We wish you a merry radish: California Oaxacans celebrate an unusual Christmas tradition

A nativity scene in radish.  Mostly.
A nativity scene in radish (mostly)

No one knows just why, over 116 years ago, the people of Oaxaca began celebrating Christmas by carving radishes into whatever struck their fancy.  Maybe it was a bumper crop of this root vegetable, which, by the way, isn’t even indigenous to the Mexican state. (“Neither is Santa Claus,” said Gabriel Martinez, a writer and brewer who lives in Santa Monica.)

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Regardless, it’s impossible for someone of Oaxacan descent to imagine the holiday without this tradition. For the last ten years here in Los Angeles, the Oaxacan community has gathered to celebrate the  Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, to make sure their American-born children carry it on. “There are about 300 pounds of radishes to be carved in whatever figures,” said Martinez, “just not obscene objects, though.”

Though it takes place on December 23rd back in Mexico, the festival occurred Sunday night at Mercado la Paloma, the culinary and cultural center near USC.

Here’s a snapshot:

photo

Radishes carved and ready for a party.
Radishes carved and ready for a party.
300 pounds of radishes, available for carving
300 pounds of radishes, available for carving
dancing
Dance and music were also on the program