A reflection of culture, tradition and centuries of history.
What makes a date a festivity? Is it because of all the years of traditions? Would it be because of the food, drinks and colors of each celebration? Or might it be the look of expectation, hope and remembrance of people? Mexico is a country with centuries of vivid practices. Throughout its people, its history has dyed of a color palette so unique of a society rich in traditions because every date has a special meaning to every Mexican.
In Mexico there are around 5,000 to 6,000 special dates in the year throughout the country. They can be religious, patriotic, national or regional festivities, and the lasts ones being the most common, particularly in the southeast of the country. Although festivity dates run all over the year, it is during the last months of the year when the most vibrant and meaningful ones occur.
September is known in Mexico as the patriotic month. During this month, almost two centuries ago, a group of Mexicans fought for the freedom of its country and achieved a glorious victory. September 16th is Mexico’s Independence Day, but its commemoration is only the prelude for the most colorful season in Mexican celebration agenda.
November 2nd, Day of the Dead. This tradition with Hispanic roots is based in religion and is a celebration of life and tribute to the dead. Contrary what many may believe, the Day of the Dead is a celebration to honor those who have passed away by preparing them an altar with their favorite dishes and beverages: fruit, tamales, mole, sweets and the traditional pan de muerto (sweet bread typical for this day). The altar is decorated with flowers, candles, incense and images of saints and/or of the dead one. You can also put a chair by the altar so the spirit of the dead can sit and enjoy the food that was prepared especially for him or her, while their favorite music is played by a live band.
A very special character in this celebration, which has become an icon of Mexican culture, is La Catrina. Originally created as a metaphoric representation of the high-end social class in Mexican society in early 1900, it is now know as the Death. La Catrina is always dressed up with tasteful and colorful clothes. Of elegant and stylish pose, it is present in the celebrations of the death to remember those who are alive that life is today and will forever be, and that the different music, culinary or artistic expressions, are just a tiny way to honor our beloved ones that have passed away.
December 12th, Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Without a doubt, this date is one of the most representative ones for all Catholics in Mexico because it celebrates the apparition of Virgin Mary, of brunette skin, to a native Mexican boy named Juan Diego in 1583. Virgin’s image got imprinted in the tunic of the boy, and is now venerated within the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Tepeyac’s hill in Mexico’s city.
Celebration begins at midnight of December 12th, when faithful believers gather round at her image to sing her the traditional mañanitas (happy birthday song). People from all around the country peregrine to the basilica dressed up with their native wear. Also, within all the churches in all Mexico, there are typical dancers and offers in their atrium. All these different manifestations are just a humble way of the people to show their love and respect to the one they consider their mother, Virgen de Guadalupe.
Posadas. The practice of posadas began as an effort of Spaniards to eliminate the costumes of native Mexicans to worship their pagan gods and to substitute their traditions with the observance of traditional catholic celebrations. At the winter solstice, with the mass, there were representations of the nativity of Jesus on earth. Merriment will continue with fireworks, piñatas and carol singing. These celebrations grew stronger outside the church, in neighborhoods, with the substitution of religious songs with popular ones.
Nowadays, between December 12th and 24th, families and friends gather to honor this tradition. Among the multiple ways to celebrate a posada, one of the most representative ones is the custom of asking for shelter while singing a traditional carol. It begins with a procession of a group of people carrying the figures of Joseph and Mary. They are singing and asking to be allowed to spend the night in that house. On the other side, a group of people who represent an angry owner of the house is singing to be left in peace, asking them to leave. When the owner finds out that who is asking are Joseph and Mary, he happily changes his mood and lets them in singing carols of joy and faith. Afterwards, they proceed to break a piñata in the shape of a star with seven points (one for each original sin) and to celebrate with music such blissful time.
December 25th, Christmas. A worldwide festivity, Christmas in Mexico has its roots in the celebration of the birth of the son of God on Earth. It is tradition that families gather to share dinner on the night of December 24th. Usual dinner is composed by stuffed turkey, cider and cake. At midnight there is a gift exchange, although in some regions in Mexico, is until January 6th that children receive their gifts from the Three Wise Men.
January 1st, New Year. In Mexico, as in everywhere else, a New Year signifies the opportunity to begin something new, celebrate the year that is passing and welcoming the coming one, to analyze old goals and make New Year’s resolutions and celebrate. It is common to find families and friends celebrating on the eve of New Year, to toast right at midnight, eating 12 grapes, a grape for each month of the new year, and wishing something as eating each of them.
January 6th, Day of the Three Wise Men. Festivity brought to Mexico by the Spaniards. Tradition says that the Three Wise Men called Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar (representing Europe, Asia and Africa) came from the west to worship the first manifestation of the son of God on Earth, and offered him three symbolic gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. In Mexico, to celebrate this date is common to eat sweet bread called rosca de reyes (ring-shaped bread) with your friends and family. Bread is made out of orange flower and butter, with dried fruits and nuts. Inside the bread there are a couple of small baby boy figures, who represent baby Jesus. The person who gets the figure in its slice has to host a small party on February 2nd, Dia de la Candelaria, with tamales and atole. Also, in some regions of Mexico, it is tradition to give children a gift.
February 2nd, Día de la Candelaria. Exact 40 days after Christmas, on February 2nd (Día de la Candelaria) is the end of the Christmas period and commemorates when baby Jesus was presented in the temple by his parents. Those who got the baby boy figure in the rosca de reyes on January 6th, are given the task of being the godfather or godmother of baby Jesus. In some provinces in Mexico, they are responsible of caring for him and this responsibility begins by dressing up a real baby Jesus figure. On February 2nd, the real baby Jesus figure is placed in a basked with flowers and is taken by the godfather/godmother and their compadres (host of where the rosca de reyes was shared) to a solemn mass in church in which baby Jesus will receive a blessing. Once the ceremony is over, people return to the house to celebrate with tamales and atole.
There are many more dates with history and traditions in Mexico. It is impossible to forget about the Carnival in the cities of Mazatlan and Veracruz, or the celebration of Fiestas de los Lunes de Cerro, better known as the Guelaguetza in Oaxaca. Each region, community and town in Mexico offers a past rich in history and beliefs, customs and dishes, fantasies and yearns. These festivities are an essential part of Mexican culture, which as the saying goes, will only die when no one remembers it.
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