From Año Nuevo (New Year) to Día del Maestro (Teacher's Day), Mexico's upheld celebrations have helped shape and maintain a multitude of customs, that truly influence the character of this vibrant Latin American culture. Unlike many countries, where annual holidays are categorized in accordance with being “national” or “religious” in origin, Mexico's Public Holidays are diversified into civic, statutory and festival categories. Civic holidays are determined in accordance with regional as opposed to national observance, and tend not to constitute a day off for most working Mexicans. Conversely, statutory days are nationally observed – particularly Dìa de de la Independencia – entitling all to paid leave and usually bringing retail and commercial centers to a close. Festivity holidays are largely religious in origin, although only around 50% actually constitute a recognized day off or “statutory holiday” according to Mexican law.
Año Nuevo (New Year's Day) - January 1st
Every predominantly Christianized culture on the planet shares the date – January 1st, as the official beginning of the New Year and it's no different in Mexico. Much of the day's customs - such as dining with extended family and street parties are commonplace; Año Nuevo fiestas are considered far more exuberant, with fireworks and thematic street plays often involving entire communities.
Día de los Santos Reyes (Epiphany or King's Day) – January 6th
Within Mexico, Día de los Santos Reyes commemorates the visit of the Magi (wise men) to Jesus, shortly after his birth. A typically Catholic and Orthodox interpretation, Día de los Santos Reyes is celebrated with the giving of presents to children; parties and consumption of a “Spanish King's cake” known as Rosca de Reyes. Tradition dictates that he whom finds the figure of infant Jesus in his slice, must host the party for Candlemas (February 2nd).
Día de la Candelaría (Candlemas) – February 2nd
Candlemas has many orientations throughout the world – most notably Groundhog day in the USA. In Mexico, Candlemas remains very much a Catholic tradition, celebrating the last official day of Christmas according to the Christian calendar. Families commonly dress an icon of Jesus for Morning Mass and receive a blessing from the priest post-service. Later, entire families congregate for hosted parties at the home of the appointed relative, according to the Rosca de Reyes tradition.
Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) – First Monday of February, as of 2006.
Día de la Constitución is a Fiestas Patrias (patriotic festival) marking the anniversaries of the post Revolution Constitutions of 1857, and more importantly, 1917. As a statutory holiday, all Mexicans are entitled leave from their respective 'day jobs' and many commercial and retail outlets decline to open as a mark of respect. The day is commonly observed by attending Mass, followed by a family dinner or communal party.
Día de San Valentín (Valentine's Day) – February 14th
Celebration of Día de San Valentín in Mexico is largely similar to the West, with the exchanging of gifts, cards and platitudes to express one's love for a partner or spouse. Mexican men (possibly more commonly than even the Italians) take advantage of the day's significance, to serenade partners with a song.
Carnaval (Carnival) – February 15th - 20th
Carnaval is thought to have been adopted from nearby Brazil, and is largely a celebration of excess prior to lent. Not all regions or towns of Mexico partake in this new tradition, however it is becoming more widespread. A succession of street parades mark the start of the day, with community celebrations evolving into all-day parties in some areas.
Día del Ejército (Army's Day or Loyalty Day) – February 19th
Originally incepted to commemorate President Madero's transportation (by Cadets of the Militar College) to the Palacio Nacional, Día del Ejército has evolved to become a general day of celebration for the Mexican Army itself. Military parades and flag raising rites are common throughout Mexico, along with church services to remember those whom fought for their nation.
Natalicio de Benito Juarez (Bernito Juarez' Birthday) – March 21st
From his Zapotec roots, to his democratic style, “La Reforma” (The Reformer) is revered the length and breadth of Mexico, for his hand in changing the fortunes of a generation. President for five successive terms, Bernito Juarez is one of the most celebrated politicians of modern Mexico; his memory is upheld by many a dedicated community,with military processions, community get-togethers and church services in honor of his life's work.
