Holidays in a Border Town

By Maria Martinez
Blog Content Contributor  

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Maria’s family celebrating the holidays in Laredo, TX. Photo by Maria Martinez

Whenever someone asks me where I am from, I always say,”Laredo” without specifying from which side of the border. For me it is just one place, even if these cities are in two different countries. Since the holiday season is here, I want to tell you how we celebrate the most joyful traditions in a place where two different cultures meet.

I loved growing up as a border town girl. I got to experience two very different cultures in the same place. I definitely feel like Hannah Montana, enjoying best of both worlds. This unique upbringing has had many perks, for example is the holidays.

Everyone has different ways of celebrating the holidays. Some people get together with their families or friends, some others travel and many may not even celebrate them at all. In Laredo we love a good party. That is why American traditions are celebrated in Mexico and Mexican traditions are celebrated in the U.S. side.  We don’t discriminate any tradition; not because a river separates us it means that we all are different

Halloween

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Even if this is a more Americanized tradition people in the Mexican side decorate their houses, have Halloween parties and even go trick-o-treating. However, in most parts of Mexico, this tradition is not celebrated. I have a friend that moved to Mexico City and he posted on Facebook that he missed his hometown because no one dresses up there. Mexico has a similar tradition, the Day of the Dead.

Dia de Muertos

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Family of Maria Martinez in Laredo, TX. Photo by Maria Martinez

Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated on November 1. This holiday honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations. Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties and activities the dead enjoyed in life. This holiday recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood and growing up to become a contributing member of the community.

Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil) and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. It is celebrated in many parts of the U.S. Now even many people dress up as “Calaveras” on Halloween. This Mexican tradition has also been depicted in movies like “The Book of Life” and in “Spectre” the most recent James Bond film.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November, but many Americans take a day of vacation on the following friday to make a four-day weekend, during which they may travel long distances to visit family and friends.

The holiday dates back to 1621, the year after the Puritans arrived in Massachusetts, determined to practice their dissenting religion without interference. After a rough winter, in which about half of them died, they turned for help to neighboring Indians who taught them how to plant corn and other crops. The next fall’s bountiful harvest inspired the pilgrims to give thanks by holding a feast.

Even if this is not a Mexican tradition, many people in the border celebrate it. The meaning behind this day is very cute, people gathered to be thankful for what they have. So many families make a Thanksgiving dinner or friends have a “friendsgiving”.

Las Posadas

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Las Posadas is a celebration that takes place on each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas. Photo by Maria Martinez

These community celebrations take place on each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas, from December 16 to 24th. The nine nights are said to represent the nine months that Jesus spent in Mary’s womb, or to represent nine days’ journey to Bethlehem. The word posada means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish, and in this tradition, Mary and Joseph’s voyage to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay.

The celebration begins with a procession in which the participants hold candles and sing Christmas carols. Sometimes there will be individuals who re-enact Mary and Joseph, who lead the way, when a traditional song is sung. The song switches back and forth a few times until finally the innkeeper decides to let them in. The hosts open the door and everyone goes inside. Once inside the house, there is a celebration which can vary from a very big fancy party to a small get-together among friends. The hosts give the guests food, usually tamales and a hot drink such as hot chocolate. Then the guests break piñatas and the children are given candy.

People in Laredo start making “Posadas” as soon as December starts, we don’t wait until the nine days prior to Christmas. I think this is one of my favorites, because it is not celebrated just one day. Another fun thing is that we usually have themed posadas. Last year my family organized a PJ themed one and everyone was wearing their favorite PJ breaking piñatas.

I could go on and on with holidays that these two cities interchange, but I would never finish. But.. the last one I want to tell you about is Christmas, in many parts of Mexico, the Santa Claus tradition is not common; they have “Los 3 Reyes Magos (The Three Wise Men)” instead.  Los Reyes Magos also give gifts to children, like they did to Jesus when he was born. So, living in Laredo meant that I got gifts both in December 25th and January 6th.

At the end of the day all of these traditions have the same purpose, to gather together with the ones you love. It does not matter in what part of the world you live in, or what celebrations you have, the meaning of these “parties” is to have a great time with people you might actually not see all the time. I love the holiday season, I am excited to be with my family and friends again. Please remember to be safe and have fun.

James Jordan II

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