Tag Archives: Christmas

Three Kings Day and Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico

Rosca de Reyes-3It’s January 6, Three Kings Day in Mexico, that marks Christmas celebrations in Latin America and Spain, culminating in the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The children especially gather around to open gifts, sip hot chocolate made with water, no milk, and dig into tamales and Rosca de Reyes.

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Everyone loves Rosca de Reyes. And, everyone tries to avoid getting one of the little plastic baby Jesus figures baked into the sweet dough.  Why? Because if you get the baby, you must host a tamale party for your family and friends on Dia de la Candelaria. This is the official ending of the Christmas season and the transition into Easter. Good tamales, like the women make here in Teotitlan del Valle, are very labor intensive.

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This morning I set out for the Teotitlan del Valle market in search of Eloisa. Last night I bought a rich round egg bread made with pure butter, studded with dried fruit and topped with crab apples. She bakes them in the clay oven tucked into the corner of the courtyard, one at a time.  The outside is crusty and the inside soft, sweet, melt-in-your mouth magic.

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A group of us from the village gathered and after mezcal and tamales, we gobbled up Eloisa’s cake. I wanted more. As I drove to the market early, there she was walking back home, empty basket in hand. But, she had an extra one stashed away at home and I happily gave her 80 pesos to tuck it into my shopping bag.

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Then, in the market bakery section there were any number of bakers selling their own versions of Rosca de Reyes.  I bought two more to give as gifts to friends, another lovely tradition of sharing that comes with living in Mexico.

I’m experimenting with a “new” wide-angle Tokina 11-16mm lens I bought used from B&H Photo to fit my Nikon D7000.  Fun to get a different perspective.  I’m practicing and getting ready for our Portrait Photography Workshop coming up at the end of the month.

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Christmas in Oaxaca: Three Wise Men and Rosca de Reyes

It feels like springtime here in Oaxaca, although we are still celebrating Christmas.  Yesterday was downright warm, with temperatures rising to the low 80’s, though nights can be a chilly 45 or 50 degrees.  Christmas here is an elaborate and lengthy celebration, starting on December 12 to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe and officially ending with Dia de la Candelaria on February 2.   The Three Magi, or Wise Men, arrive on January 6, for Day of the Three Kings or Dia de los Tres Reyes.

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

You have probably figured out that food motivates me almost as much as textiles.  So, this morning I was off again to the wondrous, expansive Sunday tianguis — portable street market — in Tlacolula de Matamoros, ten minutes from where I live.  I wanted to see what was in store for food preparations.

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Front and center is Rosca de Reyes, a round or oval fruit-studded sweet bread, a traditional delight.  Most Oaxaca celebrations are home and family centric, with a children’s gift exchange and a spin the top gambling game with whole nuts.  When you go visiting, it is customary to bring a small gift for children and one of these bread loaves.

Tucked inside the loaves are one or several little plastic dolls that symbolize the baby Jesus.  Whomever gets one of these dolls embedded in their slice of Rosca is obliged to host a tamale party on Candlemas.  Corn and tamales, symbols of sustenance, are interwoven into this and other Mexican celebrations.

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Today in the Tlacolula market the bread section was piled high with pan de yema, a sweet egg bread, shaped in the round.   The vendors were doing a brisk business. This year, bakers added decoration of sliced, canned peaches to accompany the candied dates, prunes, pineapple bits and cherries.

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Live poultry, like guajolotes and chickens, are a big item, too.  Add to that roses ($1 USD a dozen), huge papaya (10 cents each), mangoes, melon, strawberries, watermelon, avocado (5 cents each USD), and any number of types of other fresh fruits and vegetables at everyday bargain prices. For those who forget to bring their shopping baskets or buy more than they planned, there are specialty vendors who sell these, too.

ThreeKingsDay-15 ThreeKingsDay-12            I like to arrive at the market by 10 a.m. to take a leisurely stroll through the streets.  Before noon, there are not a lot of people and there is no line at the bank ATM located on church side street.  Later, it’s packed and it’s like bumper cars with people.