Festivales de Primavera (Spring Festival/ Equinox) – March 20th - 21st
Festivales de Primavera is an observance deeply routed in both Maya and indigenous cultures, however, modern Mexico also upholds the tradition with exuberant parades and religious ceremonies, giving thanks for the birth of new life/ crop. The temple of Kulkulcan at Chichen Itza is a popular place for celebrating Equinox, where a Mayan legacy continues to be played out each year. The serpent statue of Quetzlacoatl (located at the base of the pyramid) is set as such, that when the sun begins its alignment with the Equator, a huge serpent shadow begins a slow ascent of the temple. Equinox is confirmed once the serpent reaches the plinth atop the temple, signaling the official start of Spring.
Heroica Defensa de Veracruz (Heroic Defense of Veracruz) – April 21st
The Battle of Veracruz was a six-month long affair following invasion by American warships U.S.S Florida and BB-31, during a key period of the Mexican Revolution. Heroica Defensa de Veracruz commemorates cadets lost during the ensuing scuffles, led by Lieutenant José Azueta, whom was one of many that died in battle. Observation of this day is not limited to Veracruz, however the majority of honorary military parades occur within that State.
Día del Niño (Children's Day) – April 30th
Día del Niño is a day set aside in honor of Mexico's children, usually marked by an entire day off from school and the giving of small gifts. Some regions have adapted the concept, as a commemorative day for children recently deceased.
Día del Trabajo (Labor Day) – May 1st
Día del Trabajo marks two key dates/ motions in history (Cananea Sonora 1906 and Rio Blanco, Veracruz 1907), that formulated an eventual change in the working conditions, welfare and rights of Mexican workers. It is a common rite to burn effigies of early 20th Century politicians and conduct protests of similar theme, however, the day is largely celebrated as a day of rest or familial togetherness.
Dia de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross) – May 3rd
Rarely observed within modern cities of Mexico, Dia de la Santa Cruz dates back to the colonial era and is also considered the “Feast of Masons” by some. The tradition of adorning houses with a floral cross allegedly dates back to the building of Missions in Spain. A church could not be blessed unless it was hung (with a cross) therefore friars would create a temporary cross out of flowers. Day of the Holy Cross passed into Mexico with Spanish conquistadors and has remained a day of observance ever since.
Cinco de Mayo, Battala de Puebla (Fifth of May, Battle of Puebla) – May 5th
Mistakenly celebrated by citizens of the U.S as the day of Mexican Independence, Cinco de Mayo in fact refers to the historic Battle of Puebla (between France and Mexico) in 1862. Led by General. Ignacio Zaragoza, the Mexican forces finally defeated the French impostors after nearly two years of civil unrest at Puebla. The day is marked with convivial street parties, commemorative church services/ thanksgiving and the creation of a sumptuous feast with a plethora of national dishes (such as Carne Esada). Mexico City celebrations are notorious, with marching bands and re-enactments of the final battle both popular modes of remembrance.
Natalicio de Miguel Hidalgo (Miguel Hidalgo's Birthday) – May 8th
Natalicio de Miguel Hidalgo commemorates the birth of Mexico's most iconic revolutionary in 1753. Instrumental in provoking the early War for Mexican Independence, Hidalgo is accredited more than any other, for restoring Mexico to its rightful freedom from the Spanish. His birthday is often marked by a minute's silence within town plazas, followed by several parades and even street parties.
Día de las Madres (Mother's Day) – May 10th
Usually celebrated prior to Easter in the West, Día de las Madres is arguably of even greater significance, such is the upheld tradition of a strong family unit in Mexico. Women are traditionally blessed with gifts and thanksgiving feasts, usually expected not to undertake work on this day.
Día del Maestro (Teacher's Day) - May 15th
A tradition established to honor academic teachers of every subject, Día del Maestro is commonly upheld by children and usually entails the giving of card or gift to one's primary tutor/ mentor.
Día del estudiante (Student's Day) – May 23rd
Less significant than Día del Maestro, Student's Day continues to be observed in various parts of Mexico, celebrating scholars and academics. Prayers are commonly said at Mass, as is a blessing for future academic success.
