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A State Mandated Christmas Bonus

“Mexico Christmas Breaking the Pinata” from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

As the holiday season reaches its zenith, I would like to highlight the fact that countries throughout the world that celebrate Christmas have issued a number of holiday related laws and regulations touching on an array of topics, such as toys, Christmas trees, pardons for criminals, and business operations, among others; my favorite among these is the seasonal bonus.

Mexico provides an illuminating example.  By this time, many Mexicans and those who self-identify as such, have enjoyed in the company of their friends and loved ones their fair share of tamales, menudo, pozole, and champurrado, among other seasonal treats.  And certainly, in the more lively homes, the holiday cheer has been brought about with tequila, mezcal (the drink with the worm), beer, wine (yes, Mexico makes wine and is home to the oldest winery in the American continent), and rompope (Mexican eggnog).  Some might have even moved on to pulque (see image below) to continue toasting the season. (This is an interesting article related to the cannibalistic origins pozole.)

The full Christmas cycle in Mexico starts on December 16th with a series of posadas that span over nine nights.  The posada of the 25th includes a piñata. (Others might dissent and argue that it starts on the 12th day of December, which is the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an autochthonous Madonna figure from Mexico who is referred to as the Patroness of Mexico and is associated with Mexico’s Independence.)  After the 25th of December, the celebration continues making its way towards the feast of Epiphany on January 6th (whether it is celebrated the night before or on the 6th, the protagonist is a rosca de reyes or king cake), which kicks off the Carnival season and culminates on February 2nd, on the feast of Candlemas.

Needless to say, over the course of a month of celebration, people spend a lot of money.  So, to keep up a jolly spirit for the long holiday season, lawmakers took a guess as to what might be most appreciated by the public.  In Mexico, the Ley Federal del Trabajo or Federal Labor Law, which was first issued on December 23, 1969, provides that:

Workers shall have the right to an annual aguinaldo (bonus) that shall be paid prior to the 20th day of December, equivalent to fifteen salary days, at least.

Those who have not fulfilled a year of services, irrespective of whether they are working or not on the day of the payment of the bonus, shall have the right to be paid the prorated amount, according to the time that s/he has labored, whichever it were. (Chapter 5, Article 87)

(Imagine that, a state mandated bonus!)  In Mexico, this is perhaps the only legal provision that stems from a religious holiday.  It is worth mentioning that article 130 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, currently in force, provides for a full separation of church and state. The original language provided that the

Law does not acknowledge any legal status whatsoever of religious groups bearing the denomination of churches.  The ministers of cults shall be considered as persons who exercise a profession and shall be directly subject to the laws that are issued on the matter.  In order to exercise the ministry of any cult in Mexico, it is necessary to be Mexican by birth.  Ministers of cults shall never be able to, in a public or private reunion where a board is constituted, nor at acts of worship or religious propaganda, criticize the fundamental laws of the country, the authorities in particular or, in general, of the Government; they shall not have an active or passive vote, nor the right to assemble with political aims.

Since its promulgation, the provisions of article 130 have been modified; however, the spirit of secularism remains and can be seen here as it appears since the last amendment to the Constitution on October 13, 2011.  Even in its present form, the introductory clause to the article states that the “historical principle of the separation of the State and the churches guides the norms contained in the present article.”

Going back to the state-sanctioned holiday bonus, Mexico is not alone in the tradition of aguinaldos.  There are other Latin American countries with common legal heritages that share in this practice.  Although, in Mexico this bonus is only paid in December.  In countries like Argentina (Law 20.744, article 122), Bolivia (General Labor Law, Chapter V, article 57), Chile (Law 19.917, article 3) Panama (Labor Code, Chapter III, article 142), and Venezuela (Organic Labor Law, Chapter III, articles 174-184), among others, a bonus is paid at least two or more times a year.  There are also other countries throughout the world that provide this “thirteenth salary.”  (Italy is one of those countries with its tredicesima mensilità.)

Nonetheless, the aguinaldo is a subsidy provided by the employer with the aim of ensuring that the December holiday celebrations be carried out with dignity.  The origins, however are uncertain.  The term aguinaldo as defined by the Dictionary of the Royal Academy of Spain states that it is either a gift that is given on Christmas or at the feast of Epiphany; a gift that is given at some other feast or occasion; a Christmas carol; or a wild tropical plant of the family Convolvulaceae, very common in Cuba, which blooms during the Christmas season.  So the closest definition would be that of a gift.  Some contend that the origins of the practice stem from ancient Rome and made their way down via Spain.  (Because in Chile this subsidy is provided on the 18th of December, it is called “aguinaldo dieciochero.”)

It is certainly nice that people who have such lavish traditions can count on the law to foster their celebration.