8 Essential Dishes of a Mexican Christmas Dinner

by Ella

Christmas in Mexico is a vibrant, joyful, and deeply rooted cultural celebration. It is a time when families come together to enjoy traditions, religious ceremonies, and, most importantly, a sumptuous feast. Mexican Christmas dinners are rich with a variety of flavors, textures, and aromas, reflecting the country’s diverse culinary heritage. This article delves into the typical Mexican Christmas dinner, exploring its key dishes, ingredients, and cultural significance.

The Cultural Significance of Christmas in Mexico

Christmas in Mexico, or “Navidad,” is celebrated with much enthusiasm and devotion. The season begins with the “Las Posadas,” which are nightly processions and parties that start on December 16 and end on Christmas Eve. These events re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem, culminating in festive gatherings with food, music, and piñatas.


Christmas Eve, known as “Nochebuena,” is the main event for Mexican families. It is a night filled with religious observances, including the Midnight Mass, known as “La Misa de Gallo,” and an elaborate dinner that often lasts into the early hours of Christmas Day. The Christmas dinner is a central part of these celebrations, embodying the warmth and togetherness of the season.


8 Essential Elements of a Mexican Christmas Dinner

A typical Mexican Christmas dinner is a grand affair featuring an array of traditional dishes. These dishes vary by region, but certain staples are universally cherished. Here’s a detailed look at the main components of a Mexican Christmas dinner.


1. Tamales

Tamales are a quintessential part of Mexican cuisine and a staple at Christmas dinners. These are made of masa (a dough made from nixtamalized corn) and filled with various ingredients such as meats, cheese, vegetables, and chilies. The masa and filling are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and then steamed.


Varieties: Tamales vary widely across regions. In central Mexico, tamales might be filled with pork in red sauce or chicken in green sauce. In Oaxaca, tamales are often wrapped in banana leaves and filled with mole negro (a rich, dark sauce made with chilies, chocolate, and spices).

Significance: Making tamales is often a communal activity, with family members gathering to prepare large batches together. This tradition emphasizes the communal and familial aspects of Christmas.

2. Bacalao a la Vizcaína

Bacalao a la Vizcaína is a dish of Basque origin that has become a Christmas staple in Mexico. It is made from dried and salted codfish, which is rehydrated and cooked with tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, and potatoes.

Preparation: The cod is soaked for several days to remove the excess salt, then cooked with a savory tomato-based sauce. It is often served with a side of white rice or crusty bread.

Flavor Profile: The dish combines the briny flavor of the cod with the sweet and tangy taste of the tomato sauce, creating a complex and satisfying dish.

3. Pozole

Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup made from hominy (dried corn kernels treated with an alkali), meat (usually pork or chicken), and seasoned with a rich broth of chilies and spices.

Varieties: There are different types of pozole, including red (pozole rojo), green (pozole verde), and white (pozole blanco). The color depends on the types of chilies and ingredients used in the broth.

Garnishes: Pozole is typically served with an array of garnishes such as shredded lettuce, radishes, chopped onions, lime wedges, oregano, and tostadas.

4. Romeritos

Romeritos is a dish made with a wild green plant called “romerito” (resembling rosemary in appearance but not in flavor), which is cooked with mole sauce and potatoes, sometimes with dried shrimp.

Preparation: The romeritos are cooked and then mixed with mole sauce, adding potatoes and sometimes shrimp cakes (tortitas de camarón).

Serving: Romeritos are often served with a side of white rice or as a filling for tortas (Mexican sandwiches).

5. Ensalada de Nochebuena

Ensalada de Nochebuena is a colorful and refreshing Christmas Eve salad made with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Ingredients: Common ingredients include beets, carrots, jícama, oranges, apples, pineapples, pomegranate seeds, and lettuce. The salad is typically dressed with lime juice and sometimes a bit of sugar or vinegar.

Significance: This salad is not only delicious but also visually stunning, with its vibrant colors symbolizing the festive spirit of Christmas.

6. Ponche Navideño

Ponche Navideño is a traditional Christmas punch made from a variety of fruits, including tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn), guavas, apples, and prunes, along with cinnamon, cloves, and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar).

Preparation: The fruits and spices are simmered in water to create a warm, aromatic beverage. Some variations include adding a splash of rum or brandy for an extra kick.

Serving: Ponche Navideño is served hot, often with pieces of fruit in each cup. It is a comforting drink that warms the body and soul on chilly Christmas nights.

7. Buñuelos

Buñuelos are a popular Mexican dessert enjoyed during Christmas. These are thin, crispy fritters made from a dough that is rolled out, fried until golden brown, and then dusted with cinnamon sugar or drizzled with syrup.

Preparation: The dough is typically made from flour, water, and a pinch of salt, then shaped into round discs before frying.

Serving: Buñuelos are often served with a syrup made from piloncillo, cinnamon, and anise. They are a delightful end to a festive meal.

8. Other Traditional Dishes

In addition to the main dishes mentioned above, various other foods may appear on a Mexican Christmas dinner table, depending on regional preferences and family traditions.

