Tag Archives: Christmas

Tlacolula Market Christmas Preview: Oaxaca Glitters

I grew up in Tinseltown. My memory is imprinted with pink, blue and white flocked Christmas trees for sale on pop-up corner lots along Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Glitter was not only reserved for Hollywood. Garlands of sparkling silver ropes and plastic poinsettias could make any California dream of snowmen come true even in sunny December.

Checking email, texting or whatever -- Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico

Checking email, texting or whatever — Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico

Little did we know that poinsettias, called nochebuena here, are native to Mexico, bloom in November and December, have become the North American symbol for Christmas. They are all over town.


Welcome to Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico, where traditional Mexican Christmas decorations of moss and bromeliads mingle with shiny stars, dangling bulbs, plastic farm animals and colored Christmas trees — a cross-cultural holiday morphing that points to the immigration back and forth across the border (sorry, Donald Trump).  And it’s sunny here, too. Sometimes downright hot in December.

Everything you’d ever need to decorate for Christmas

Evoking Frida Kahlo: Making Memory Altars and Shrines, February 25-28, 2016

So many of Mexican parentage are United States of American citizens and they come home to visit family this season. We can debate the impact of change and commercialism on the culture of indigenous Mexico and what the word authentic means.  People come back together after being separated and that in itself is good news.

Bromeliads from the Sierra Juarez, traditional decorations

(Don’t forget, Donald Trump, that Mexicans have lived in the United States for over 400 years, and that the southwest was stolen from Mexico in a trumped up war to gain territory.)


Poinsettias that are planted in tierra firma bloom here every holiday season — a natural part of the environment. So, there’s no excuse for fake here, although I see plenty of imported from China nochebuena flowers sticking out of vases on restaurant tabletops.

A 30-lb. turkey (or more) at 1,300 MXN pesos, led on a string

Those who can afford it will have turkey —  pavo,  guajolote — on their Christmas table.  This will  usually be dressed with mole negro or mole amarillo, depending on family tradition. There were plenty of live turkeys for sale on this Tlacolula market day, the last one before Christmas. The ladies were vying for customers.

The poultry sellers market, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

I could hardly get through the crowds, even at my usual 10:30 a.m. arrival time when typically there are fewer people. The crowds don’t usually come until after noon. But, the aisles were jammed with vendors, either stationary at tables or sitting on mats, or trying to move rolling carts from one spot to another.

Couple this with families out shopping for Christmas gifts and visitors from the city and you can imagine the skill required to negotiate the camino without tripping over someone or getting stepped on.

Fancy day-glow tennis shoes, a perfect Christmas gift

What I noticed most were a different variety of displays this time of year destined to become gifts: day-glow socks, lacy underwear, art work, fleecy hats, piles of oranges, embroidered little girl dresses and fancy tennis shoes.

Mamay fruit also known as Zapote Chico

Wall decor for holiday giving, some original, some reproductions

Plus, lots of fireworks for sale. Pyrotechnics are a big deal here and kids love shooting off firecrackers and spinners. Are they regulated? Heck, no.


Waiting in line for remittances, Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico

The line out in front of the money exchange was a block long all day long. People were waiting to collect the remittance dollar being sent from the U.S.A. by family members who are there working for the benefit of those at home.  Since the exchange rate is now over 17 MXN pesos to the dollar, this is a Christmas bonus for many in the Tlacolula Valley.

  Notice the Michigan Black Beans sign above. Wonder who picked them?

Tourists love it, too. This is an especially good time to go shopping in Mexico. I noticed the market had more than its share of gringo travelers. Let’s hope they left with some treasures and left their pesos behind.

Oil paintings and watercolors for sale on Tlacolula street

Oil paintings and watercolors for sale on Tlacolula street, kitsch folk art

Piñatas for Christmas? Yes, it’s someone’s birthday!

I am waiting for my  family to arrive this week for holiday celebrations. We are going on a Collectivo 1050 Degrados tour to Atzompa tomorrow, a mezcal tour next week, maybe a visit to Hierve el Agua and a stop in Mitla on the way back. It’ll be busy, but I’ll try to keep up with Oaxaca comings and goings.

Packed parking lot — first time in my memory here.






Let the Posadas Begin: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The Christmas season is upon us in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Each morning I wake to the sound of the cojetes — the firecrackers — going off at six o’clock. They continue through the day and well into the evening.

Copal incense and flowers, Teotitlan del Valle posada 

This is a signal that Mary, Joseph and Jesus are traveling to Bethlehem and are resting overnight in the altar room of a local host.  Each evening around seven the posada (procession) will carry the trio to the next home, until the last posada on Christmas Eve, December 24.

Christmas Day Fiesta Meal

Christmas Day Fiesta Meal with Mole Amarillo, a Teotitlan tradition

If you haven’t experienced a village posada, this is the place to be. Book at room at Las Granadas B&B or at Casa Elena B&B.  You will be welcomed as a guest into the home of each of the posada hosts, I’m certain.

Handmade beeswax candles, a key part of the posada

Handmade beeswax candles, a key part of the posada

The last posada, La Ultima Posada, is the grandest celebration of the week. But at all resting places, there will be food, celebration, drink and firecrackers well into the night.

Street corner altar, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Street corner altar, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

This morning the church bells chimed. Last night, I could hear the band playing in the distance. Each of the administrative sections of the village hosts a posada and asks a resident of that area to be the mayordomo. After all, it’s a birthday party for Jesus! It’s a fascinating introduction into Zapotec life in Oaxaca.

Yarn drying on rooftop, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Yarn drying on rooftop, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca




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.

Rosca de Reyes (1)

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.

Rosca de Reyes-7


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!