, or Dad and Dad (it is San Francisco, after all). Of course, everyone knows the story, and by the time Tiny Tim calls out “God bless us every one” the whole place was cheering and clapping with the Christmas spirit. No Scrooges allowed! We went home through the streets to the hotel with big smiles.

…Tony went to the Green Gulch Zen Center to meditate and have a private interview with Roshi Reb Anderson. The Zen Center sits near Mount Tamalpais in Marin, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. A small Buddhist community lives and farms there in a fog-covered valley filled with towering Eucalyptus trees. It is a place of absolutely magical physical beauty. Tenshin Roshi (Tenshin is Mr. Anderson’s Buddhist name, and Roshi means ancient or wise teacher) is the head Dharma instructor at the center. Tenshin Roshi’s teachings mean a lot to Tony, and he was greatly honored to be able to spend some time with this special person.

…We experienced Christmas San Francisco style. There were lights and giant decorated trees in Union Square, in front of the Bank of America building and at City Hall. The Embarcadero Buildings were, as always, outlined in lights like giant presents. There were choir groups singing carols across from the hotel at night (“Merry Christmas San Francisco” they shouted). The legendary cable cars were decorated with wreaths and greenery. Macys’ windows were filled with kittens and puppies up for adoption from the SPCA. And on our last night we experienced an “only in San Francisco” event…Santarchy! Early Morning in Muir WoodsThink Santa and Anarchy and you have your first clue. The word went out over the internet and hundreds of people, mostly young, showed up downtown dressed like Santa in some fashion. There were traditional white bearded Santas, Viking helmeted Santas, Mexican masked wrestling Santas, pretty girls barely dressed as Frederick’s of Hollywood Santas, and even biker Santas on motorcycles completely covered in Christmas tree lights. It was an internet-sponsored gathering combined with a parade and a bar crawl (“Santa needs Beer!!” was the cry of the evening). A great time was had by both the participants and the observers. San Francisco is still a wonder!

…We went early one morning to hike the trails in Muir Woods, a national monument located in Marin. Muir Woods is a protected forest of old growth redwood trees. The park has canyons, streams, wildlife and hiking trails all spread for miles beneath a dazzling canopy of evergreen. We have always loved hiking there, particularly in the early morning before the tour buses arrive. At that time of day, the forest is perfectly still, with no sound except the water tumbling over rocks, the wind in the high branches and the occasional caw of a crow. Walking beneath the gigantic redwoods makes one feel insignificant and a part of the natural setting all at the same time. After our hike we emerged from the woods into the crisp cold air with a sense of renewal, which is what nature is all about we guess.

…We also experienced one more San Francisco tradition, one we wish would disappear: homeless people living and sleeping on the street. Some are poor, some are mentally ill, some are addicted to drugs or alcohol. All are cold, hungry, sick and alone. There aren’t enough shelters to help, and some wouldn’t go to the shelters even if there was room because they are afraid of being locked up or abused. So they beg on the street and live in doorways, alleys or in camps which materialize at night in dead-end streets and under freeways. We wish there was an answer we could give, some help we could offer, but sometimes the problem seems too big and too complex. So this year, as in years past we made a small gesture by joining San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll’s Untied Way. For a full explanation of how you can join the Untied Way in your town, please read Mr. Carroll’s column which is set forth below. It has been part of our Christmas for a couple of years now, and we hope it can be part of yours too.

A San Francisco traditionFinally it was time to go home…and we were glad. It was a great trip. We love The City and always will, but we missed our little home in the tropics, we missed our Mexican street cats and dogs, we missed our friends and the folks who work for us. And we missed being warm!!! So we are happy to be home now in Mexico and are getting ready for Christmas here. We will blog again soon about our holiday plans down here at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar on the edge of the Caribbean. In the meantime, Happy Holidays Everyone.

Jon Carroll San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, December 7, 2006

The sleigh bells are tinkling, if you happen to live in a heavily sleighed area, and the snow is falling (according to reliable rumors), and avatars of Santa Claus are coming to town, indeed have already arrived in town, as the gift-giving giant SanClauInc (formerly Santa Claus’ Elf Factory) works out its naughty-nice ratios adjusted for morality deflation.

Which means it’s time again for the Untied Way. The Untied Way is a nontraditional charity. It has no officers, no headquarters, no brochures, no regional offices and no guidelines. It is not a tax-deductible organization because it is not an organization at all. It issues no receipts, nor do letters come in the mail thanking you for your generous contribution.

