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Holidays in Mexico

Updated on December 21, 2014

Holidays in Mexico are a great example of the unique and rich culture found within the country. Non-stop music, festivals, parades, and nighttime displays of fireworks, can be found during one Mexican holiday known as Carnaval. Another important holiday in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos, is the celebration for when dead relatives are allowed to visit the mortal world for two days. Some of the major Mexican holidays explained below, will give you valuable insight to the unique and fascinating celebrations that take place in Mexico every year.


January 6: Dia de Los Santos Reyes

The 6th of January, known as the ‘El Dia de Reyes’ (Three Kings Day), is a special day in Mexico. This holiday commemorates the three wise men that traveled from far away to bear gifts to the baby Jesus. Traditionally in Mexico, gifts are exchanged on this day, not Christmas, which makes the children especially excited for this day to come. In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, Santa Claus isn’t anywhere near as popular as in the United States. Instead, the three wise men leave presents in or near the children’s shoes.

As well as giving gifts, eating a dessert known as the “Rosca de Reyes” (Kings Cake) is a highlight of this holiday. In addition to being a tasty treat, this sweet bread is full of symbolism. The round shape signifies the king’s crown, and baked inside is a small figurine representing baby Jesus. The person who finds this token is obligated to host the upcoming party which occurs on February 2, the Dia de la Candelaria. The fact that the figurine is “hidden” inside the cake is another example of the cake’s symbolism. The reason for this is that in life, the location of Jesus’ birth needed to remain a secret in order for his life to be spared. The ruler of Jerusalem, King Herod, had seen signs that the rightful King of Jerusalem was soon to be born. He reacted to this by ordering henchman to go about killing every male infant in Bethlehem they could find. However, Jesus was born in a manger, not an inn. Herod’s minions didn’t expect to find the future King of Jerusalem in such a place. The knife used to cut the slices of this bread is also a symbol of the danger Jesus was in.

A delicious evening meal of corn tamales and hot chocolate is another tradition that is enjoyed on this holiday.


January 16-21 (2012): Carnaval

Carnaval is an exciting holiday that lasts for the five days leading up to Lent, which is on Ash Wednesday. It’s the last opportunity for Catholics to enjoy the pleasures they must give up for Lent. The purpose of celebration is like soaking up as much as you can of the final days of summer vacation, before you have to go back to school.

During Carnaval, whole towns all across Mexico party throughout the day, and late into the night. The people take place in the many events and activities that make up the celebration, while enjoying food, drink, and liquor. Cascarones, confetti filled eggshells, are thrown and broken over each other by people of all ages, and many booths much like at a fair offer a variety of food, drinks, games, and crafts. Music of all types is continuously played by live bands, DJs, or a boom box. Certain towns have a collection of rides, organized parties, outdoor festivals, and masquerade balls that usually cost an entrance fee or are completely private. In the evenings of the Carnaval, large displays of fireworks are shown, and even the kids are allowed to stay up late to watch the fireworks.

On Saturday evening, there is a ceremony of the Carnaval Queen, and the humorous El Rey Feo. The figure of someone unpopular at the time will be burned this evening as well. Sunday is the largest celebration of the weekend, and includes a big float parade as well as musicians playing on stages, and people dancing on the streets. The Monday of the Carnaval is known as El Dia del Marido Oprimido. Husbands have the freedom to do what they wish on this day within the law and religious faith for 23.5 hours. By the time Tuesday comes around, almost everyone has had their fill of pleasures, and are ready to go back to work and accept the restrictions of Lent.

While many towns and cities in Mexico have a Carnaval celebration of various sizes, the port cities are known to have the largest events. Of these port cities, the Carnaval of Mazatlan is the largest, attracting well over 300,000 people every year.


Semana Santa

Considered the second most important holiday of the year, behind Christmas, Semana Santa runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. During this holiday, many Mexicans will attend mass on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as well as use this holiday for taking a vacation. Because Mexico is 90% Catholic, the entire community shares and participates in this religious celebration.

