Attack of the Synthetic Reindeer

December 14, 2021

Across Mexico next week, the stockings will not be hung by the chimney with care. This, though, is not from a lack of interest in copying non-local seasonal traditions, but because there are hardly any houses with chimneys. In a few mountainous areas maybe, or in old residences, but not around where I live. But a lot of other Yuletide practices have migrated here.

We have just come through the extremely noisy festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe, preceded by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and a few other excuses to let off explosive rockets. My poor dog Victoria cowers under a kitchen counter when this is happening, or perhaps under my bed. So, she has a few days’ break until the next fusillades go up. But here, Christmas Eve will not be a silent night, and the whole shindig doesn’t end until the Three Kings turn up on January 6. 

How do you scare your kid before Christmas? Make him pose by a huge teddy bear, of course! This is
somebody else’s child, no relative of mine. His mother snuck him in just as I clicked the shutter.

Apart from the rockets, though, and of course the specifically Catholic celebrations, a lot of what happens around Christmas is increasingly Walmart-ified. Tepoztlan has never recorded snow in its known history (not so Mexico City, however), so the synthetic reindeer and fake Christmas trees that are popping up all over always seem out of place. But Christmas was never a huge deal here until recent decades, the Virgin’s December 12 feast being more important, so there are no significant local Christmas traditions. Every house has a doll as a Christ-child substitute to take to the local church for blessing, and there’s rosca, a cake with candied fruit on the outside and plastic Baby Jesuses on the inside, that’s eaten on Tres Reyes (Three Kings); but nothing to compare to the roast turkey and trimmings of a Canadian or US Christmas. Often, Christmas dinner here has been barbecued chicken, or simply a regular daily meal.

A big synthetic tree in the zocalo of Cuernavaca, an hour from where I live.

I can’t dismiss the adoption of Christmas trees entirely, since driving to Mexico City from here entails going up in altitude and passing through pine forest. Pines are indigenous here. But reindeer? Most deer species in Mexico have retreated to uninhabited areas, and none are large. And of course, it’s highly unlikely if there have ever been sleighs seen crossing the sides of Mexico’s mountains, let alone flying around them. Ditto snowmen with carrot noses.

Mexicans I know blame US commercial influence for the changes, but Mexicans have embraced them. My friend Estela, an older lady who used to share a house with me, would always put up a wreath of plastic holly, which played tinkly carols, or at least their first lines, out of rhythm. Fortunately it had a volume control, and eventually, as Estela often came home to find the awful sound turned off, she got the hint. Electronic bleeping will never be festive in my book, and I couldn’t see why it was in hers.  Probably, she was just following a growing fashion, not expressing a preference, and I think she was surprised to find how much I disliked the sound.

A luminous reindeer in the zocalo of Cuernavaca. Notice the sad lack of a red nose.

So far, though, I’ve yet to see a Santa ho-ho-ho-ing in a department store, so some things have stayed north of the Rio Grande. Nor has the festival cut itself off from its religious roots, the way it has in most large cities. Mexicans have always been up for having fun at a religious fiesta, after all.

I just wish on behalf of Victoria, and myself as well, that the *&^%ing rockets would suddenly become unavailable. Just for about …. oh, three weeks or so. 

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