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New Year's Eve with a Mexican Family

Although they'd just met us a few hours before, our host family (Rebeca and her grown son Paco) in the beautiful town of Guanajuato invited us to join them to celebrate New Year's Eve.

After a "light" dinner of pasta, potato pancakes, salad, and a tasty dessert made of tejocotes, a local fruit, we all went out. Our family went to explore the town (teeming with people this evening), while they went to church.

They got back from church around 10 p.m., accompanied by three additional relatives, and invited us to join them for "ponche," a delicious hot drink made from that same fruit as well as sugar cane, raisins, plums, cinnamon, and guava. The closest U.S. equivalent would be hot cider.

And then we simply chatted (all in Spanish) until it was time. Both Rebeca and Paco were very excited and having a hard time waiting for midnight, checking the clock constantly.

At five to 12, Rebeca eagerly rushed us into the dining room. We'd thought we'd be gong out to join the throngs on the street, but instead we circled the large table, toasted the new year with sparkling cider and hugs all around (each person hugged every other person, including us), and then we sat down to plates of 12 grapes. The idea was to make one wish for each month of the year, eating each grape after making the silent wish. Meanwhile, a torrent of firecrackers was gong off in the streets.

I still remember our other Mexican New Year's Eve, when 1984 turned to 1985. We were standing on the Zócalo in Oaxaca, watching dozens of tourist groups counting down to the new year, in various languages and at various times within a three minute period; the Mexicans were almost all in their own homes. This time, there seemed to be agreement from the streets on the exact moment 2007 began (though, as I write this at 8:45 on January first, loud firecrackers are still going off every few minutes).

But while many Americans are pretty wound down after midnight, in Mexico the custom is to eat a big meal with your family. We were served, around 12:10, plates of cauliflower and broccoli, pasta salad, cucumbers, bread, chiles, and beef for the meat eaters. To drink, more sparkling cider, or sodas, or water.

I don't know how long the celebration went on, because I was so visibly exhausted that around 12:30, Paco commanded us to go get some rest. But I suspect they were up talking long into the night. I do know that I woke briefly a few hours later and heard music coming from somewhere nearby.

Related Stories:
Studying Spanish in Mexico
A Cooking Class in Mexico
Guanajuato in 1985
Mexico Journal

Shel Horowitz, Editor of Global Travel Review and owner of, is the author of the e-book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook, and the creator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign.

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