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Staying in Mexico for the Holidays: Navigating Cultural Difference

The holidays are a period of heightened everything – heighted emotions, heightened expectations, and heightened social responsibility. If you’re an expat or foreigner celebrating the holiday season in Mexico, then you have the additional challenge of navigating culture differences too.

The Holiday seasons remind us of how things are done in our home country.

Many people find themselves thinking things such as, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas”. If we carry our expectations for the holidays forward, with the belief that our way is the ‘right’ way, then we’re at risk of finding ourselves frustrated and disappointed. This can get in the way of enjoying everything that Mexico has to offer. So how can we give ourselves the best chance for making the most of the holiday season? It takes a combination of knowledge and self-awareness, allowing us to be both logistically and psychologically prepared.

1. Mexico is a primarily catholic county and therefore celebrates catholic holidays.

This begins on 12 December with the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Dia de la Virgin de Guadalupe) through to 6 January, Three Kings Day (Dia de los Santos Inocentes).

If you celebrate holidays from another religion, then you can often find these communities in Mexico. For example, there is a strong Jewish community. However, you may have to put in a little extra effort if you’re not part of the dominant Catholic/Christian groups.

Action:Take the time to find and connect with your community while in Mexico.

2. Christmas is celebrated on the 24 December, the “Noche Buena”

Christmas eve is often celebrated with Mass, family time, mountains of delicious food and even all-night partying. If you celebrate with Mexican loved ones on the 24th, be prepared for a big evening.

If you’re accustomed to celebrating Christmas on the 25 December, you may find this day a little lonely.

Action: Consider making plans for the 25th December. You may have to be the one to initiate and organise this with friends or loved ones.

3. Psychological preparation: Be aware of your own expectations.

We all hold many assumptions about what a great ‘celebration’ looks like. If we place these expectations on another culture, we may judge them unfairly. For example, if we’re accustomed to exchanging valuable presents on Christmas day and we then celebrate Christmas with someone in Mexico who is accustomed to celebrating with posadas, nacimientos (elaborate nativity displays), pinatas and food, we may feel hurt by not receiving a present in return.

Action: Consider being upfront about your expectations and sharing these in advance with loved ones. If you find there’s a mismatch, there’s an opportunity to negotiate and navigate these ahead of time, even if that just means adjusting expectations.

4. Stay connected with your culture and family traditions.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of ‘all or nothing’ thinking and assuming that not being in our home country means we can’t celebrate ‘our way’ at all. But there are plenty of opportunities for us to incorporate our own traditions into our celebrations in Mexico.

Action: Think about elements that are most meaningful for you. If you love seeing elaborate lights displays, you may opt to invest in this in your own light display or taking a special trip to the Zocalo/areas known for being more ‘decorated’ to get your fill of holiday season lights.

Mexico can provide a wonderful opportunity for celebrating holidays in a new and exciting way. However, as foreigners we all need to balance our expectations with honouring our own history and customs. This sets us up to both enjoy the new experience while also taking care of ourselves.

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