Mexican Traditions & Values
Mexico is known to be very traditional. There are various provincial and local cultural identities as well. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion of Mexico by whom their culture and traditions are greatly influenced. Many Mayan and Spanish aspects also appear to be evident in Mexican culture. However, even though Mexico is culturally diverse they believe strongly in Nationalism.
Mexico has an evident social hierarchy system and the significant difference between the rich and the poor in Mexico supposedly creates a contrast in the culture of Mexicans.
Family is very important to the people of Mexico and though often it is here as well it is known that there are many families in Mexico who have three or more generations all living in the same household, which many people living in the America's would think is crazy. Within a family the roles of each member are split according to gender. These roles and qualities are forced upon the different genders at a very young age. It was mentioned that girls are generally kept under very strict conditions until marriage and a significant event in their lives is the fiesta de quince años or more commonly known as a "quinceañera". This event signifies the daughter to be eligible for marriage. However, no information was found about the youngest daughter not getting married and having to look after her parents instead.
Mexico has plenty of celebrations throughout the year whether it be a past victory, a religious ceremony or just a day worth celebrating they will celebrate it to the fullest. During major festivals the families often have large reunions of the various generations of the family. Some of the many major festivals that are celebrated annually in Mexico include Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Mexican Independence Day, La Batalla de Puebla, The day of the Dead...
Día de Reyes & Rosca de Reyes
Día de Reyes
After New Year's Day, Mexican families still have a very special date to commemorate and enjoy. On January 6, most of the Hispanic world celebrates El Dia De Reyes, the Epiphany, remembering the day when the Three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem, arrived bearing their treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Baby Jesus.
On the night, of January 5, the figurines of the Three Wise Men are added to the nativity scene. Before going to bed the children place their old shoes under their bed or in the living room, where the Wise Men will leave them their presents. Some also place outside the house, some hay and a bucket with water for the animals, and even some cookies and milk for Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar.
You can feel the excitement building up! With twinkling eyes, the children eagerly, and constantly ask what time it is, wishing for time to fly so they could open their presents. Reluctantly they go off to bed. As soon as they wake up, which is earlier than any other day, they run to see the gifts that the Three Magicians left for them. Happiness overflows every Mexican home.
The children spend the day playing and admiring each other's presents, sharing them with friends, talking about how they were able to hear or see the Reyes Magos when they arrived at their home, how one of them heard the camel's footsteps, how the other saw a shining crown in the dark night! Meanwhile, adults prepare for the Merienda de Reyes, an early evening dinner that friends and families share to celebrate the Epiphany.
Rosca de Reyes
All over the country, in every city and in every little town, bakeries offer the Rosca de Reyes, an oval sweetbread, decorated with candied fruit. There are Roscas of all sizes, very small ones for two or three people and up to the ones that will delight more that twenty people.
The Merienda de Reyes is truly a multicultural event. The Spaniards brought the tradition of celebrating the Epiphany and sharing the Rosca to the New World. The Rosca is served along with Tamales, made of corn which was the pre-Hispanic food per excel lance, and hot chocolate. Chocolate is also a gift from the native peoples of the New World.
Hidden inside this delicious Rosca, a plastic figurine of the Baby Jesus. The Baby is hidden because it symbolizes the need to find a secure place where Jesus could be born, a place where King Herod would not find Him.
Each person cuts a slice of the Rosca. The knife symbolizes the danger in which the Baby Jesus was in. One by one the guests carefully inspect their slice, hopping they didn't get the figurine.
Whoever gets the baby figurine shall be the host, and invite everyone present to a new celebration on February 2, Candelaria or Candle mass day, and he also shall get a new Ropón or dress for the Baby Jesus of the Nativity scene.
The Mexican Christmas season is joyously extended up to February 2 ! - when the nativity scene is put away, and another family dinner of delicious tamales and hot chocolate is served with great love and happiness.
La Candelaria & Niño Dios
Día de la Candelaria, or Candlemas, is celebrated throughout Mexico on February 2nd. It is mainly a religious and family celebration, but in some places, such as Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, it is a major fiesta with bullfights and parades.
February 2nd falls forty days after Christmas, and is celebrated by Catholics as the "Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin" or as the "Presentation of the Lord." According to Jewish law a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth so it was customary to bring a baby to the temple after that period of time had passed. So Jesus would have been taken to the temple on February second.
In Mexico Día de la Candelaria is a follow-up to the festivities of Kings Day on January 6th, when children receive gifts and families and friends break bread together, specifically Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with figurines hidden inside. The person (or people) who received the figurines on Kings Day are supposed to host the party on Candlemas Day. Tamales are the food of choice.
