Tag Archives: Christmas

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.

Travel Photography Workshop: Christmas in Oaxaca

Oaxaca, Mexico, is a photographer’s dream-come-true, a visual explosion of color, colonial architecture, indigenous cultural icons, hand-woven intricately designed clothing, and food so delicious and artfully presented that you might imagine you are close to culinary heaven.


Christmas in Oaxaca is all this and more.  It is merrymaking and solemnity. It is the sweet aroma of copal incense that permeates the air.  It is candlelit pathways of ancient cobblestones.  It is liturgical music that calls people to gather and the rhythmic beat that pulses in daily life.  Oaxaca is a visual banquet from which you can build your own menu of photographic images.

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Join us to savor and discuss the region’s rich history and culture, the art and craft traditions, belief systems and relationships to nature and daily life.  Holiday traditions blend pre-Hispanic indigenous practices with Catholic Spain’s religious traditions imported to Mexico with the conquest in 1521.

We will visit archeological sites and crafts villages, participate in the Christmas Posadas in the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, attend the famed Radish Festival in Oaxaca city, and explore the Ocotlan market with stops to visit outstanding potters and textile artisans.   There will also be plenty of time for you to go out and explore on your own.

This workshop is for beginners as well as more advanced photographers.  Many people who travel with us are novices and have never used a digital camera, while others are semi-professional who want to hone skills by following well-established photographer-teachers who have an extensive portfolio of published work.

Two Sessions Offered:  Take both. Get a 15% discount.

Session I:  December 22-29, 2013 – Posadas and the Radish Festival, $1,495 per person base cost (arrive 12/22 and depart 12/29, 8 nights and 9 days).  Group rates available for 3 people or more.  Families welcome.

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Session II: December 29-January 4—New Years Resolutions at Las Cuevitas, $1,195 per person base cost (arrive 12/29 and depart 1/4/2014, 6 nights and 7 days).  Group rates are available for 3 people or more.  Families welcome.

What You Will Learn:

  • Using manual camera settings
  • Understanding composition
  • Capturing light, shadow and reflection
  • Knowing more about aperture and shutter speed
  • Determining when to use flash
  • Practicing night photography techniques
  • Experimenting with black and white, and sepia
  • Exploring the essentials of landscape, architecture and portraiture
  • Receiving feedback for steady improvement

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During the workshop, we will review each other’s work, give and receive supportive feedback, and get expert guidance and coaching from Tom and Sam.  Learning sessions are designed to give you  opportunities to discuss and learn from your own work as well as other workshop participants.

Your Travel Itinerary

Session I: Christmas Posadas and Radish Festival, 12/22-29, 8 nights, 9 days, $1,495

December 21 — Arrive in Oaxaca and travel from airport to Teotitlan del Valle, check into bed and breakfast inn

December 22–Our workshop starts with a morning learning session, a walking tour of the village, and a discussion with a local expert about holiday rituals and traditions.  Later that evening we will join the community in a posada procession re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem. (B, D)

December 23 – After the morning learning session, we will spend the day in Oaxaca City  to explore the Zocalo and Dia de los Rabanos—Radish Festival.  We will return to Teotitlan later at night. (B)

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December 24 – After the morning learning session, you will have the afternoon on your own to explore the village.  After lunch, we will visit a local weaving family to see the process of making naturally dyed rugs.  Then, we will join the village for the Ultimate Posada, the last procession before the Nativity and the birth of Jesus. (B, L, D)

December 25 – After the morning learning session, you will meet and spend the afternoon with a host family who will share their Christmas meal and family life with you.  (B, L, D)

December 26 — After the morning learning session, we will pack our bags to go to Oaxaca City where we will spend the night.  (B)

December 27 – Leave early in the morning for a day-long adventure on the Ocotlan route.  Our learning session will be organic as we trail Sam and Tom through the market, learning as we go with coaching, feedback, and reflection on choosing the subject, as well as techniques to meet your individualized needs.  We will stop along the way to meet famed potters and textile artists who are featured in the Maestros de Oaxaca art book and have lunch at a great outdoor restaurant/gallery. Overnight Oaxaca.  (B, L)

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December 28:   After our morning learning session, you will have the day on your own to prepare your final presentation of Best of Week.  You may also find time to visit local museums and galleries, shop for souvenirs, or just wander the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site for that last minute photograph to add to your portfolio of work.  Group dinner and Best of Week show. Overnight Oaxaca. (B, D)

December 29:  Depart

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Session II. New Years Resolutions at Las Cuevitas, 12/29-1/4, 6 nights, 7 days, $1,095

December 29:  Arrive and check into our Oaxaca City hotel.

