When you think of Mexican holidays, which ones come to mind?
The top one is probably Cinco de Mayo. While Americans know it as the day of cheap drinks and taco Tuesday specials, we’re here to dive in deeper. Understanding the importance of Mexican holidays gives you an appreciation for the country’s history, peoples, and culture. We’re going to take you on a trip of colorful fiestas, religious celebrations, and community-oriented events. Grab your passport and let’s go. It's time to visit Mexico.
1. Three Kings’ Day (Dia de los Reyes Magos)
Have you ever heard of Three Kings’ Day before? Also known as Epiphany or Little Christmas, this holiday celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. On January 6, it recognizes the day that the Three Wise Men gave him gifts. This day wraps up Christmas festivities and the people of Mexico give gifts to one another.
One of the most popular treats served on this day is Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake. The word ‘rosca’ means wreath and ‘reyes’ means kings. This cake is in an oval shape to symbolize a crown and adorned with a small doll to represent the baby Jesus. This doll represents baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph were hiding him from King Herod’s soldiers.
Since Christmas is just around the corner, this is a great time to learn about Three Kings’ Day. That way, if you happen to be in Mexico at the beginning of the New Year, you can understand and observe this beautiful day among Mexican holidays.
Did you know that children in Mexico and South America receive their gifts from the Three Kings at Christmas instead of Santa Clause? Before bed, kids will place their gift wish list on top of an old pair of their shoes. In the morning they wake up to shoes filled with toys and gifts from the Three Kings. Families gather together and break bread. The bread has a figurine of a baby inside.
2. Candlemas (Dia de la Candelaria)
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Candlemas is another one of the Christian Mexican holidays. The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin (or Dia de la Candelaria), is on February 2nd and recognized for a number of reasons. You might be wondering what is special about this specific date. Well, in the Jewish tradition, babies are taken to the temple for blessing and baptism forty days after they are born.
Dia de la Candelaria follows up the celebration of the Three Kings’ Day above. Whoever received the figurine of the baby when they broke the bread will host the feast on February 2nd. What’s on the menu? Tamales, champurrado (a type of hot chocolate), and atole are a few of the delicious options. Atole is one of our favorite drinks – think of it like a liquified old fashioned Mexican style oatmeal. Yes, it’s drinkable. Add a little bit of cinnamon for absolute perfection.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
This could very well be the most vibrant and festive of the Mexican holidays. Celebrated in late February through early March, Carnaval is one of the best times to visit Mexico. No matter where you decide to go, the party is there. If you’re on the hunt for the most elaborate celebrations, we highly recommend visiting the cities of La Paz and Veracruz. Here, everyone dresses up to the max. The music, dancing, and parades last for days.
4. Guadalajara International Film Festival
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Did you know that this is Mexico’s oldest film festival? Since its founding in 1986, it has been responsible for some of the country’s most popular movie productions. In addition, it has gained international accolades for its amazing training programs for film and documentary makers. If this sounds interesting to you, the festival takes place in the beginning of March and typically lasts for a total of nine days. Next year's schedule is March 8th to 15th, 2019.
5. Saints’ Week (Semana Santa)
In Christianity, Holy Week is the week before Easter. Another one of the Christian Mexican holidays, it is also the last week of lent. A time of family gathering, most people head to the best beaches, resorts, and tourist gatherings. It’s also conveniently when Mexican schools have a two week vacation period.
Since this is the hottest and driest time of the year, prepare for crowded beaches. Book your place of accommodation far in advance as well as any other travel reservations. Do you want to visit during Semana Santa?
This holiday runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. As you know, the date of Easter changes from year to year. While it is a time of fun and admittedly a big tourist draw, don’t think that the religious observance takes a back seat. From processions to plays, communities gather together to observe the Holy Week. The largest gatherings of celebration can be found in Taxco, Oaxaca, Pátzcuaro, and San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Going through the week, different days celebrate different things. On Palm Sunday, they celebrate the arrival of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Maundy Thursday commemorates the washing of the feet of the apostles, as well as the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Christ. Solemn processions walk through town, holding up statues of both Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
In many communities, passion plays are put on display as well. Finally, on Easter Sunday, people go to mass and celebrate Christ’s resurrection with their families. Some places have festivities with fireworks and others, processions with music and dancing.
