Family Fun, Meals, Things I Love, Travel

A Mexican tradition

I need a happy story today. I stayed up too late watching some news and ended up going to bed with a pit in my stomach. When I woke up, my mind went right back to it all and the pit returned. 


I need to stop thinking about that and focus on something positive. 

So, I think today is a good day to use my “Travel Tuesday” series to share about a tradition that always warms my heart.

For anyone who doesn’t know, my in-laws live in Toluca, Mexico. Ivan was born and raised in Mexico City, but his family has lived in Toluca for years now (a little over an hour west of Mexico City). We’ve been there to visit many times, and the boys always love it. It’s definitely a different way of life from what they are used to, but I think that’s much of the appeal!

There are a million Mexican traditions that I could talk about, but one that I really love is the tradition of the cena at my in-laws’ house. 


Cena= dinner. Kind of. 

This requires a little explanation. Meal times are generally different in Mexico. This used to be a source of confusion/ frustration when Ivan and I were first married. Here in the U.S., standard meal times would be breakfast ~7-8 a.m, lunch ~12:00 and dinner (the largest meal) ~6 pm. Right? 

Well, in Mexico (at least at my in-laws’), they tend to have desayuno in the morning (8-10 a.m. and often pretty light), then the comida (the largest meal- like a big “lunch”) later in the afternoon, say 2-3 pm or so, and then the cena (again, lighter) later at night, before bed. 

At their house, the big “family around the table” meal is the comida in the afternoon. It’s what I would compare to an American evening, family dinner with meat and potatoes (except their “meat and potatoes” are usually very different (and arguably more delicious!). 

The tradition I personally think is nice, though, is the cena. The comida is great too, but I’ll try to explain why the cena wins at my in-laws’ house. 

The cena oftentimes comprises of a lighter meal, like I mentioned. It might be a small plate of leftovers, or maybe a quesadilla or sandwich. If the comida was heavier, it’s often just a snack of some sweet bread or toast with jam or something like that. They always have coffee. Right before bed. 🙂 Instant, Nescafe coffee. 

I spy the Nescafe coffee jar in this photo. 

It’s this special time in the day, later at night (say, 9-10 pm) when people just gather together to eat a bit and talk. It’s not formal. At their house, they just sit or stand around the breakfast bar. 

But it’s the time in the day when I think the best conversation happens.

It’s a relaxing way to unwind at the end of the day. When we are there visiting, it usually turns into a longer ordeal, full of stories and laughter. People just lingering, chatting. Drinking coffee (when I’m there, I make tea. My father-in-law drinks tea often too). 
I always know that if I’m anywhere near the kitchen around that time of night, my mother-in-law will call to me, “No vas a cenar??” (Aren’t you going to eat?) She’s always worried I won’t eat enough. 😉  She need not worry. Trust me. I eat my weight’s worth of Mexican food when we are in Mexico. 

When we come home after our visits, I miss that. We don’t do it at our house. We could, I guess, but we don’t! I mean, we do have “family dinner” many nights, earlier in the evening, but it’s not exactly the same. We typically follow a more American style meal pattern now, so we don’t really eat anything right before bed. 

That connection time right before bed is special, though. There’s no TV on or other distractions- just people connecting and talking over food with their loved ones. 

I know that even when we aren’t there, mis suegros (in-laws) still do this every night. It’s nice. 💗

A few other pics of their street in Mexico:

view from the rooftop- el Nevado de Toluca (Volcano of Toluca) in the distance
Rooftops are often used for hanging clothes to dry! My MIL would kill me for posting this…she’s in her PJs!!! But I think it’s a sweet photo. 
Daily Gratitude:
I’m grateful for my in-laws! So many people complain about theirs, but mine are pretty great. They are the NICEST people you’ll ever meet. 

7 thoughts on “A Mexican tradition

  1. that sounds nice. I don't think i'll like eat before bed tradition but some connection time with the family before bed sound nice. We do that in a different way, we all get together in the bedroom, I with a book, Sofia with a book, Lizzy with a toy, daddy with his phone or just play with Lizzy. We don't always have a conversation flowing, but just physically being together is nice.

  2. Love this! I think you should share a how to guide on traveling to non-all inclusive resort mexico. I personally would have no idea where to go, where to stay, where to eat, etc. BUT I would love to visit a non-all-inclusive area of Mexico one day! Do you guys think you'll get a chance to see your in-laws again soon??

  3. This was fun to read. I don't know much about the Mexican culture so I always like learning more, especially since many of Pablo's teachers are from Mexico or other Latin countries. We just recently had a discussion about the Spanish word for meals and Phil was struggling to say dinner was cena. He used Almuerzo (sp?) for "lunch" but similar to cena/dinner, said it's really not the same as our lunch.

    I assume you must be fluent in Spanish? I am going to guess that you and your husband met when you were studying abroad? Do your boys both speak Spanish, too? I'm going to guess yes so they can communicate with their grandparents? I'd love a post on living in a dual-language household! And that is great that you get along so well with your in-laws. That seems to be pretty rare these days. I just have a MIL and she is very nice but I will admit she gets on my nerve at times. But I try to remind myself she raised the man I love and doesn't intend to annoy me…

  4. Well, I'm not really an expert on it, but for us, big pluses are that we both speak the language, and obviously my husband is FROM Mexico, so we have a comfort that the average traveler might not. Another plus is that he can drive there comfortably, which is a huge advantage for getting off the beaten path more. I'll think on this and see if I can put together a post though with some tips! I've actually only stayed at an all-inclusive in Mexico once. It was wonderful, but we definitely prefer being able to get out and eat local food, etc. There are things to be cautious with though, too, so it can be a little tricky. 🙂

  5. I am fluent in Spanish, yes! I double majored in college in Spanish and Nursing, studied abroad for a summer and then just have had a lot of practice now. 🙂 I keep meaning to post on this but just haven't yet…the short story is that we met here in the U.S. actually. In college I worked at a Mexican restaurant for several years waitressing. Ivan had a cousin and his girlfriend (now wife) who lived here in the U.S. for many years, and they worked at the restaurant and I was friends with them. When Ivan was in college, he used to fly up to visit and would stay with his cousin on spring break/summers sometimes, and he would come in to the restaurant. We actually "knew" each other for several years a little bit just from those brief visits, but it wasn't until a time that he came and stayed for a whole month that we really got to know each other and hit it off. 🙂

    My boys speak "some" Spanish. They understand it quite well, and they can communicate it, though not fluently. When we are in Mexico they pick it up fast, but they lose it again at home. Ivan speaks to them in Spanish much of the time, and always has, but they tend to respond in English….I have always spoken to the boys in English, despite being fluent in Spanish. Something about speaking to my kids in my non-native language just always feels a little odd. I'll make a note to write a post sometime about the dual-language thing! It's a very interesting topic, I agree!

  6. Loved this post- very interesting! A good friend of mine who majored in Spanish and is currently a Spanish teacher ended up marrying a Peruvian. Her husband would always speak Spanish to their boys and my fiend April would talk to their boys in English. It took the boys longer to start talking to when they were young – but now they are fluent in both languages. I think this is so cool!

  7. I am super interested in the dual language thing. I read a book on the topic when I was pregnant with Ethan, but I still oftentimes feel like we kind of failed to really do it right. Ivan has always spoken to the boys in Spanish primarily, but when they were little I was just with them so much more often (speaking English). I worked the 12s and had so many days off with them, etc…plus I feel like kids quickly pick up that the dominant language in the world around them here is English. Mine do understand a lot of Spanish and can speak it somewhat, but definitely not "fluently". They pick it up well though in Mexico when we go and can communicate fairly well.

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