Kate, Outbound to Mexico

As we enter 2018, I have now been on my Rotary Youth Exchange for over 5 months, and I changed host families on January 5 for the first time. Although I will miss my first host family, I am really excited for the opportunity to get to know my second host family. Now I live with a host mom, dad, and 2 younger twin sisters, and their other daughter is on exchange on France. I believe that every family is a different “microculture” of a society with a unique lifestyle, value system, and dynamic, and by changing host families, we can learn and experience more of a country’s culture. I did miss my family back in the U.S. over the holidays, but I loved spending it here with my host family and having a completely different experience.

A good friend of mine from Interact invited me to experience a posada, a traditional Mexican celebration before Christmas with her family. While we were waiting for the extended family to arrive and for it to become dark, we played dominos and Jenga. When it was dark, we all took a candle and a copy of the song, and someone carried on a plate small statues of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. This commemorates the months before the birth of Jesus and Joseph and Mary’s journey to Nazareth. We walked in the street carrying our candles and singing this special song. Then, we divided into two groups: one inside the house symbolizing the innkeepers and one outside representing Mary and Joseph. We took turns singing the different parts, the innkeepers refusing to allow Mary and Joseph to enter, and Mary and Joseph asking for posada (also known as lodging). Eventually, we were allowed to enter, and the posada continued.

Another critical part of the posada is the breaking of the piñata. We all took turns, in order from youngest to oldest, to be blindfolded and spun around. If it was not hard enough already, someone is moving the piñata from the end of the rope it is hung on too. While one person is trying to hit the piñata with the decorated palo (stick or pole), everyone else is singing this song, and once the song is over, that person’s turn is over. It was so much fun, and when the piñata finally broke, we all raced to pick up the fruit and candy that fell. I actually didn’t realize that the piñatas were stuffed, so for the first one, I was so surprised that I didn’t try to pick up the candy. Everyone else laughed at another one of my clueless exchange student moments because trust me, they happen! We also received aquilaldos (bags filled with peanuts and more candy).

We all then warmed up inside, talked, and ate tacos de cochinita pibil (pork or chicken prepared a certain way originating from the Yucatán Peninsula) and drank ponche (punch very popular in México during the Christmas season). Ponche is a warm, sweet drink that contains sugarcane, apples, guayabas, tejocotes (type of hawthorn native to México), jamaicas, tamarinds, prunes, and cinnamon. I love ponche, and I am definitely going to miss it next Christmas! I am very grateful that this family so willingly opened their home and invited me to experience the beautiful tradition of the posada.

For Christmas here in México, we celebrate more on Christmas Eve (December 24) than Christmas Day (the 25). I went with my host family to Catholic mass at 8 PM, and then we all went over to my grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner. In the United States, my extended family is very small and they live very far away, so this was the biggest Christmas dinner I ever had. From my host mom’s side, her parents and brother were there. And from my host dad’s side, his mother, his cousin, his brother and his family. We started eating dinner at around 11 PM, and we had a shrimp soup, more shrimp, spaghetti, turkey, pork, chilis stuffed with cheese, ayacotes (a type of bean), apple salad, and tortas (a type of bread). We also drank ponche and for dessert, some gelatins and buñuelos (a traditional Christmas treat). After we ate, we sat around the table talking until 2 AM. We then exchanged and opened gifts (this is definitely the earliest I have ever opened Christmas gifts!). We enjoyed each other’s company some more, and finally at 4 AM we left to go back home. Christmas Day was much more lowkey and relaxed as we slept in, trying to recover from the night before. My host family and I went for a comida (main meal here in México, eaten usually between 3-5 PM) at the great-grandmother’s house. My host family went to visit see some friends that night, so I was able to talk to my family in Atlanta on Skype. Yes, I did miss my family back in the United States and some of our traditions, but I loved spending Christmas with my host family and the extended family. Everyone, over the past 5 months, had really welcomed me with open arms and had accepted me like a member of the family, so it was a truly amazing and unforgettable Christmas.

To celebrate New Year’s, I went with my host family to the house of my other grandparents for a late dinner with some of their friends as well. Similar to Christmas, we ate some more amazing food such as barbecue ribs, pork, bacalhau (a type of cod dish), pig’s feet, chilis stuffed with cheese, spaghetti, apple salad (which my sister and I made!), and tortas. At midnight, we ate 12 grapes along with the 12 bell rings at midnight while thinking of 12 wishes and resolutions for the new year, a very common New Year’s tradition here in México. Unlike Christmas, I couldn’t manage to stay awake for much longer, so I fell asleep on the couch around 12:45 am while everyone else continued celebrating the new year.

Because I switched host families on January 5, I spent el Dia de los Reyes Magos (3 Kings’ Day) with my second host family. It is a holiday celebrated on January 6 and commemorates when the 3 wise men brought the gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense to baby Jesus. In preparation, the day before, children write letters to Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar asking for the toys they would like to receive. Then, it is very common to tie the letter to a balloon and set it free. So, my host mom’s sister and her family came over, and all of the kids (me included) wrote letters to the 3 kings and released the balloons together. That night, we all (my host parents too) set a shoe by the Christmas tree along with some brownies and milk. During the night, the reyes magos left gifts for us all. I think the reyes magos know me (and my big stomach) pretty well since they brought me peanut butter, my favorite cereal, cookies, and slippers.

Another important part of the Dia de los Reyes Magos is the rosca de reyes (a special type of sweet bread). Families and/or close friends gather together to cut and eat the rosca together, but hidden in the rosca are various lmuñecos (little plastic representations of baby Jesus). Everyone must cut a piece, and everyone who finds a muñeco has to pay for the tamales for the celebration of the Dia de la Virgen de Candelaria (Day of the Virgin of Candelaria) on February 2. I was really happy because I was able to cut and eat rosca 3 times, once with my first host family, once with my second host family, and once with both host families and other family friends. Not once did I find a muñeco, so I got out of paying for any tamales when February comes around! I have loved experiencing new traditions during this holiday season on exchange with some of the people I have grown to love very dearly.

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