Another important custom in Mexico, particularly in areas where traditions run strong, is for families to own an image of the Christ child, a "Niño Dios". At times a godparent is chosen for the niño Dios, who is then responsible for hosting various celebrations between Christmas and Candlemas. First, on Christmas eve the niño Dios is placed in the Nativity scene, on January 6th, King's Day, the child is brought presents from the Magi, and on February 2nd, the child is dressed in fine clothes and presented in the church.
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week leading up to Easter. This is the most important holiday in the church calendar because it is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Since Mexico is predominantly a Catholic country (nearly 90% of Mexicans practice Catholicism according to INEGI), Holy Week is a very important holiday.
Semana Santa is the week before Easter, from Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) to Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua), but since students (and some workers) enjoy a two-week break at this time, the full week preceding Easter as well as the following week comprise the Semana Santa holiday. Find out the dates of Semana Santa, which vary from year to year.
The religious observances of Semana Santa do not take a back seat to beach fun, however. Processions and passion plays take place all through the country, though different areas celebrate in different ways and certain communities have more effusive celebrations. Among those places where Holy Week is celebrated en grande are Taxco, Pátzcuaro, Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas. Jesus' final days are evoked in the rituals that take place during the week.
Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday)
On the Sunday prior to Easter, known as Palm Sunday, the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem is commemorated. According to the Bible Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people in the streets laid down palm branches in his path. In many towns and villages in Mexico on this day there are processions reenacting Jesus' triumphal entry, and woven palms are sold outside churches.
Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday)
The Thursday of Holy Week is known as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. This day commemorates the washing of the feet of the apostles, the Last Supper and Jesus' arrest in Gethsemane. Some Mexican traditions for Maundy Thursday include visiting seven churches to recall the vigil the apostles kept in the garden while Jesus prayed before his arrest, foot-washing ceremonies and of course Mass with Holy Communion.
Viernes Santo (Good Friday)
In many towns and villages the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ is remembered through a Passion Play, or a recreation of the Via Crucis, (the Way of the Cross) on Viernes Santo -- Holy Friday. This may be an all-day event involving a cast of hundreds of amateur performers playing key roles in the Biblical story, that reaches its climax with a simulated crucifixion. In other places there may be some type of solemn procession in which most of the populace participates as penitents. In addition, the Virgin Mary´s pain and suffering at the loss of her son may be recalled with the display of an Altar de Dolores--an Altar of Sorrows.
Sábado de Gloria (Holy Saturday)
In some places there is a custom of burning Judas in effigy because of his betrayal of Jesus, now this has become a festive occasion. Cardboard or paper mache figures are constructed, sometimes with firecrackers attached, and then burned. Sometimes the figures are made to represent political figures.
Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday)
You won't come across any mention of the Easter Bunny or chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday in Mexico. This is generally a day when people go to Mass and celebrate quietly with their families, though in some places there are festivities with fireworks.
Batalla de Puebla
The Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) holiday in Mexico does not have the same significance as it has in the United States. In the U.S. it is a celebration of Mexican culture, and sometimes mistaken for Mexican Independence Day. In Mexico, it is a commemoration of a battle which took place in Puebla in 1862, in which Mexican troops were triumphant over the French army. Find out why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the U.S. than it is in Mexico.
In 1861 Mexico was facing a severe economic crisis and President Benito Juarez decided to temporarily stop payment on external debt in order to deal with the internal financial situation. The countries Mexico was in debt to, Spain, England and France, were concerned about their payments and sent a delegation to Mexico to assess the situation. Juarez was able to resolve the issue with Spain and Britain diplomatically, and they withdrew. The French, however, had other plans.
Napoleon III, realizing the strategic importance of Mexico, as a neighbor to the growing power of the United States, decided it would be useful to make Mexico into an empire that he could control. He decided to send his distant cousin, Maximilian of Hapsburg, to become emperor and rule Mexico backed up by the French army.
The French military were confident they would be able to overcome the Mexicans without undue difficulty, but were surprised in Puebla, when a much smaller batallion of Mexican soldiers, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza were able to defeat them on May 5th, 1862. The war was far from over, however. More troops of French military arrived and eventually took over Mexico City, sending Benito Juarez' government into exile. Maximilian was crowned emperor of Mexico in 1864. Maximilian's government held until Napoleon III withdrew French troops from Mexico in 1866.
Cinco de Mayo became a source of inspiration for Mexicans during the French occupation. As a moment in which Mexicans had shown courage and determination in the face of a major colonial European power, it came to be a symbol of Mexican pride, unity and patriotism and is remembered every year.
