Celebrating Holidays Near and Far

Celebrating Holidays Near and Far

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Elizabeth Kiesz Shares Traditional Mexican Holidays With Her Family and Friends in Aberdeen

Every family has their own unique way of celebrating the holidays together. In fact, many area families come from different parts of the world and carry on traditions from their home countries while living here, creating diversity and a chance for us to learn about the vibrant cultures and people in our community.

Elizabeth Kiesz grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to Aberdeen, her husband’s hometown, about eight years ago. While the Kieszs live thousands of miles away from Elizabeth’s extended family in Mexico, they continue to share as much as they can of traditional Mexican holidays with their three daughters.

One of these holidays, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, takes place on November 2. Elizabeth describes it as being similar to Memorial Day, in that it is a day to honor and remember loved ones that have passed away. “It’s not that we adore the dead or anything like that. It’s about having just one day to welcome their spirits back and to feel close to them.”

In Mexico, Day of the Dead is a very big deal. People take a lot of time and care to prepare special altars for their late relatives. Altars include things the deceased enjoyed while alive, like their favorite foods and drinks, as well as pictures of them, candles, and marigold flowers. “The scent of the marigolds is to remind the spirits to come back and visit,” Elizabeth explains. Families also gather at gravesites to tell stories and talk about their loved ones late into the evening, and cemeteries are filled with people and candlelight. Elizabeth says, “It’s difficult for me to travel back to Mexico and go to the cemetery, but I have a small altar here that I set up for my father. I put out his favorite food and tequila, his favorite drink, and pray and remember when he was alive.”

The holiday is not meant to be sad or scary, but rather a celebration of the continuity of life. People make special foods for the day like pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a type of sweet bread, and colorful candy treats shaped like skeletons called sugar skulls. In Mexico, some cities host big parades where participants paint their faces and dress up to look like skeletons wearing bright and beautiful clothing. “We aren’t supposed to be scared of the dead, instead, we celebrate,” Elizabeth says.

In December, a favorite holiday tradition in Mexico is Las Posadas. The word posada in Spanish means “inn” or “shelter.” Every evening on the nine nights leading up to Christmas Day, from December 16 through the 24, neighborhoods gather together, sing Christmas carols, and sometimes dress up and play the parts of Mary and Joseph when they went searching door to door in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay on the night Jesus was born. Each night a different home or place in the community acts as the host. The group travels through the neighborhood knocking on doors to reenact the nativity story, until they arrive at the host’s doorstep and everyone is finally welcomed to come in, share a meal together, break the piñata, and pray.

On Christmas Eve, Elizabeth says families get together and have a big feast very late, often times at midnight, while they wait for Christmas Day. “Even the children, if they can, stay up until then so they can open their presents. We don’t have a Santa Claus, so the gifts come from family.” On January 6 they celebrate Three Kings Day, which Elizabeth explains is similar to the idea of a Santa Claus. “When I was little I would put out my shoe, and the next morning there would be presents in it from the three kings.”

Elizabeth adds that it is sometimes a challenge to keep up with all the traditions she grew up with while living so far away from most of her family. “I tell my daughters stories about what I did when I was a child, and we do what we can.” She says that the most important thing about all the holiday celebrations in Mexico is spending time together, and of course the delicious meals that go along with it. “It’s all about family, and food,” she laughs. //