It was a strange place on which to eat one’s Christmas dinner ; but it is the variety of life which makes its interest.
The 25th of December is as dull in Mexico as the City on a Bank Holiday.
Christmas is, nevertheless, a tremendous festival in Mexico; for the preceding nine days there are fairs of all sorts and kinds, wonderful booths full of the quaintest little pottery figures made by the natives, such as cows, horses, pigs, leopards, monkeys, etc., most weird and strange, and nearly all made to whistle.
There are the inevitable peanuts, paper decorations, candles, Chinese lanterns, Indian plaited baskets, pottery water-jars, and models of cowboys or matadors.
Anything and everything is for sale in the booths, about which thousands of Indians are gaily flocking. But the great excitement centers round thepinatas, which queer things take the place of our Christmas trees.
Every house, rich or poor, has a pinata. They are all made by the Indians, and generally consist of large paper figures, or boats, or animals, two or three feet high, inside which is a pot or olla, filled with sweets and little presents.
The paper figures are very cleverly dressed up over laths of wood, those representing ballet-dancers and clowns being great favorites. Gold and tinsel and colored fringes decorate these queer things, which are sold by thousands for Christmas and hung up in state, to be broken by some child in every home throughout the length and breadth of the land. The beggars receive generous alms from every passer-by, and for nine days all is giving and receiving.
For nine nights high festival is held, beginning with a religious ceremony, followed by processions, in which a creche is carried in due pomp through the house of the Mexican to the chanting of prayers and hymns.
Devotion is the order of the evening, and everyone is religiously inclined.
Formerly this religious ceremony continued for the whole nine nights; but now the succeeding eight are given over to merriment of all kinds, ending up with what we should consider the real Christmas-keeping on the 24th of December.
Our Christmas Day counts for naught among the Mexicans—it is a dies non.
I had enjoyed those nine days of rejoicing, having been invited by the President of Mexico to his own family party; but when the real Christmas Day came— of which we think so much in England—I found I was alone—absolutely alone !
What a contrast to the preceding night! For on Christmas Eve one of the quaintest and most interesting parties I ever remember had fallen to my lot.
The ninth and last night of the great series of Christmas festivals was the one chosen by Madame Diaz, wife of the President, to give her party. About eight o’clock the guests assembled in the beautiful house in Buena Vista.
Inside was a huge courtyard or patio, full of flowers and palms. The stone floor was carpeted, and small tables arranged for supper were dotted about among the palms, which were gaily illuminated by Chinese lanterns and fairy lamps.
Madame Diaz had introduced a little innovation for the occasion by requesting that every girl should wear a fancy dress composed entirely of paper, manufactured, if possible, by her own hands. The result was wonderful; indeed, it was one of the prettiest balls I have seen.
The colored paper had been deftly twisted by clever fingers into Red Riding Hoods, Charlotte Cordays, hospital nurses—indeed, into costumes of all sorts and kinds—until the effect was beautiful, and no one could possibly have imagined that the bright-hued, crinkled fabrics were merely paper.
The Spanish-Mexican girls are lovely, glorious dark eyes and beautiful teeth being their chief characteristic.
The men wore red dress-coats, reminding one strangely of an English hunt ball, only in Mexico they wear black knee-breeches and silk stockings and their hair is powdered white.
It was the gayest of gay scenes, for it was Christmas Eve, the great night of all nights in the land of Montezuma.
Spanish dances, Mexican danzas, valses, and quadrilles all came in turn, the President’s wife distributed silver souvenirs among her guests, fireworks and rockets were sent up, and about ten o’clock the great piniatas were broken.
They were hanging outside in the courtyard, and the youngest girl present was told to break one with a stick. As she shattered the earthenware pot in the interior of the beautiful ballet-dancer a shower of wonderful things descended.
Sweets, toys, whistles, charms, crackers, bead necklaces, all sorts and conditions of things came out of the olla, and were scrambled for by the company. After three or four pinatas were broken supper was served, and I had the honor of being invited to the private dining-room of the President and Madame Diaz for that meal.