Sample Culture Research Paper

This is one example of a culture research paper. Some of the references have been highlighted in red so you can see how they should be written in your own papers. Also take a look at the OUTLINE.

Introduction | Christmas: A Definition | Christmas Celebrations and Activities | Christmas Foods | Conclusion | References

Christmas in Mexico


Mexican Flag
Image Copyright © 2000
The World Flag Database & Graham Bartram
Used with Permission

Many countries around the world have held celebrations during the month of December, and many have celebrated Christmas which is traditionally recognized as the birth of Jesus Christ. However, the way this day is celebrated differs widely from country to country. By studying these different traditions, we can learn to better understand our world neighbors. The purpose of this paper is to define what Christmas is, explain how it is celebrated in some parts of Mexico, and describe some typical Christmas foods associated with it.


Christmas: A Definition

Studying the definition of the word "Christmas" can help us understand the background behind this holiday. According to researchers, Christmas, coming from Old English Cristes maesse or "Christ's mass," is a celebration of the nativity of Jesus which is celebrated in both Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches around the world (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2001; The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001; Klebanow & Fischer, 1986). It appears that celebrations of the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere have been a time of rejoicing among many ancient cultures. Christmas celebrations of today evolved over time. However, according to Encyclopedia Britannica (2001), the reason for celebrating Christmas on December 25th is still unclear.
"The most probably the reason is that early Christians wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the “birthday of the unconquered sun” (natalis solis invicti); this festival celebrated the winter solstice, when the days again begin to lengthen and the sun begins to climb higher in the sky."
As you can see, whatever the true origin might be, the Christmas holiday has been around for some time in different forms.


Christmas Celebrations and Activities

Cultural traditions have had an influence on the Christmas celebrations of today, and Mexico is no exception. The celebration of the winter solstice in Mexico even proceeded the arrival of the Spanish who brought Christianity with them. The Mayan indians celebrate the winter solstice on December 21st and 23rd. Later, the celebration of Christmas became an important part of local culture.

Perhaps one of the oldest traditional events in Mexico, Las Posadas (meaning "lodgings"), is named after the nine days of celebration before "La Navidad", or Christmas Day (California Mall, 1999; Jasmine, 1994, p. 101; Marshall, 1999; Perton, 1998). The reenactment of the nativity of Jesus and the journey to Bethlehem is held at a different location each night from December for nine consecutive nights. In the article Feliz Navidad -- Making Merry in Mexico, Palfrey (1996) describes this event:

"In villages and urban neighborhoods throughout Mexico youngsters gather each afternoon to reenact the holy family's quest for lodging in Bethlehem. The procession is headed by a diminutive Virgen María, often perched on a live burro, led by a equally tiny San José. They are followed by other children portraying angels, the Santos Reyes (Three Kings), and a host of pastores y pastoras (shepherds and shepherdesses), all usually decked out in colorful handmade costumes and carrying brightly decorated báculos (walking staffs) or faroles (paper lanterns)."
The history of this event dates back to the late 1500s when catholic missionaries held religious masses with Christmas carols, fireworks, and music as part of the "evangelization process" (The Presidency of Mexico, 2000). These examples help us understand the background of the holiday which led to the birth of other Christmas events.

Although the mood focuses on a religious theme, there are other activities that are also held during that season. One university student, Jose Perez (1998), from Reynosa said that in his city "people can watch colorfully-decorated floats in Christmas parades, and traditional music fills the air. Everyone is in a very festive mood."

Another student, Juanita Gonzales (1998), described another favorite tradition among children:

"Many families make piñatas, or papier mache figures like horses, birds, or elephants (all kinds of animals). These piñatas are hallow inside and are filled with all kinds of candy, and are then held in the air on a string. The children are then blindfolded and then take turns trying to break the piñatas with a stick. When the candy starts to fall out of the piñata, the kids rush for it. It's a great custom and game."
These are just some of the events surrounding this season, and many other activities take place before and after Christmas.


Christmas Foods

Juana Castro

In addition to Christmas activities, many food dishes are served during this period. Perhaps the most popular of all Christmas foods in Mexico are tamales, a traditional dish perhaps eaten eaten by their ancestors, the Mayans and Aztecs. They are made out of corn meal with a meat filling (usually pork or chicken). They are then steamed in corn husks. Often, families make dozens of them for family and friends. My grandmother, Ana Maria Contreras, 1908-1995 (Play Video Clip - RealVideo Format) always prepared tomales for her family during this time of year. Her own mother, Juana Castro (picture at right, 1866-1945), handed down this tradition to her.

Families also enjoy hot chocolate and other pastries. As you can see, you can talk about Christmas without mentioning the foods related to it.

Image Copyright © 1999-2001. Randall Davis.
Used with Permission



As you can see from my paper, Christmas is an important in the lives of the Mexican people. Like many countries, celebrations around the winter solstice has its origin in different countries, and many people enjoy the Christmas season by celebrating and maintaining local traditions and customs, many which center on the family and the birth of Jesus Christ.


California Mall. (1999). MEXICO "Feliz Navidad". [Online]. Available: http://www.californiamall.com/holidaytraditions/traditions-mexico.htm (2000, April 16).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. (2001). Available: http://www.bartleby.com/65/ch/Christms.html (2001, March 29).

Collins, C. (1999). An introduction to "A Christmas kitchen in Mexico". [Online]. Available: http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/recipes/christmasintro.html (1999, November 1).

Devlin, W. (1999). History of the piñata. [Online]. Available: http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/travel/wdevlin/wdpinatahistory.html (2000, April 16).

Gonzales, Juanita (?????@compuserve.com.mx). (1998, November 30). Games at Christmas. E-mail to Masako Arai (?????@hotmail.com). *

Jasmine, J. (1994). Multicultural holidays. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials.

Klebanow, B., & Fischer, S. (1986). American holidays. Brattleboro, VT: Pro Lingua Associates.

Marshall, A. (1999). Christmas In Mexico. [Online]. Available: http://www.nacnet.org/assunta/nacimnto.htm (2000, April 15).

Palfrey, D. H. (1996). Feliz Navidad - Making merry in Mexico. [Online]. Available: http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/christmas.html (1999, November 3).

Perez, Jose (?????@mexl.com). (1998, December 17). Christmas in my city. E-mail to Masako Arai (?????@hotmail.com).*

Perton, Marvin. (1998). Celebrating Christmas in Mexico. [Online]. http://www.mexonline.com/xmas.htm (December 15, 1998).

The Presidency of Mexico (2000). Christmas in Mexico. [Online]. Available: http://world.presidencia.gob.mx/pages/culture/note_christmas.html (2000, April 16).


* The e-mail addresses have been changed to minimize spamming of the authors.