The Untied Way does not have a Web site. The Untied Way does not sponsor a fun run, a masked ball, a gourmet dinner, a silent auction, a noisy auction, a turtle race or a runway show. It does not have buttons, badges or stickers. It will not send you address labels in the mail. The Untied Way has no overhead at all, and 100 percent of its donations go directly to those in need.

The Untied Way supports and embraces all other charities. The Untied Way urges you to give generously to all of them, or the ones you always give to, or maybe some new ones. The Untied Way exists to care for those people who, as is so often said, “fall through the cracks.” The Untied Way is all about the cracks.

The Untied Way is not so much an organization as an idea. Really, it’s hardly an idea — it’s really more of a plan. Untied Way volunteers follow the plan. Only they know how well the plan works; only they can say what benefits are derived. Untied Way volunteers are self-selected; no records are kept. Untied Way volunteers are not bonded, carry no special identification and do not solicit funds. Untied Way volunteers give money away. That’s it.

Here’s how it works. This is the age of ATMs, so the ATM is the centerpiece of the Untied Way. Go to your ATM and take out some money. How much money is entirely your business, but the sum should be sufficient for you to notice its absence. It shouldn’t hurt, but maybe it should pinch a little.

Take your money to an area of town where there are people who seek funds from passing strangers. Coincidentally, BART serves many of these areas, the result of an unprecedented BART-Untied Way collaboration, of which BART is unaware. Then you take your fistful of $20 bills and stroll down the avenue. When someone asks you for money, you give him $20. You repeat this until you are out of $20 bills. You are now an official Untied Way volunteer and are entitled to all the rights and privileges adhering thereto, including perhaps a no-host ride on a monorail back to your home.

You might expect gratitude from your clients, but you may not get it. Some of your clients may not process the denomination of the contribution, and therefore your special virtue will go unremarked. Sometimes, alas, your clients will say insulting or incomprehensible things to you. Other times, they may be overly grateful, and follow you down the street asking in stentorian tones for God to bless you. The Untied Way is not a particularly comfortable charity.

Sometimes people ask: Won’t the Untied Way clients use their money foolishly? Won’t they buy drugs or cheap booze or unsavory companionship? And the answer is: Yes, they might. Have you ever spent your money foolishly? Have you ever behaved unwisely? Untied Way clients are human beings like you.

Sometimes people ask: Are the Untied Way clients worthy of these donations? What does “worthy” mean? How much suffering would you want them to have? How much virtue do you feel is appropriate? It’s like this: You can spend your time determining the eligibility of clients, asking them to fill out questionnaires and describe what other kinds of financial assistance they are receiving, or you can give them money and move on. The second way is more efficient.

It is the assumption of the Untied Way that people on the streets who ask for money need the money. It is not an occupation that people aspire to. The people on the streets are not middle managers seeking to supplement their incomes. They need money, and you have money. Maybe they are reduced to asking for money because they made foolish choices, but again: There but for the grace of God go you.

Here is a way to help the underserved in your community and get a heart-healthy walk at the same time. If your community does not have underserved people, other communities will lend you theirs.

Posted in Activities, Trip Report | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Christmas in Mexico

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 23, 2007

One of our guests at the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden recently saw us putting up the Christmas tree in the hotel and asked, quite seriously, “Do they have Christmas here in Mexico?” We explained that Mexico has been celebrating Christmas for a long time and that it has holiday customs that are some of the oldest in the world.

Dayani, Yolanda's granddaughter Fishes in the River

The Virgin is combing her hair
between the curtains.
Her hairs are of gold
and the comb of fine silver.

But look at how the fishes
in the river drink.
But look how they drink
in order to see God born.
They drink and they drink
and they return to drink,
the fishes in the river,
to see God being born.

Traditionally Christmas in Mexico has been less about gifts and consumerism and more about religious celebrations and family gatherings. The holiday season lasts from December 15th until Jan 6th. The city governments close except for police and emergency workers. Schools are out, and the children begin the long difficult wait for presents and parties. In the evening small groups of kids will stroll the main streets carrying a large tree branch decorated with tinsel and bulbs. Sometimes they also carry pictures of religious icons like the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. The kids then will stop at a house or store or even tableside at a restaurant and begin to sing. Usually off key, almost always too fast as they hurry through the song, they still manage to look adorable as they do it. One of the more popular songs they sing, in Spanish of course, is Peces en El Rio (Fishes in the River).

Afterwards, they wait for a reward of candy or a few pesos before heading off, the little ones’ hands held by older brothers and sisters, the young teenagers quickly pulling out cell phones to call friends between songs (some things are universal).