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Lunch is a special treat at Comedor Mary, located on the opposite side of the church on the street that borders the permanent market. Today’s special was albondigas con pollo — a picante broth with fresh ground and spiced chicken meatballs.  Amazingly delicious.

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This is the season to come to Oaxaca and stay a while.  It is a feast for all your senses.  And it is senseless to stay wrapped up in frigid northern weather if you don’t have to!  Feliz Año Nuevo.




Christmas Collage: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Martha, Marianne, and Judy arrive from the city for dinner on December 23 and then we gather at the house of the eighth posada.  Earlier, I go to the local morning market and find a fish vendor from the coast.  We eat organic and fresh talapia, squash, potatoes, carrots, onions seasoned with kumquats, candied ginger, carrots, prunes, dates, and raisins all cooked together in the tagine.  Later, I use the head and bones for stock.

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The posadas continue through December 24, when baby Jesus appears on Christmas Eve at La Ultima Posada, the last posada, which is the grandest and most magnificent of all.

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On the street we meet a young woman and her mother who are originally from Teotitlan del Valle, and now live in Chicago.  She tells us she and her family put their name on the list to host La Ultima Posada ten years ago.  They will welcome baby Jesus in 2014.  The cost to host is about $50,000 USD, which includes a magnificent array of food for three days — enough to serve hundreds, two bands, drinks and refreshments, candles, lanterns, decorations.  She explains to us that it is an honor and a commitment to community and God to be able to do this. They meet with the church committee twice during the year to review details that will ensure a traditional celebration.  Service and community cohesiveness is essential for Zapotec life.  They have lived in this valley for 8,000 years.

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On December 24, I make a last minute run to the village market once more to discover it packed with shoppers and sellers at eight-thirty in the morning.  This is likely the biggest market of the year! Every one presses up to buy fresh moss and flowers from the Sierra Norte to make the creche that will bring baby Jesus to their home, too.

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There is fresh pineapple, bananas, papaya, mandarin oranges, apples, and spiced guayaba (guava). Lilies, roses, and flowering cactus lay on tables ready for plucking. Live chickens and turkeys, feet secure to keep them from flying away, lay subdued, waiting.

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Children hide under their mother’s aprons or eat fresh morning bread or sip a horchata. Who can resist the blue corn tortillas?  Not me.

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Piñatas are an integral part of the baby Jesus birthday celebration.  The market is filled with them on December 24.  Children adore the rain of candy.  Me, I adore the perfectly ripe avocados, organic lettuces and eggs.

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I bump into Janet and Jan, expats from France and Holland who winter here. They eat breakfast at the stand set up in the middle of the market, quesdadillas fresh off the griddle.

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Later, I join my family for the traditional dinner at eight.  Elsa brings homemade bacalhau, there is organic salad, roasted pork leg infused with bacon, garlic and prunes, pinto beans, with plenty of beer, mezcal and wine.  Dessert?  Why tiramisu cake from Quemen bakery, of course!

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Omar entertains Christian.  Lupita entertains Christian.  The children kick the soccer ball and jump on the piles of wool waiting for the loom.  We sip spiced ponche (hot fruit punch) made with guayaba fruit sweetened with sugar cane.  Some will go to the church for midnight mass.  Others will go on to aanother supper at midnight.

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Christmas day presents another dinner feast on Roberta’s terrace, this time a potluck with organic lettuces, Annie’s garden arugula, enchiladas with green salsa, roasted chicken, red wine, fruit salad and Susanna Trilling‘s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding that Jan prepares.  The patio is filled with flowering cactus and the sunset can’t be better.

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All is well with our world.  I hope your holiday season is spectacular, too.  Feliz Navidad! Gracias a todos.

XmasCollage-37              Our next photography workshop is this summer 2014 for Dance of the Feather.  Find out more!


Merry Christmas Oaxaca, Mexico Fruit Salad Recipe

Merry Christmas and happiest holidays to you and your family!  My gift to you is this delicious recipe for easy fruit salad Mexican style, using red and green skin apples and pears for festive color of Mexico to decorate your table.  Seasoned with lime juice, organic honey, and mixed with yogurt, it is a healthy holiday treat as a dessert or side accompaniment to your dinner.  I have made this multiple times recently, adapting a recipe I learned from my neighbor Ernestina, who uses whipping cream instead of yogurt. Let’s save the calories. Enjoy! From my Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, kitchen to yours.




