There’s a magic in Christmas lights that can somehow make a city as large and chaotic as Mexico City feel like a small pueblo.
If you go downtown right now to the city’s Plaza de la Constitución (the zócalo), the buildings have been decked out with lights and huge decorations. Inside, there’s a celebration of the Christmas season called Verbena Navideña.
The ongoing Verbena Navideña event opened on December 12 — coinciding with the first night that the posadas people hold all over Mexico begin. Posadas commemorate the birth of Jesus and go on all over the country for nine days, commemorating the nine months the Virgin Mary was pregnant.
But while the posadas will continue only until December 24, the Verbena Navideña in Mexico City will go until December 31.
A verbena is a traditional Spanish celebration that may be anything from an agricultural show to a dance party to a fiesta held in honor of a pueblo’s patron saint. In Mexico City, the Verbena Navideña features eight different attractions including music, performances and rides.
In the afternoons and early evening, the Escenario de Coros (Choir Stage) hosts groups singing villancicos, songs that were popular in Spain and Portugal in the 15th to 18th centuries. Now, a villancico may refer to any Christmas carol.
Later at night, there are performances of La Noche Más Venturosa (The Most Fortunate Night), which is a pastorela, a play about the birth of Jesus. Although often depicted in a more solemn manner, this performance was funny and full of antics.
Three Christmas trees made from more than 3,500 poinsettias dominate one part of the zócalo, and while the traditional ice skating rink wasn’t there this year, there were toboggan rides. At the end of the ride, you run into the Bosque Nevada, the Snowy Forest, where a machine periodically dusts people with a bit of man-made snow.
There are several workshops for children (and for adults who want to feel young again), where they can color Christmas scenes or make Christmas trees out of paper. Yenifer Karina Rojos Flores said that watching her son make a tree was one of her favorite parts of the event. “That and the toboggan,” she said.
For the more cerebral-minded, there’s chess, with a large board for children and a regular-sized one for adults. Marisol De Paz Martínez and her six-year-old daughter, Italivi Salazar De Paz, competed on the large board in the early afternoon. Several games were being played on the regular-sized boards, one featuring a young man dressed as a traditional Mexica (Aztec) dancer.
There are also rides, including a Ferris wheel, a Merry-go-round, a roller coaster and a couple of rides that drop children from various heights, something that they apparently love. If you plan on taking your kids (or yourself) on the rides, be aware that on the first day, people began lining up for two hours before the rides opened.
Because of the ongoing pandemic, gel is offered at the entrances and masks are required. On the first day, at least, there was no limit on the number of people allowed in, so social distancing wasn’t possible.
Dozens of young people dressed in green vests patrol the grounds, answering questions and helping out where needed.
They’re members of Los Jovenes Unen al Barrio (Youth Unite The Neighborhood), a program that’s part of Instituto de la Juventude de la CDMX (Youth Institute of Mexico City).
There’s also a substantial police presence inside and outside the zócalo.
Verbena Navideña is sponsored by the government of Mexico City, and despite its 25 million peso (about USD $1.25 million) price tag, it’s a free event. Most days, it will be open from noon to 9 p.m., but on December 24 and 31, it will be open from noon to 5 p.m.
On December 25 and January 1, it will be open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. It ends on December 31.
Performances vary daily but, unfortunately, there’s no information online about them. It’s best to just go and have a good time.
Joseph Sorrentino, a writer, photographer and author of the book San Gregorio Atlapulco: Cosmvisiones and of Stinky Island Tales: Some Stories from an Italian-American Childhood, is a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily. More examples of his photographs and links to other articles may be found at www.sorrentinophotography.com He currently lives in Chipilo, Puebla.