Turkey: Similar to American Thanksgiving, roasted turkey is sometimes served, often accompanied by a rich gravy and stuffing with a Mexican twist.

Pavo en Mole: Turkey cooked in a rich and complex mole sauce, combining the flavors of chocolate, chilies, and spices.

Menudo: A hearty soup made with tripe and hominy, seasoned with a red chili pepper base, often enjoyed on Christmas morning.

The Role of Sweets and Desserts

Mexican Christmas dinners also feature an array of traditional sweets and desserts that add to the festive cheer.

1. Rosca de Reyes

Rosca de Reyes is a sweet bread traditionally eaten on January 6th to celebrate the Epiphany. However, it sometimes makes an appearance during the Christmas season as well.

Preparation: The bread is shaped like a crown and decorated with candied fruits to resemble jewels.

Tradition: Hidden inside the bread is a small figurine of Baby Jesus. The person who finds the figurine in their slice is expected to host a celebration on February 2nd, known as “Día de la Candelaria.”

2. Turrón

Turrón is a nougat confection typically made with almonds, honey, sugar, and egg whites.

Varieties: There are soft and hard versions of turrón, each offering a different texture and flavor profile.

Serving: Turrón is often enjoyed with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

3. Polvorones

Polvorones are crumbly, shortbread-like cookies often flavored with cinnamon, almonds, or pecans.

Preparation: The dough is made from flour, sugar, and a generous amount of butter or lard, then shaped into rounds and baked.

Serving: Polvorones are typically dusted with powdered sugar before serving.

Beverages to Complement the Feast

Mexican Christmas dinners are accompanied by a variety of traditional beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, that complement the rich flavors of the meal.

1. Atole

Atole is a traditional hot beverage made from masa (corn dough), water or milk, and sweetened with piloncillo and flavored with cinnamon and vanilla.

Varieties: Champurrado is a chocolate-flavored version of atole, often enjoyed during the Christmas season.

Serving: Atole is typically served in mugs and enjoyed with tamales or other pastries.

2. Rompope

Rompope is a creamy, eggnog-like drink made with milk, sugar, egg yolks, and rum, flavored with vanilla and sometimes cinnamon.

Preparation: The ingredients are cooked together until thickened, then chilled before serving.

Serving: Rompope is often served in small glasses, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg.

3. Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican hot chocolate is a rich and flavorful beverage made with chocolate, milk, and spices such as cinnamon and chili powder.

Preparation: The chocolate is melted and mixed with milk and spices, then frothed with a traditional wooden whisk called a “molinillo.”

Serving: Mexican hot chocolate is typically served with sweet breads like conchas or churros.

The Importance of Family and Tradition

Mexican Christmas dinners are more than just a feast; they are a celebration of family, community, and cultural heritage. The preparation and enjoyment of the meal are shared experiences that bring families closer together. Each dish carries its own history and significance, passed down through generations and adapted over time.

Communal Cooking

The process of preparing a Mexican Christmas dinner is often a communal activity, with family members of all ages participating. Making tamales, for example, is a labor-intensive process that involves the entire family. This collective effort reinforces family bonds and ensures that culinary traditions are preserved.

Religious and Cultural Observances

Many of the dishes served at a Mexican Christmas dinner have religious and cultural significance. The act of sharing a meal is an expression of hospitality and generosity, reflecting the values of the Christmas season. Attending Midnight Mass and then returning home for a festive meal is a cherished tradition that combines spiritual and familial aspects of the holiday.

Regional Variations in Mexican Christmas Dinners

Mexico’s diverse geography and cultural influences result in regional variations of Christmas dinner traditions. While some dishes are common nationwide, others are specific to certain areas.

Northern Mexico

In Northern Mexico, where cattle ranching is prevalent, dishes like carne asada (grilled beef) and cabrito (roast goat) are popular. Flour tortillas, rather than corn tortillas, are commonly served.

Central Mexico

Central Mexico, including Mexico City, features dishes like bacalao a la Vizcaína and romeritos. The region’s culinary traditions reflect a blend of indigenous and Spanish influences.

Southern Mexico

Southern Mexico, including Oaxaca and Yucatán, is known for its rich and complex mole sauces. Tamales wrapped in banana leaves and filled with regional ingredients are a highlight of Christmas dinners in this area.

Coastal Regions

In coastal regions, seafood plays a significant role in Christmas dinners. Dishes like ceviche and shrimp cocktails are often served, along with traditional fare.


A typical Mexican Christmas dinner is a feast for the senses, combining vibrant flavors, diverse textures, and deep cultural significance. From tamales and bacalao to pozole and romeritos, each dish tells a story of tradition, family, and celebration. Accompanied by festive beverages like ponche Navideño and rompope, and sweet treats like buñuelos and turrón, the meal encapsulates the joy and warmth of the Christmas season.

By understanding and appreciating the elements of a Mexican Christmas dinner, one can gain a deeper appreciation for the rich culinary heritage and cultural traditions of Mexico. Whether you are enjoying these dishes for the first time or continuing a family tradition, the experience of a Mexican Christmas dinner is a celebration of togetherness, love, and the festive spirit of Navidad.



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