In Spanish Noche Buena means “Good Night” and it has a couple of meanings that closely relate to this time of the year. Noche Buena is the Spanish name for the poinsettia, a small tree native to Mexico which leaves turn red, pink or yellow during this season. It also refers to Christmas Eve, a very special night in Mexican culture. Entire families gather together for the most important meal of the year, la cena de Noche Buena, at midnight.
This dinner is the conclusion of the Christmas celebrations that start on December 16th with the first posada. Posadas are processions that have been a tradition in Mexico for 400 years. Some researchers believe that the tradition may have been started by early friars who combined Spanish Catholicism with the December Aztec celebration of the birth of the god Huitzilopochtli.
Posadas are a reenactment of the struggle that Mary and Joseph went through to get lodgings when they arrived to Bethlehem, according to the Bible story. Typically, several families in a neighborhood will schedule a night for the Posada to be held at their home. At the end of every procession, people sing villacincos (Christmas carols). Children break open star-shaped piñatas to obtain candy and fruit hidden inside. In some occasion a party, complete with drinks and music, follows after the traditional posada.
Like in any other Mexican celebration, food plays a very important part in posadas and Christmas. At posadas the hosts usually serve ponche (a warm drink made with seasonal fruits and piloncillo. Other dishes can be atole or tamales. Even though posadas are planned gatherings that are part of the Christmas festivities, they can seem informal compared to la cena de Noche Buena.
Some classic dinners for this night are turkey, Norwegian cod, romeritos, baked ham and many others depending on the region of the country. One of my most delicious memories of this time of the year is Noche Buena salad. This sweet salad combines some of the produce that is easily found this time of the year in Mexico, including one of my favorites, jicama. There are several versions of this salad, but here’s a recipe for a simple one that will be a perfect and colorful addition to your Christmas dinner.
Noche Buena salad recipe
3 large beet roots or 6 small ones, sliced
6 cups of water
¾ cups of sugar
1 large jicama, peeled and sliced
3 oranges, sliced
1 romaine lettuce, sliced
1 cup roasted peanuts
- Boil beet roots and sugar in 6 cups of water. Let them cool down and save the water.
- Serve cold with slices of jicama, orange, peanuts and lettuce.
- Pour a couple of spoonfuls of the beet water over the salad, this is what gives it the special flavor.
Buen provecho and happy Holidays!