  • 2 red-skinned apples, Delicious, MacIntosh or Gala
  • 1 green-skinned apple, Green Delicious
  • 2 pears, ripe
  • 2 small red-skinned Mexican bananas, peeled
  • 1/4 c. chopped pecans
  • juice of one medium lime
  • 1/4 c. organic honey
  • 1 c. natural yogurt (or more to taste)

Core and cut apples and pears into 1/4″ pieces.  Add to mixing bowl.  Slice bananas into 1/2″ pieces.  Add to bowl.  Add pecans.  Mix well.  Combine honey and lime juice.  Pour into fruit mixture.  Toss well.   Add yogurt.  Stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serves 6-8.

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Optional:  Add small pieces of diced candied ginger and/or 2 T. golden raisins plumped in hot water (drained).  You can also mix in 2 T. of your favorite preserves.  Kumquat, maybe?

Christmas in Oaxaca: Teotitlan del Valle Posadas

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For nine days and nights leading up to Christmas eve, the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico recreates the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.  Each night they sleep on the road, which means they arrive at the home of a host family who welcomes them to their courtyard, then altar room, filled with copal incense and prayers.


There is a huge feast for invited guests:  tamales, roasted beef or pork, homemade tortillas, wild turkey called guacalote.  I can smell the charcoal cook fires from a distance.

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The villagers gather at the front gate.  Hosts distribute tamales and atole (women have been cooking for days), men sip beer and mezcal, children blow whistles. The celebration is grand, festive.  Then, at around 6:30 p.m. the procession leaves the host home and passes through the streets of village, up hills, through narrow alleyways, from one side to the other,  until they come to the home of the next night’s host family and the celebration continues.

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It is both solemn and celebratory.  Women, men and children are selected by each host family to do the honors of leading the procession and light the way with handmade beeswax candles decorated with beeswax flowers, birds, and glittering pendants.  Followers cover their heads in scarves as if in church. 

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The men who handle the fireworks and shooting rockets are out in front to guide the way with sight and sound.  From all corners of the village we can hear them until late at night, and then again in the morning as a wake up call.  I arise at six to the blast of a rocket. Behind the fireworks are the altar boys carrying crosses, then four young women carry the palanquin of Mary and Joseph.


On this night, our procession must have picked up more than 300 people along the way as the route passed through every corner of the village and ended at a home not more than two blocks from the one we had left.

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Up hill and down, across cobbled streets, we picked our, way careful of potholes and uneven stones and construction materials.  The streets were swept clean and watered so there would be no dust for us.  We must have walked three miles at a steady shuffle.

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Those who didn’t process waited in doorways.  The older people who had difficulty walking made it part of the way and then dropped off, as did the parents carrying sleeping babes on their shoulders, and holding toddlers by their hands.


On the night of December 24, the baby Jesus appears in the altar room of the host family for La Ultima Posada — the last procession.  This is the biggest party of them all and it will continue through the night and into the morning.


Visitors are welcome to join the procession.  You can spend the night at Las Granadas B&B or at Casa Elena, both excellent establishments.  You can start out having comida at Las Granadas prepared by Josefina and then end the night with a glass of wine or a cup of mezcal!

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A Word About Night Photography

It is difficult!  In the ideal world, one would use a tripod to hold the camera steady, avoid flash, use manual settings on your camera to manipulate the shutter speed, aperture, and film speed/ISO.  That means constantly changing settings for various lighting situations.  In very dark situations, like during this posada on streets barely illuminated, one gets a golden glow.  I also turned off the automatic focus setting on my camera and lens and used manual focus.  The lens has a hard time reading light and will not focus otherwise.  With my bad eyes and very low light, that meant guessing, which is why many of my photos were blurry.  Those you see here have a warm, golden glow typical of low light, night photography using a hand-held camera.  I was able to adjust some of the photos using Lightroom photo editing software.  We teach all this in our Oaxaca Cultural Navigator photography workshops.  We learn about the camera and immerse ourselves in the indigenous culture, too.