Christmas Season in Mexico is the best! Of course, I’m bias – I spent most of my formative years in Mexico City – but also, it’s just a plain fact!
Just like in many other countries around the world, people in Mexico decorate their houses with Christmas trees, hang beautiful wreaths on doors, and place cute snowmen, elves and reindeer throughout their homes. Lights cover trees, poles and houses all over town, and red poinsettias are everywhere.
Neighborhood streets are decorated with “faroles” - Mexican lanterns made of paper with beautiful colors and Christmas drawings. People just seem to be in great moods as they celebrate with friends and family. Many travel to their hometowns, and take time to enjoy their loved ones. Even at work, people have “convivios” (gatherings) where there is always tons of food, games and gifts.
But Mexico’s traditions during this festive time of year are some of the greatest in the world!
One of my favorite Mexican Christmas traditions is “Posadas.”
Posadas are celebrations that take place every night, starting December 16, nine days before Christmas Day, when two people dress up like Bible characters, Joseph and Mary (in my city, sometimes somebody dresses up like a donkey too! Haha).
Along with a group of people, they walk around their neighborhood, singing songs that recall the Bible story of Joseph and Mary looking for a place to sleep in Bethlehem. Each night for nine days, the group knocks on a door in the neighborhood, and the residents of the home participate in the song, answering that they don’t have a place for them to stay, sending the group away. Every night, a different house sends them away until Christmas Eve, when the home residents open the doors and welcome them in.
After the walk, there are colorful piñatas de Estrella (star shape piñatas) for the children, traditionally full of fruits (yes, fruit!) and candy. There is also music, as everyone sings “villancicos” (Christmas carols), and “aguinaldos” (a bag with candy) are given to the kids. But my favorite flavor of the season has to be Ponche de Frutas.
Ponche de frutas is a hot drink made of seasonal fruits, with a very unique flavor produced by the acidity of tamarind, the smokiness and sweetness of the piloncillo (sugar cane block) and the fragrant aroma of the cinnamon. This is a drink made only during this season in Mexico, and ever since I was a child, I associate the delicious fragrance of Ponche with Christmas during the cold Mexico City nights, and the fun of posadas!
When I was a child, my family and I resided in Venezuela. Each December, we would travel to Mexico to visit extended family. I have clear sweet memories of my grandpa, Papa Jorge, cutting sticks of sugar cane in the kitchen to make the ponche. The memory of the unique aroma of ponche made by one of my aunties or my grandma, and served in cute jarritos (traditional cups of clay) really turns up my Christmas mood.
I want to share my recipe with all of you, hoping that this drink will add a special flavor to your Christmas, as it does to mine.
Every family has a different recipe, and this is mine. I have added some suggestions to make substitutions for ingredients you may not be able to find outside of Mexico.
Merry Christmas everybody!
Mexican Christmas punch (Ponche de Navidad Mexicano)
(serves about 20 cups)
2 (8oz) piloncillo cones [sugar cane blocks] (or 2 cups of brown sugar)
3 cinnamon sticks
1 pound guavas, with ends cut off.
1 cup prunes
1/4 cup raisins
2 cups chopped apples (2-3 large apples)
1 pound of sugarcane (a full stick – approximately 5ft tall) peeled and cut into pieces of 3-4 inches.
1 pound tejocotes – fresh, if possible - and peeled*
1 cup peeled tamarind pods **
1 gallon of water
Rum (to taste)
* Also known as: Crataegus Mexicana, hawthorn and manzanita. Outside of Mexico, you should be able to find them in a local Hispanic store.
Note: If you don't have fresh tejocotes on hand, no worries! You can make the ponche without them. In countries where I couldn’t find tejocotes, I made it without them and it tasted fine. You can add more apples, or as I have done in the past, add a couple of pears cut into small pieces. Or you can experiment with adding orange slices.
** Tamarind can be substituted with a handful of hibiscus flowers (or a few bags of hibiscus tea) and I have also seen people substitute with cranberry juice. I prefer to make my ponche with tamarind. In my opinion, it gives the best consistency and flavor. You can add tamarind and hibiscus flowers if you wish – my mom makes her ponche that way and it is also very tasty. Sometimes we have to adjust to what we have available, so feel free to experiment!
1. In a large pot, at medium heat, add the gallon of water, piloncillo (or brown sugar), cinnamon, tamarind and fresh tejocotes (because they take a little more time to cook).
Note: If you are using tejocotes from a jar, don’t add them yet.
2. Let it cook until the brown sugar dissolves completely (about 10 minutes).
3. Bring the burner to low heat and, with a wooden spoon, press the tamarind against the walls of the pot, to help dissolve the pieces in the hot water. Doing this squeezes flavor from the tamarind and helps it to mix/dissolve better in the punch.
Note: If you have some extra time, use a strainer to extract the tamarind seeds that have been released in the water. It is not something I do frequently, because it takes a little more time. But I do it when I am able, especially if I am serving ponche to young children, to avoid having to serve them seeds.
4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot: prunes, raisins, sugar cane, apples, guavas. If you are using canned tejocotes, add them at this time too.
5. Let it cook for 45-50 minutes. Taste and adjust by adding more water if needed.
6. Serve in cups while warm, placing fruit in the cup first and filling up with the juice.
Once the ponche is ready, you can add a rum, to taste.
Because we have children in our family, I separate the ponche in two different pots, making one “with booze" - adding rum - and leaving the other pot of “virgin ponche” for children and those who do not want to drink alcohol.
Try this recipe and share with us through #johastable
More Christmas recipes? Check our Almond Fruity Banana Bread!