Celebrating Christmas in Merida, Mexico is a magical experience. Just like in most of the world, Christmas is a huge deal in Mexico and people here tend to go all out with their decorations – both in their homes and in plazas, malls and public places.
Most Mexicans are Catholic, so there is definitely a religious factor involved. However, for the most part, Christmas here is mostly about having the opportunity to enjoy fiestas and posadas, eat good food, and exchange gifts with loved ones.
I have been living in Mérida for the last couple of years and as I prepare for another Christmas here and start to decorate my house, I wanted to share all of the things that are so wonderful about this time of year. Whether you have relocated to Merida too, or you are just travelling here, in this post we will explore all the things that are going on around town this year.
Christmas in Merida, Mexico
There are always lots of great, larger-than-life decorations scattered around Merida, the nearby beach town of Progreso, and the wider Yucatan area at Christmastime. In Merida, like virtually everywhere, decorations, festive store displays and Christmas music start popping up all over town in early November.
Some of my favourite displays are actually by the coast in Progreso where you can see a giant Santa Claus climbing down the city council building in the Parque Independencia, and on the outskirts of town, where you will find a display of Santa in his swimsuit drinking a couple of cold ones.
Local businesses will “sponsor” the roundabouts around Merida and put their giant Christmas statues and decorations in the centre of a roundabout. Sure, it’s essentially a commercial ad but they are fun to look at.
Fairs and shows take place across the city throughout November and December, and many stores and businesses hire singers and performers to get their customers in the Christmas spirit. So in that sense, Christmas in Merida really is pretty fun because you can literally just be heading to Walmart to pick up some fruit and veg and be met with a full brass band, people on stilts in clown suits, etc.
Notable events and traditions
I have summarised some of the best festivities and events to look out for in Merida below. Mexicans mostly celebrate at home with their friends and families so Merida isnt really a city where there are a ton of parades and public parties going on.
However, there is plenty of Christmas spirit to be found here if you know where to look for it.
- Arbol de Navidad Coca-Cola
- Christmas shows at the Cuxum Teatro Yucatan
- El Minaret artisanal fair
- Posadas and ramas
- Christmas dinners around Merida
- Head to beaches and cenotes
- The burning of the old year
- Santa Claus meet and greets
- Nativity scenes and neighbourhood decorations
Arbol de Navidad Coca-Cola
For the last 26 years in Merida, it has been a tradition for a giant Coca-Cola Christmas tree (Arbol de Navidad Coca-Cola) and a fair known as the “Christmas village” to be set up in the Chedraui Norte parking lot in Northern Merida. (Calle 60 No. 301 A por Av. X’cumpich y Prol. Calle 21 Col. Cordemex, Revolución).
You can see the spectacular illuminated tree from far across the city as it glistens under the night sky. As of the 25th of November 2023, the lights have already been turned on.
Every evening and weekend until the 23rd of December, you can stop by and witness some wonderful Christmas performances. There are nightly dance shows and plays conducted by Santa and his elves and helpers, as well as fairground rides, artisanal stores, and street food vendors that offer fun for all the family.
(Even if you are childless, you can still enjoy it. Myself and my partner are in our early thirties and liked wandering around the fair!)
Christmas shows at the Cuxum Teatro Yucatan
The Cuxum Teatro Yucatan is a new theatre that opened in a gorgeous old colonial building on the Paseo de Montejo promenade in 2023. Visiting a show here is affordable (tickets here are usually less than $5-$6) and most of the performances are comedy shows featuring regional, Yucatecan actors and slapstick humor.
Their Christmas show, “Titerefiesta Navideña” (Christmas puppet party) is geared towards families with kids and tells a story of favorite characters like the Grinch, Santa and his reindeer, and local Yucatecans preparing for their Christmas celebrations.
It has already taken place this year (on the 8th December), but there are a couple of more events scheduled. A musical show called “Navidad Rock” (Christmas rock) will take place a few times throughout the month and another festive show named “Campaña Sobre Campaña” is scheduled for the 23rd December.
The shows are performed in Spanish only, but you can still appreciate them, even if your Spanish isnt fluent.
Event tickets tend to cost between 100 and 250 pesos per person with concessions available for children and you can purchase them online. Sometimes, shows are advertised online with little notice or promotion so it is worth keeping an eye on their Facebook page.
Check out the stalls at El Minaret on the Paseo Montejo
“El Minaret” Merida is a gorgeous French/Moorish-style mansion that sits on the historic Paseo de Montejo. The property dates back to 1908 when it was built by Dr Alvaro Medina Ayora and his brother, Miguel Medina Ayora and takes its name from its unique-looking minaret that resembles that which you would expect to find at a mosque.