The Luna Blue Posada DinnerBy December 20, people will have received their aguinaldos. This is the Christmas bonus which every employer is required by law to provide in their employees’ paychecks mid-December. It’s equivalent to about two weeks pay. It is also a tradition that employees are given gifts, usually in the form of food or household items. To make gift giving easier, stores offer pre-packaged gifts boxes or bags, called despensas, which generally include different types of food, such as rice, beans, corn meal, etc.

By now, the city has begun to decorate. Playa del Carmen, being well-off financially, is able to afford lots of decorations. Palm trees and bushes are strung with Christmas lights up and down the main avenues. A large crèche is set up outside of City Hall. It’s interesting to note there is no separation of religion and government here. Mexico is primarily Catholic and openly displays that fact.

As the season proceeds, more and more people attend Posada celebrations. The Gospel says that Joseph and his wife Mary (pregnant with Jesus) could not find room at the inn (la posada) until one kind person let them stay in the stable. This story is acted out as people go to dinners with family and friends. People carry candles and sparklers and sing a request for admittance to the dinner. They are denied until a statue of the baby Jesus is shown and then all are invited in. In modern times the Posada dinner has become the primary way to celebrate even for businesses. Employers are expected to have a Posada for their employees and families.

Three of Dora's five daughtersWe held our own Posada a few nights ago. We invited our employees and regular workers and ended up with about 40 people. Many brought families, including adult children with their families, visiting relatives from out of town and a few friends they picked up along the way. We served a traditional Posada menu of posole (traditional Mexican soup made of pork and corn), chicken and pork tamales in red, green and mole sauces; and tamales of rajas con queso (one of the best things we’ve ever eaten). For dessert, there were sweetened fruits wrapped in corn husks. In addition, ponche navideño, a strong, spicy punch served warm with large pieces of tropical fruits floating in it, was served. A bottle of rum is set next to the ponche bowl (we chose Havana Club, our favorite) so that adults could liberally spike their punch as they wished.

We hired a large mariachi band to play traditional songs. Normally a Posada would have a piñata for the children, but because of space limitations, we opted for gift bags of toys & candy for all the kids. They were a big hit. There were also presents for our employees and other workers. A good time was had by all. Mr. Mariachi

Next on the holiday calendar is Christmas Eve. Known as Noche Buena (the “Good Night”), it is the big celebration of the season. People will attend church and have family dinners. This is also when families and friends exchange gifts. Sadly for the kids, mostly they will receive practical gifts like clothes (just like you used to get from your grandparents). But don’t despair, on January 6, Three Kings Day (Dia de los Tres Reyes) arrives. Celebrating the three wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus, children awake to find toys and other presents brought during the night by the three kings. The holiday season then comes to a close.

Many of Mexico’s holiday traditions continue today as they have for many years. However, more and more American/European style Christmas customs are making their way south of the border. Christmas trees have become very popular here. So has the figure of Santa Claus. Stores play English language Christmas music continually and offer holiday sales much like one finds in the US. The manger scene set up at City Hall now competes with a gigantic Christmas tree. Last year it was festooned with giant elf dolls which looked amazingly like maniacal Cabbage Patch Kids crossed with Chucky the homicidal puppet. It was actually kind of creepy. However thankfully this year the dolls have been replaced by lights in the shapes of poinsettias, the traditional Christmas flower of Mexico, here called Flor de Nochebuena.

Tony getting kisses from Cassandra and NatashaDespite these changes, Mexico still has not caught the Christmas shopping fever that exists back in the States. The holiday spirit here is calmer, quieter and less about things and more about family. We think it’s kinda nice. We’ll be celebrating Christmas with our son Christopher who has joined us from his home in San Diego. We have decorated our tree and have already watched a Charlie Brown Christmas (probably not for the last time). We are listening constantly to our 150 Christmas CDs, including a few we just picked up in the States. We will be working at the hotel on Christmas Eve but are planning on taking Christmas day off. We’ll start with a big breakfast of praline pecan pancakes (courtesy of Harry & David back in the States) followed by an exchange of gifts by the tree. Later that day we’ll have a family Christmas dinner, including a honey bourbon glazed ham for us and chili-cheese enchiladas for Chris, who is a vegetarian. And Christmas day will also include our newest tradition: heading down to the beach and swimming in the Caribbean Sea to celebrate.

We hope all of our friends and readers of this blog will have a happy and peaceful holiday, however you celebrate.

Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo,

Tony & Cheri

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