From tamales to tacos, a Mexican Christmas Dinner with family is a great way to celebrate Mexican culture at the holidays. Making traditional dishes, Tex-Mex food or a combination is a tradition in New Mexico.
Christmas traditions are so fascinating to me in the way this holiday is celebrated around the world, especially when it comes to food.
Some people enjoy turkey for Thanksgiving and again a month later for Christmas, while others make a special entrée like prime rib or ham. People from other cultures might enjoy special dishes celebrating their heritage or to remind them of where they are from.
In my family, we often eat ham on Christmas Day, but the side dishes are always similar to Thanksgiving sides. But we always do something pretty special for Christmas Eve dinner, which is our big family celebration.
Growing up in New Mexico, it is very common to enjoy a Mexican Christmas meal either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Thanks to New Mexico’s proximity to Mexico, it’s not unusual that many Mexican holiday traditions have carried over for these special occasions, especially the food.
Mexican Christmas Traditions
Mexican families have many holiday traditions, from decorating with nativity scenes, poinsettias and Christmas trees.
In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from Dec. 12 to Jan. 6 each year. There are a series of processions and parties called Las Posadas (meaning "inn" in Spanish), with the final posada on Christmas Eve, followed by a midnight mass and feast.
In New Mexico, many families enjoy a traditional New Mexican dinner for Christmas with Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes instead of a turkey and its respective sides. No matter what is served, there is always green chile sauce at a New Mexican meal!
Traditional Mexican Christmas Dinner
After the Posadas, on Buena Noche (Christmas Eve) and Navidad (Christmas), Mexicans enjoy a number of traditional foods, including:
- Tamales — Served in corn husks or banana leaves, tamales are made with a corn-based dough mixture and are filled with various types of meat, beans and cheese.
- Posole — Posole is a stew made with tender pork and hominy. It's often the main dish that is so hearty and delicious! There are recipes for red pozole, made with chiles, and green pozole, made with tomatillos.
- Buñuelos — Buñuelos are gorgeous, golden fried fritters in the shape of flowers or stars that are dusted with cinnamon sugar.
- Conchas — Also called Pan Dulce, these are a small Mexican sweet bread made with a fluffy, buttery dough topped with a streusel topping that is scored. Sometimes they are dyed red and green for the holidays.
- Churros — Another fried dessert dusted with cinnamon sugar, churros often come with a piloncillo dipping sauce.
- Atole — A creamy warm drink with flavors of brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, atole is a traditional drink thickened with masa harina (which is the same corn flour that’s used to make corn tortillas).
- Ponche de fruita — Ponche is a warm drink that is basically a hot fruit punch (and is sometimes spiked with rum or tequila for the adults!).
- Mexican hot chocolate — Sweetened and flavored with cinnamon, a warm mug of hot chocolate is perfect for chilly weather and Christmas time.
On Jan. 6, which is Dia de Reyes or King’s day, Mexicans celebrate the arrival of the three wise men to visit baby Jesus, there's even more great food. They bake Rosca de Reyes — Called Three Kings Bread in English, this is a sweet bread decorated to resemble a crown. Hidden inside is a small plastic baby Jesus — the person who finds it in their slice has to make tamales on Candelaria Day, which is Feb. 2.
Reasons to try Mexican Christmas Dinner
If you’re of Mexican descent, are from New Mexico or have a blended family, you’ll already have your own traditions, so the recipes here might just help you discover some new recipes to add to your table this Christmas season. (I’d love to hear about your traditions in the comments below!)
But if you and your family members are not Mexican or from New Mexico, there are still lots of lovely ways to enjoy Mexican Christmas celebrations and food in a respectful way. Here are a few reasons why:
- Trying new cuisines at the holidays is a great way for families to teach little ones about traditions around the world and celebrate other cultures.
- Incorporating new dishes is a great way to create special family traditions and discover great recipes.
- And if the idea of eating turkey again so soon after Thanksgiving just doesn’t seem appealing, a Mexican meal might help shake things up in lieu of a traditional Christmas dinner!
More Mexican Christmas Dinner Recipes
Let’s get into some of the great Mexican recipes you can make for the holidays! The traditional Mexican foods I listed above are wonderful.
However, many Americans are more familiar with Tex-Mex, which is a blend of Texan and Mexican foods. It is more Americanized and inspired by Mexican cuisine.
Though it is not traditional Mexican food, incorporating a little bit of both traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex can help all family members, especially picky eaters, feel comfortable with new dishes on the table.
Let's get into some of the great Mexican recipes you can make for the holidays!
Christmas Mexican Dinner Essentials
- Everyone needs a tortilla warmer! I'd be lost without mine.
- If you plan to make tamales, you'll need a steamer pot.
- Are chips and dip on the menu? Pick up a festive appetizer dish.
I hope this list inspired you to create your own Mexican feast! Mexican food has always been one of my favorite cuisines, thanks to my time living in New Mexico, but also because it is easily made at home.
For the most part, Mexican food uses simple ingredients and methods, so it is easy to incorporate into your kitchen once you learn the basics.
Basically, when in doubt, add more spiciness! (Or maybe that's just the New Mexican in me.)
- 2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 1 medium white onion, peeled, quartered (root end cut off)
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and ribs removed
- 1 jalapeño, diced with seeds
- 2 cups long grain white rice
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ½ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- In a food processor, puree tomatoes, onion, and two jalapeños (ribs and seeds removed) until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a liquid measuring cup, measure 2 cups and discard any extra.
- Dice the remaining jalapeño, including the ribs and seeds and set aside.
- Place the rice in a large fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear, about 90 seconds. Shake the rice vigorously in the strainer to remove all excess water.
- Heat oil in an ovenproof sauté pan or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid over medium high heat. Drop a few grains of rice into the oil, if the rice sizzles, the oil is ready. Add the rice and fry, stirring frequently, until the rice is light golden and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 90 seconds. Stir in the pureed tomato mixture, remaining jalapeño, chicken broth, tomato paste, and salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, cover the pan and transfer to oven. Bake until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring well after 15 minutes.
- Stir in the cilantro. Serve immediately.
Rice can also be frozen up to 6 months! Just allow to thaw and then reheat.
To make this vegetarian, simply substitute vegetable broth instead of the chicken broth.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: ½ cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 115Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 282mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g