The Mexican calendar is full of festivities – not only are there numerous national holidays, there are also all the local saints and heroes to be celebrated and there’s hardly a month of the year that doesn’t provide at least a couple of reasons for a full-scale, blow-out party of some sort. And that’s not counting all the family festivities, weddings, baptisms, birthdays, first communion, saint’s days, a girl’s 15th birthday (traditionally celebrated as her coming of age) and many other occasions.
1 Jan A day of rest to recover from the excesses of the night before.
6 Jan Day of the Three Kings, commemorating the arrival of the Three Wise Men. This is traditionally when children get presents and also the day of the breaking of the qRosca cake, a sweet, plaited bread, containing a small doll depicting baby Jesus. The person who gets the doll in their piece of bread has to throw a party before 2 Feb, the next festive day.
2 Feb Día de la Candelaria, commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the temple 40 days after his birth. This is usually celebrated with processions and visits to church, more so in villages than in the bigger cities.
5 Feb Constitution Day is a more sombre and official affair.
14 Feb Valentine’s Day, known as the ‘Day of Love and Friendship’, takes kitsch to new heights. Mexican love songs are crooned and any zócalo in any town is packed with couples holding hands.
End Feb/early Mar Carnival takes over Mexico, with a frenzied wild abandon. Parades, loud music, dancing and drinking until all hours takes place all over the country with Veracruz one of the best places to catch the action.
21 Mar The nation celebrates the birthday of one of its most famous presidents, Benito Juárez. Some of the best commemorations are held in his state of birth, Oaxaca.
Mar/Apr Semana Santa, or Holy/Easter Week, is the biggest religious celebration after Christmas – a time for family get-togethers and feasting, but also of solemn contemplation, frequent visits to church, processions and ceremonies. Some of the best processions can be seen in Taxco.
1 May Labour Day, celebrated across Mexico with workers’ processions taking to the street.
5 May Cinco de Mayo, a very important day in the Mexican calendar, is the day the Mexican army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This is a day to dress up in traditional costume and listen to Mariachi bands. There are even bullfights, now more popular in Mexico than in Spain, and an abundance of tasty food.
15-16 Sep El Día del Grito (The Day of the Cry) and Independence Day, respectively. The former refers to the cry of independence uttered by Miguel Hidalgo de Costilla on the eve of 15 Sep 1810. Right across Mexico people gather in town and village squares to shout “viva” for the heroes of the Independence at the top of their voices. The following day sees processions and parades, flag-waving, speech-giving and singing of patriotic songs in even the tiniest hamlet. It’s the day to be proud to be Mexican and people come out in all their finery to take part in the festivities.
12 Oct Día de la Raza, or Columbus Day has traditionally been celebrated throughout Mexico, with schools commemorating Columbus and the discovery of America, but in later years indigenous groups have been protesting against this tradition, particularly since the 500th anniversary of the discovery, highlighting the plight of indigenous people across the Americas.
1-2 Nov All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead, belong to Mexico’s most loved and well- known traditions. On the night between 1-2 Nov, families visit cemeteries to have a vigil at the graves of their ancestors. This is a night to commemorate those who have passed on, but also to feast with them on the one night of the year that they return to earth to be with their loved ones. It’s a night of solemn ritual, where candles are lit at the graveyards, and flowers, food and drink are brought to the graves. There is a more light-hearted side to the festivity as well and as Nov approaches, all manner of skulls and skeletons start to appear in shops and markets; they’re made of paper, clay or wood, but also of sugar, candy or chocolate. Traditionally, friends exchange skulls before the Day of the Dead.
20 Nov Revolution Day, commemorates the Mexican Revolution.
12 Dec Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. This is best experienced in villages named after Guadalupe herself, where they really go to town on her day, or at the Basílica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, which can get extremely crowded. Processions with effigies of the Virgin take place through towns and villages and special masses are held. The celebrations culminate on 12 Dec, but in parts an entire week is dedicated to the Virgin and by the time the festivities are over people are well and getting into the spirit of Christmas.
16-24 Dec This time is taken up with the evening posadas, 9 nights of merry-making, re-enacting Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter on the way Bethlehem. There are candlelit processions, where people go from house to house asking for shelter through songs, until they’re eventually let in and much eating and drinking ensues. On the night of the last posada, Christmas Eve, people usually attend late Mass, before returning home for a lavish dinner and the opening of presents, Christmas Day as a day of rest.
31 Dec New Year’s Eve, is often a family occasion, with dinner at home. Traditionally you must eat one grape per bell chime at midnight, making a wish for each grape.