Today, this gorgeous 19th-century property is open for tours and serves as an exclusive event space which you can rent for weddings, corporate events and private parties. At Christmas time, there is usually a small artisanal fair set up in the garden which anyone is welcome to visit.
Here, vendors from across the Yucatan set up shop to sell wares such as traditional Yucatecan clothing, huipils and guayaberas, homemade cosmetics and candles, artwork pieces and runny, delicious Yucatecan honey produced by the xunan kab stingless bee in Mani.
You will also find live entertainers such as puppeteers, contortionists, clowns and singers who are free to sit and watch.
Christmas dinners around Merida Centro
Many Yucatecan dishes follow recipes and cooking methods that were invented by the Ancient Maya, thousands of years ago. You can expect the majority of restaurants to be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but if you are interested in sampling some regional festive delicacies, you can head to a “cocina economica” or a “Comida Yucateca” to try some regional foods.
My best recommendations would be Katun Comida Yucateca, Habaneros, or, if you are renting a car in Merida, Hacienda Teya on the outskirts of town or Pueblo Pibil in Tixkokob which occasionally does degustation menus.
Some Christmas staples are pasta soup (penne regate) made with turkey broth, an oven-roasted turkey stuffed with “but”, a type of Yucatecan stuffing, and served with pickled onions, refried beans, and a selection of cold cuts, light bites and salsas.
If you prefer a more “western-style” Christmas dinner in Merida, make reservations at the restaurant of either the Fiesta Americana or the Hyatt hotels. Both serve excellent turkey dinners on Christmas Day. (And they also do great brunches, and Thanksgiving menus too!)
Posadas are essentially Christmas parties where people get together with friends and family to celebrate the festive season. They start on the 16th of December, nine days before Christmas and it is typical for people to go to a bunch of posadas during this time.
(People celebrate posadas with their work colleagues, their family, their school friends, etc). If you are fortunate enough to make some new Mexican friends, you will likely be invited along to one or two.
One thing to note is that it can get very loud in Mexican residential neighbourhoods during the posada season and Christmas, with people blasting out Christmas music at full volume all night until 7 am. And in Mexico, unless you’re living in a privada, there are no rules about having to be quiet after 10/11 pm, etc.
Listen out for the traditional Ramas
Traditional Yucatecan “Ramas” singing is the south-eastern Mexican equivalent of Christmas carols. The tradition is believed to date back to the 16th century and Mexican children will wander through the cobbled streets of central Merida to sing for tips.
They typically carry a small tree branch “rama” in their hands that they have painted and decorated with sequins, papier mache, glitter, or whatever else they can find. You might see groups of children singing in the streets and plazas or if they come to your door, you can give them a few pesos.
Check out the decorations around different neighbourhoods
A lot of people go all out with their Christmas decorations in Merida and decorate their rooftops with giant inflatable snowmen and elves, set up life-size nativity displays in their front gardens, and illuminate their homes so much that you can practically see them from outer space.
(Only a slight exaggeration). Ok, this may not be to the same extent as the US, but there are definitely some neighbourhoods where people go all out, especially in North Merida, and if you have a car you can drive around and look for them.
Before I bought my house in Mexico, I lived in a house in Los Heroes for a while, and in our neighbourhood, there would be competitions over Halloween and Christmas to see who had the best-decorated house.
Burning of the Old Year
A unique (if slightly barbaric) Yucatecan festive tradition is the burning of the old year. Families will purchase (or sometimes make themselves) a piñata of an old man which they will burn at midnight to symbolise letting go of the old year and welcoming in the new.
I understand that some American and Canadian expats are kind of shocked at this but for me, as a British person, it is quite similar to our annual November 5th “Guy Fawkes night” tradition.
This will usually be accompanied by feasting, music, and fireworks displays. There aren’t any public firework displays in Merida, people usually just do them at home, but there are usually so many on New Year’s Eve that you can just look out
Admire the life-sized nativity scene in the Zócalo
Nativity scenes or “nacimientos” are set up around Merida in the lead-up to Christmas and are commonly found in churches, parks and squares. Plaza Grande in central Merida has a particularly impressive, life-size nativity in front of the cathedral.
Among the statues Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, look out for the little models of “Oxxo” convenience stores. Mexicans always joke that these stores are found literally everywhere and so, they even place them in their nativity scenes!