Nowhere are Cinco de Mayo celebrations more colorful than in Puebla, where the legendary battle took place. The event is commemorated with parades and a mock-battle. Elsewhere in Mexico, celebrations are more low-key.
Día de la Independencia
The Grito de Dolores
In the early hours of September 16th, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest in the small town of Dolores, Guanajuato, rang the church bell to gather the townspeople. He called for the people of Mexico to rise up against the Spanish Crown, thus initiating Mexico's War of Independence. The country did not achieve independence until 1821, but it is this event, known as the Grito de Dolores which is commemorated every year in town squares across Mexico.
The largest Independence Day celebration takes place in Mexico City's Zocalo, which is decorated from the beginning of September with red, white and green lights and Mexican flags. On the 15th, at 11 pm the President of the Republic goes out onto the central balcony of the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), rings the bell (the same bell Hidalgo rang in 1810, brought to Mexico City in 1886) and cries to the people gathered in the square below, who enthusiastically respond "¡Viva!"
The words of the Grito may vary, but they go something like this:
At the end of the third ¡Viva Mexico! the crowd goes wild waving flags, ringing noisemakers and spraying foam. Then fireworks light up the sky as the crowd cheers. Later the Mexican national anthem is sung.
The celebrations continue on the 16th with civic ceremonies and parades - the largest taking place in Mexico City, but perhaps the most touching festivities are those in small communities in which school children of all ages participate.
Like most festivities, certain foods are considered representative of Independence Day. A favorite is pozole, a soup made of hominy and pork. Other foods have the colors of the Mexican flag - red white and green, like chiles en nogada. And of course, it just wouldn't be a party without plenty of mezcal and tequila!
Día De Muertos
Mexico Celebrates Life
Mexico celebrates a yearly tradition called Day of the Dead during the last days of October and the first days of November. Due to the duration of this festivity and the way people get involved it has been called "The Cult of Death".
As in many Latin American countries, Mexico commemorates the Day of the Dead or All Souls' Day on November 2nd. The legacy of past civilizations is graphically manifested on this occasion through people's beliefs that death is a transition from one life to another in different levels where communication exists between the living and the dead. This communication takes place once a year throughout the country.
Differing from the Roman Catholic imposed ritual to commemorate All Souls' Day, which is observed in many countries, the custom established by pre-colonial Mexican civilizations become a ceremony where indigenous beliefs blended with Catholic beliefs.
Therefore, the Day of the Dead in Mexico is not a mournful commemoration but a happy and colorful celebration where death takes a lively, friendly expression. Blessing the altar, Indigenous people believed that souls did not die, that they continued living in Mictlan, a special place to rest. In this place, the spirits rest until the day they could return to their homes to visit their relatives. Before the Spaniards arrived, they celebrated the return of the souls between the months of July and August. Once arrived, the Spaniards changed the festivities to November 2nd to coincide with All Souls' Day of the Catholic Church. Presently, two celebrations honoring the memory of loved ones who have died take place: On November 1st, the souls of the children are honored with special designs in the altars, using color white on flowers and candles. On November 2nd the souls of the adults are remembered with a variety of rituals, according to the different states of the Mexican republic.
12 De Diciembre
December 12th, Our Lady of Guadalupe
Before the Christmas season "officially" begins on December 16, day when the first Posada takes place, Mexicans join together for the festivities of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe, on December 12. This is one of the most important dates in the Mexican calendar. On this date, thousands of the faithful to Our Lady of Guadalupe, from all over the country make the most important pilgrimage of all those undertaken during the year to the Basílica of Guadalupe, in Mexico City, where the miraculous image of la Virgen Morena is kept.
On the day before the great celebration, thousands and thousands of people start to arrive. Many of them make the trip from their place of origin by bicycle. Trucks follow them to provide assistance and for them to have a place to rest if necessary, mainly men, tirelessly riding their bikes kilometer after kilometer, with their hearts set on seeing La Morenita - our Lady of Guadalupe. The monumental atrium of more than 46 thousand square meters begins to fill up.
Some of the pilgrims arrive on their knees as a sign of their enormous devotion and gratitude for a favor received. There are many groups of dancers and musicians that have come to offer their art to the Virgin. By nighttime, the atrium is filled to bursting with pilgrims. People of all ages and of all regions of the country gather together, physically as well as spiritually. A mass is officiated inside the Basilica and it is at this moment that I could really feel the warmth and spiritual richness of the people. Although it is in the Basílica de Guadalupe where the most important rituals and celebrations of this special date take place, there are fiestas all over the country in Honor of Mexico's Patron Saint. Practically everywhere where there is an altar to the Virgin, a special celebration is held on her day. By the early hours of the morning, in every niche and cranny of the country, the burst of fire crackers is heard and their brilliant lights crown this great fiesta dedicated to the Mother of all Mexicans...Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In Mexico, the Christmas holidays begin unofficially with the saint's day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But can decorations appear anytime after the Day of the Dead on November 2.