While Semana Santa is celebrated all across Mexico, the cities of Ixtapalapa, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Taxco, are some of the most well known for their celebrations. These cities often include reenactments of the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion on the cross. The popular event of this holiday throughout Mexico is the breaking of colored egg shells filled with confetti over friends and family. The citizens of many cities will also display important religious images from the church, decorate altars at home and in the streets, and place decorations of flowers and palm crosses all across the city.

May 5: Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo honors the victory of the outnumbered Mexican militia over the French army at The Battle of Puebla in 1862. Contrary to popular belief, it is not Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually September 16th.

This holiday is mainly celebrated throughout the Mexican state of Puebla, but is becoming increasingly popular in areas of the United States with a high Mexican population. In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo is more of a celebration of Mexican culture, which includes Mexican food, music, beverages, and other customs unique to Mexico. This holiday has also been promoted in the USA by commercial interest, with products and services focused on Mexican food. Several cities throughout the U.S. hold parades and concerts on Cinco de Mayo, making this holiday bigger north of the border than south of it.


November 1 & 2: Dia de los Muertos

The Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), is an important Mexican holiday that gets its roots from the ancient people of Mexico, who believed that the souls of the dead would return each year to the mortal world to visit their relatives. When the Spaniards arrived in the 15th century, this belief was slightly tweaked. The current tradition is to remember deceased children with toys and colorful balloons covering their graves on November 1st. And the following day, all of the adults who have died are honored with displays of their favorite food and drinks, as well as their personal belongings. Spirits are supposed to be guided home to their loved ones by placing candles and flowers atop their graves.

Many symbols, such as coffee cake made to look like bones, skull-shaped candy and sweets, and papier mache skeletons and skulls, can be found in many Mexican shops and stalls my mid October. Homes are also decorated like the graves around this time. The actual ceremony begins with the graves and altars being prepared by the entire family. Next, candles are lit, copal is burned, prayers and chants for the dead are said, and food is consumed in an informal atmosphere much like a picnic. Starting at 6:00pm, bells begin ringing throughout the night every 30 seconds, summoning the dead. The ringing stops at sunrise, and those who have remained there all night go home.

To someone outside this culture, this holiday might seem unnatural and ghoulish, but this is all very natural to the Mexicans who believe in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.


December 12: Día de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

This holiday honors the Lady of Guadalupe, who was said to have played a major role in converting many of the Mexicans of 1531 into Catholicism. Every year, tens of thousands of people travel to Mexico City to visit the place where the Lady appeared to the Mexican People. This national holiday includes traditional music and fun attractions. Pilgrims will usually bring flowers to the Lady, while other visitors will perform songs and dances to honor her.

At the cities’ plaza, the fiesta contains delicious food, crafts and clothes selling vendors, and many dances and other performances. Outside of Mexico City, some towns have variations to the celebration such as parades, rodeos, and bullfights.


December 16-25: Las Posadas y Navidad

In Mexico, the festivities of Christmas are in full swing by December 16th, the start of Las Posadas. Las Posadas takes place during the nine days leading up to Christmas, December 16-24th. It is a reenactment of the difficult journey Mary and Joseph took from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter before the birth of Jesus. Each night the party is held at a neighborhood house, and at dusk the guests go outside to watch the ceremony. The children are dressed up as angels, shepherds, and sometime Mary and Joseph. An angel leads the ceremony, followed by Mary and Joseph or guests carrying their images. Adults follow with lit candles. A song is sung asking for shelter, and the host of the party sings a reply, finally opening the doors to their house, and providing the guests with a variety of festive foods. The last posada is held on December 24th, and is traditionally followed by a midnight mass.

On Christmas day, it is a popular tradition to have piñata in the form of a ball with seven spikes. The ball represents Satan, and the seven spikes represent the seven capital sins. Breaking the piñata represents defeating Satan.

During the Christmas season, it is also common for a Mexican family to have a nacimiento, or Nativity scene. These are often much more detailed than those found in the United States, and can include interesting ceramic figurines such as the nopal cactus, hermits, and ducks.


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