Head to the beaches and cenotes
For most Yucatecans, any form of holiday is a great excuse to head to the beaches and cenotes during their time off work. Even though December is technically the “high season” in this part of Mexico, the Yucatan state remains largely untapped, with most tourists sticking to the Cancun area and the Riviera Maya beaches.
Progreso is usually quite busy because of its proximity to Merida. However, with a car, you can head out to enjoy the more tranquil Yucatan state beaches such as Playa las Dunas, Chicxulub, Uaymitun and Telchac Puerto.
Visiting Santa Claus
Visiting Santa Claus is less of a “thing” in Mexico than it is in the US, Canada, etc. However, there are sometimes Santa “meet and greets” in a couple of malls around town which is great news if you are here with kids.
As of 2023, there is a place where you can pay a few pesos for your kids to visit Santa and receive a gift at the Gran Plaza Mall on Calle 50. Sometimes, there are also a Mr and Mrs Claus who are happy to take photos with the little ones at La Isla Mall (Calle 24 608, Santa Gertrudis Copo).
Key dates during Christmas in Merida
Some of the key dates of a Mexican Christmas are detailed below. A few of these are Mexican Christmas traditions that are pretty exclusive to Mexico and aren’t really a “thing” anywhere else.
- 12th December – Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe
- 16th December – Start of the posadas
- 24th December – Noche Buena (Christmas Eve)
- 25th December – Christmas Day
- 28th December – Dia de Los Santos Inocentes (Mexican April Fools Day)
- 31st December – The burning of the old year
- 6th January – Dia de los Reyes (Kings Day)
- 2nd February – La Candelaria
Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe
Many people head to the churches around Merida for the Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe (12th December) to participate in processions and celebrations. The churches often sell food like tacos dorados and tamales, and there are often stalls selling artisanal goods.
This day is a big deal in Mexico. It celebrates the anniversary of when an apparition of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in front of an indigenous peasant named Juan Diego on the same date in 1531.
In Mexico, Christmas dinner and the exchanging of gifts is actually done on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) rather than Christmas Day. People will usually sit down and enjoy pozole and other traditional foods with their extended families.
At midnight, they will exchange gifts, and the children often do a “bit” where they leave the room, wait while their parents assemble all of their gifts, and then when their parents play a special Christmas song, they re-enter the room surprised to see that Santa has visited.
People are often up all night drinking, talking and celebrating with their loved ones on Noche Buena, and celebrations frequently continue until as late as 7/8 am the next morning.
Dia de Los Reyes
Dia de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day) celebrates the day that the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem. Some Mexican families exchange Christmas gifts on this day rather than on December 25th, but it isnt really the norm in Merida.
“Rosca de Reyes” is a traditional sweet bread that is enjoyed on this day which you will be able to find in panaderias and the bakery sections of numerous supermarkets in the first week of January. The bread contains a small figurine of Jesus inside and whoever is served the piece with the figurine is expected to cook tamales for everyone on “La Candelaria” in February.
Useful Tips for Spending Christmas in Merida Mexico
- You will find Christmas trees (real and fake) for sale in most supermarkets (Bodega Aurrera, Soriana and Walmart), as well as some department stores, Home Depot and independent stores
- Many “pop up” stalls will appear at the side of the road around town selling Christmas trees, decorations, lights and inflatables
- The “El Aguinaldo” is a compulsory payment that must be made for any Mexican workers that you have in your employment for over 6 months. This includes any housecleaners, nannies etc. It is not just an optional Christmas bonus
- If you want to cook a Western-style Christmas dinner for yourself, you can find turkeys, stuffing, hams, condiments, etc at most supermarkets
- Piñatas are a staple at Mexican Christmas parties. Calle 65 is the main “piñata” street in Merida and you can purchase piñatas in all manner of shapes and designs
- If you want to shop for souvenirs and gifts, there are some great artisanal stores along the Paseo Montejo and at the Paseo 60 mall. Local markets like the Mercado Lucas de Galvez and Mercado San Benito also make for a great experience during your Merida itinerary.
- In late November and December, beautiful poinsettia plants known in Mexico as “noche buenas” are sold around Merida. They are considered Christmas plants as the Spanish would use them among nativity scenes in the 17th century.
Final thoughts on spending Christmas in Merida Mexico
Do you have any further questions or concerns about spending Christmas in Merida? As I mentioned, I have been living in Merida for the last couple of years.
I always try to create guides that address all the things that I wanted to know when I first arrived here and I really hope that this article helps you uncover and experience the magic of Christmas in the Yucatan peninsula. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via the comments below or by connecting with me on social media.
Safe travels and enjoy the Yucatan! Melissa xo