December 30:  Archeology, Architecture and Mezcal.  After an early morning learning session, we travel to the archeological site Monte Alban and the museum in the pottery village of Sant Maria Atzompa. We have arranged for an early evening mezcal tasting as an optional activity.  With bags packed, we travel by van to Teotitlan del Valle where we spend the night. (B, D)

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December 31:  Traditional Zapotec Cooking Class, afternoon learning session, and New Years Eve Dinner. (B, L, D)

January 1:  New Years Resolutions at Las Cuevitas.  We pair you to meet and spend the day with a local family to share a ritual celebratory meal and the ritual of Las Cuevitas .  These are the magical caves of Teotitlan del Valle .  Here you build stone houses and make wishes for the New Year. Overnight in Teotitlan del Valle. (B, L, D)

January 2:  After our morning learning session, you might want to wander the village on your own, or return to Las Cuevitas or the home of your host family to get the shots you think you may havemissed. (B, D)

January 3:  Learning session and prepare for the Best of Session group presentation, followed by a group dinner. (B, D)

January 4:  Goodbyes and depart. (B)

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Your Workshop Leaders: Sam and Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins, a photographer for more than 40 years, recently retired as professor of architecture at Columbus (Ohio) State Community College.  His careers in architecture and education have deepened his love for and understanding of design, composition and visual impact.  Tom and his wife, Sam, have exhibited widely and their work has been published in “Black and White Magazine.”  Tom has photographed extensively in rural Ohio, New Orleans, and Southern Mexico where he finds the landscapes, the architecture and the people wonderfully photogenic. In the last five years, Tom and Sam have made Mexico the primary subject of their photography and have visited Oaxaca and the surrounding villages many times.  Most of Tom’s work has been with 35 mm SLR and medium format cameras.

A serious photographer for over 20 years, Sam Robbins considers herself to be a “photographic hunter.”  Like Tom, she is most comfortable walking and wandering with her camera at the ready. While she has done studio portrait work, she is happiest allowing photographs to present themselves.  Sam is an award-winning instructor of art, English and photography.  She sees sharing her passion for photography as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.  Sam is also a quilter, and believes that her work with color and design have contributed to her photographic eye.  Though most of her work has been with a 35 mm SLR, she also has shot with medium format and really enjoys using a plastic toy camera.

See their work at   www.robbinsx2.com


We will stay at a highly rated hotel or bed and breakfast inn in Oaxaca City and at locally owned and operated B&Bs in the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle.  To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations in family inns and guest houses. Meals are delicious, all homemade from locally sourced, mostly organic food, and can be adapted to special dietary needs.


Session I:  $1,495 per person double occupancy, shared bath.  Single supplement with private bath is an additional $300.

Session II:  $1,095 per person double occupancy, shared bath.  Single supplement with private bath is an additional $300.

Discounts:  Take both sessions and take 15% off your registration fee. 

Arrive Early or Stay Later.

  •  Additional nights in Teotitlan del Valle either before or after each session is $55 per night.
  • Additional nights in Oaxaca City either before or after each session is $125 per night.  Both options include breakfast.
  • Let us know if you would like us to arrange this for you and we will include it in your invoice.

Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!  The trip does NOT include airfare, taxes, gratuities, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city, except when it is part of the itinerary.

We reserve the right to make substitutions and alter the program as needed. 

Registration Process and Making a Deposit to Register.  

50% deposit is due to register you for the program.  Tell us you are ready by email and we will send you a PayPal invoice. Please complete the registration form (click on Register Today at the top of our web site) and email it to us. We only accept Payment with PayPal. Please see our cancellation policy in the “Register Today” section of the home page.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact: normahawthorne@mac.com Thank you.

This program is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

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