Día de la Marina (Navy Day) – June 1st
Honoring various arms of the military has become commonplace in Mexico, largely due to the role each has played in the War for Independence and subsequent civil unrest. Día de la Marina honors members of the Mexican Navy both past and present, whom have and continue to protect the security and freedom of Mexico.
Día del Padre (Father's Day) - 3rd Sunday of June
A celebration of paternity and the blessing of fatherhood, Día del Padre is a role reversal celebration, honoring the male member of the household. It's common to give thanks with the bestowing of gift, cards and favors, along with a home-cooked meal prepared by the maternal member of the household.
Fiesta de San Juan Bautista (Day of St. John The Baptist) – June 25th
Many regions of Mexico continue to uphold traditional celebrations for various days of the saints, including John the Baptist. Commonly associated with water baptisms, many towns feature a traditional 'pool dunking' as the highlight of a party or fair.
Día de los Niños Héroes (Day of the Boy Heroes) – September 13th
Commemorating the Battle of Chapultepec (1847), Día de los Niños Héroes is largely concentrated upon the six cadets whom fought under General Nicolás Bravo. Despite his calls for retreat, Lieutenant Juan de la Barrera, along with five cadets aged 13 - 19 continued to fight the barrage of American cavaliers - to the death. Military parades and marching bands are commonplace in many towns observing this day, however some also honor a minute's silence as a mark of respect.
Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores) – September 15th
Forever ingrained in history as Mexico's war cry for freedom, Grito de Dolores also marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. Each year, a re-enactment of the now famous scene within the little Guanajuato town of Dolores Hidalgo refreshes the memory of a generation. A revolutionary priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo famously conspired with his men to overthrow the Spanish, subsequently appearing upon the church balcony to announce it to the world. His “Cry of Freedom” has since become the motto of Mexican Independence.
Día de la Independencia (Independence Day) – September 16th
September 16th is the official commemoration of Miguel Hidalgo leading his troops to war against the Spanish in 1810. The date subsequently became known as Día de la Independencia, in honor of the Independence War. Civic ceremonies and parades occur throughout Mexico, with the largest gathering being at Plaza de la Constitucion, Mexico City.
Natalicio de José Maria Morelos y Pavón (Birthday of José Maria Morelos y Pavón) – September 30th
Father José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón was a Mexican Roman Catholic priest, chiefly known for his activities with the War of Independence Movement. He assumed the military title of Generalisimo after joining the Mexican Army in the late 18th Century and subsequently led the revolutionaries into battle against the Spanish, after Miguel Hidalgo was executed in 1811. He led a successive number of victories until 1815, when he too was captured and executed for high treason. Along with Miguel Hidalgo, he is considered one of the greatest revolutionaries in Mexican history; his name honored with a series of national parades and ceremonies.
Descubrimiento de América (Columbus Day) – October 12th
In 1492, Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus set sail on his maiden voyage from Spain, intent on reaching the fabled shores of Japan. Instead, he found himself shoring up at the Bahamas, leading to three further successive attempts and the discovery of the Americas. His discovery would lead to the eventual invasion by the Spanish from 1500, therefore he is often accredited with the Spanish colonization of Mexico. Although unreservedly proud of their Independence, many Mexicans still mark this day due to the cultural and historical legacies left behind.
Día de San Judas Tadeo (Day of Saint Jude Tadeo) – October 28th
Día de San Judas Tadeo is an annual celebration of Saint Jude, predominantly upheld within Ciudad de Mexico. The Feast Day commemorates the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, revered by the poor, needy and lost and a symbol of hope for many poverty stricken Mexicans of today. Mass services dedicated to the “Last Apostle of Jesus” are a common start to the day, swiftly followed by a huge communal banquet and evening fireworks.