The festivities are in full swing with the beginning of the posadas — celebrated each evening from December 16 to 24. They are, in fact, a novenario — nine days of religious observance based on the nine months that Maria carried Jesus in her womb. The posadas re-enact Mary and Joseph's cold and difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter; in Spanish, the word means "lodging".
Traditionally, a party is held each night in a neighborhood home. At dusk, guests gather outside the house with children dressed as shepherds, angels and sometimes, Mary and Joseph. An angel leads the procession, followed by Mary and Joseph or by guests carrying their images. The adults follow, carrying lighted candles.
The "pilgrims" sing a song asking for shelter, and the hosts sing a reply, finally opening the doors to the guests and offering hot ponche, fried rosette cookies known as buñuelos, steaming hot tamales and other festive foods. The party ends with a piñata in the shape of the Christmas star. The last posada, held on December 24, is followed by midnight mass, a tradition that lives on in countless Mexican towns and cities.
The Piñata is a must at Posada time. There are several stories regarding its origin. Many people say that it is derived from the Italian custom of giving out clay pots of gifts during lent or carnival - pignatta means pot in Italian. Probably the name is derived from this, but there are also similar Pre-Hispanic customs. A clay pot was decorated to look like a cloud for some of the rites honoring Tlaloc, the Rain God. When it was broken, it would shower down food and good things to the ground, much as the rain brought crops and flowers to the people.
Nowadays, the piñata is a game enjoyed by children and grownups alike. It is usually filled with fruits, nuts and candies; sometimes small toys are added. The piñata has become another wonderful expression of Mexican folk art. Figures ranging from the traditional Star of Bethlehem to action figures based on hit international films are hand crafted with great skill and ingenuity.
Pastorelas are another version of the theatrical representations used by the missionaries to impart religious knowledge to the indigenous peoples of Mexico. These may have been based on the auto sacramental performances which became popular about the time of the conquest and reached their peak during Spain's Golden Age, with playwrights such as Pedro Calderón de la Barca. He is famous in the Spanish-speaking world for juxtaposing infinite good to the confusion of human life in works such as The Constant Prince (El príncipe constante), written in 1629. This theatrical genre in turn was probably based on the Passion Plays which were popular throughout Medieval Europe to depict the Passion of Christ, but later incorporated the Devil and became increasingly more vernacular. The Pastorelas in Mexico followed this tradition; starting as simple parables of the struggle of good against evil, ending with the triumph of good represented by the birth of Christ, these plays became increasingly playful and irreverent. Nowadays, the Pastorelas, performed in various forms in church atriums, town squares and theaters, range from political satire, commentary on the evils of modernity, or even bawdy scenes, to school plays of naïve simplicity.
Noche Buenas (Poinsettias)
These beautiful red flowers which have become a symbol of Christmas are native to Mexico. In Náhuatl they were called Cuitlaxochitl or star flowers, and in Spanish they are known as Noche Buena or Christmas eve. The English name of Poinsettia was adopted in honor of a US diplomat named Joel Poinsett, who took cuttings back to North Carolina with him after his stay in Mexico, and began cultivating them in the United States. They come in several colors, white, yellow, though the most well-known is a bright red. Pre-Hispanic Mexicans also used the flower for medicinal purposes: the red blossoms were believed to stimulate circulation to the heart if placed on the chest, and were also crushed and applied to skin infections.
El Nacimiento (Nativity Set)
The birth of Jesus is also commemorated with nativity scenes, called nacimientos, which means births. Although this tradition comes from Europe, where it is still widespread, in Mexico it has also become a thriving source of handicrafts; nativity scenes in wood, clay, metal, glass, wax, straw and almost any material you can think of, are another rich expression of popular art. Although the scene is set in advance, the baby Jesus is placed in the manger on Christmas eve. It was considered an honor for one of the children to be selected to place the main figure in the manger.
Navidad y Año Nuevo (Christmas & New Year's Eve)
Christmas itself is usually celebrated on Christmas eve in Mexico with a midnight mass and a late dinner. More modern influences have introduced the Christmas tree and Santa Claus along with the traditional crèche. The New Year is welcomed in with a big party, and tradition calls for each guest to eat a grape with each tolling of the church bell at midnight to sweeten the twelve months to come.