6. Guelaguetza Dance Festival
We bet you didn’t know but the Guelaguetza Dance Festival is one of the most popular Mexican holidays. A traditional celebration held in July, it is best described as a blend of indigenous heritage practices with Catholic influences. While dances, offerings, and celebrations honor Centeotl, the goddess of maize, it also commemorates the Catholic icon, the Virgin of El Carmen.
Despite its traditional roots, today, the Guelaguetza Dance Festival is primarily seen as a celebration of the Mexican state of Oaxaca and its culture. Each year, thousands of locals gather to participate and represent their state through various demonstrations. Since the celebration lasts for a full two weeks, visitors can plan to come out and enjoy a diverse array of fairs, parades, and concerts of Oaxaca’s legacy. We have to say though, the most important part of the festival are the dances.
7. Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia)
This is one of the most important Mexican holidays. September 16, 1810 marks the day that the Mexican people revolted against rule from the Spaniards. This is undoubtedly the most revered day for citizens of Mexico. Festivities kick off the day before on September 15th when the Mexican President shouts out the cry “Viva Mexico” out from the National Palace. Fireworks, fiestas, food, and dancing are all a part of the big day. National pride sweeps across the country from cities to states in a sight that is nothing short of a wonder to behold.
On the original Independence Day, Manuel Hidalgo shouted out the cry for independence, “ El Grito de la Independencia!” in the town of Dolores. While scholars have yet to agree on exactly what he said in his speech, we do know that he motivated the people to revolt against Spain’s regime. His army fought the Spanish soldiers for independence. Mexico’s official declaration for independence was on September 28, 1821.
Since Independence Day is a national holiday in Mexico, institutions like banks, government offices, schools, and even many businesses close. Travelers should keep in mind that many roads and streets will be closed to make way for parades and large celebrations. If you plan on traveling using public transportation while in Mexico for Independence Day, check with local authorities before your visit to make sure that they will be up and running. The timetables for daily routes and schedules may differ.
8. All Saints’ Day/ Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)
One of the most fascinating Mexican holidays is Dia de los Muertos. Who else is thinking of the movie Coco right now? As one of the country’s largest celebrations, on this day, families visit graveyards and pay respect to their ancestors and loved ones. In true Mexican fashion, the day is vibrant and colorful. Skeleton themed paraphernalia lines the streets, ofrendas are covered in candles and pictures of ancestors who are being remembered. On November 1st, All Saints’ Day is celebrated in remembrance of patron saints and infants. The Day of the Dead is celebrated on the following day, November 2nd.
9. Dia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and the Christmas Season
You’re probably wondering – well, what about the Christmas season? First things first. Have you heard of Dia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe? She is the patron saint of Mexico. On December 12th before the start of Christmas celebrations, the Mexican people honor her with parades and celebrations.
As the story goes, this Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, a convert to Catholicism, in 1531. When he told the account, no one believed him until his third vision when an imprint of the Virgin Mary appeared on his cloak. The Catholic church deemed this a miraculous work and Diego’s cloak hangs in Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City today.
The Christmas season officially kicks off on December 16th with Las Posadas. On this day, children dress up and act as the Holy Family coming to Bethlehem, and go from door to door in the neighborhoods seeking shelter. It is also tradition that children bring their parents gifts (on Three Kings’ Day). With this said, Christmas traditions popular in Europe and the U.S. have begun to take hold in Mexico too. It’s common that children are given two days during the Christmas season to receive gifts.
Celebrate Culture with Observance of Important Mexican Holidays
We hope you enjoyed reading about these Mexican holidays. As you can see, Mexico is a country with a rich history, beautiful culture, and strong sense of national identity. One of the best ways to get to understand a place is by learning about its past, culture, and current traditions. If you get the chance to visit Mexico soon, plan ahead so you can visit during one of these times of celebration.
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