Día de Todos los Santos or Día de los Angelitos (All Saints' Day or Day of the Little Angels) – November 1st
Collectively, November 1st and 2nd in Mexico are often referred to as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), however in many areas, both dates have entirely unique significance. Día de Todos los Santos commemorates All Saints' Day, formally dedicated to the lives/ memories of passed relatives under 18 years of age. In some areas, November 1st is affectionately known as Día de los Angelitos, marked by the creation of a shrine to the memory of a child; communal dancing in the main town plaza and candlelit vigils or wakes at the graveside. Contrary to popular belief, the celebration is extremely lively and upbeat, commemorating the life of a child/ person rather than the sadness of their passing.
Día de los Fieles Difuntos or Día de los Muertos (All Souls Day or Day of the Dead) – November 2nd
Few countries in the world commemorate their dead quite as they do in Mexico. In stark contrast to the often parodying celebrations for Halloween in the West, people of Mexico commemorate the souls of the departed without much of the ghoulish tomfoolery. It isn't all that uncommon for youngsters to don macabre or ghostly masks, however the day is largely dedicated to celebrating the lives of deceased friends and relatives. Exuberant parties; street dancing; shrine worship and midnight services are just some of the common rites of remembrance conducted in Mexico.
Día de la Revolución (Revolution Day) – November 20th
Usually honored every third Monday of November, Día de la Revolución marks the “uprising” of Revolutionaries against the Porfirian Regime of 1910, led by Francisco I. Madero. His motives led to his inauguration as President from 1911-1913 and the exile of former President Porfirio Díaz to France. As a statutory commemoration, Día de la Revolución entitles Mexicans to a day of respite and is marked by a series of key national processions and parades.
Día de la Virgen de Guadalude (Day of The Virgin of Guadelupe) – December 12th
Established by Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin following the legendary vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe upon Teyepac Hill, Día de la Virgen de Guadalude is now considered a national celebration, with honorary service and parading of icon throughout Mexico.
Las Posadas - December 16th - 20th
Although not officially regarded a national holiday, many Mexicans choose Las Posadas as an extended break in the run up to Christmas. Biblically, Las Posadas refers to the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, during which they sought shelter at various roadside inns along the way. The journey is often recreated for children, a candlelit procession to various Nativity scenes within the local area bringing that famous journey to life.
Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) – December 24th
While a small number of Eastern countries traditionally observe Nochebuena as a national/ Christian holiday, most do not. In Mexico, Nochebuena is celebrated much like in the West – the usual last minute shopping being foremost on everyone's mind. A relatively modern tradition is the creation of Gelatina de Colores, small sweets containing milky and fruit Jell-O for stunning flavor and color contrasts.
Navidad (Christmas) – December 25th
Like most Christian or Orthodox countries, Mexico observes Navidad as both a national and secular holiday, during which all major retail, commercial and financial districts are closed down. Gifts are bestowed; feasts consumed and parties attended, in addition to the traditional morning church Mass for practicing Catholics.
Dia de los Santos Innocentes (Day of The Innocents) – December 28th
Often likened to Western 'April Fool's Day', Dia de los Santos Innocentes is a time for mischief and merrymaking, preying on the innocent 'for a laugh' or practical joke. Those who fall fool to a trick or joke are teased with the age-old taunt “Inocente palomita” meaning “Innocent little dove”. In context, it is mildly patronizing for those of a gullible or naïve disposition.
Año Nuevo Vìspera (New Year's Eve) – December 31st
London has Big Ben; New York its Times Square. In Mexico, the huge Zocalo of Ciudad de Mexico becomes the focal point for televised Año Nuevo Vìspera celebrations. Many regional towns of size also follow suit, providing entertainment in the form of mariachi and marimba bands, opera singers and choirs, in addition to various games and communal dances. For Orthodox Christians, attending Midnight Mass is an integral part of hailing the New Year, giving thanks for previous prosperity and welcoming the new in the name of the Holy Spirit. Some also take Communion at this time. Family traditions vary for Año Nuevo Vìspera, however the cooking of Bacalao (dried, salted codfish) and indulging in a glass of ponche (punch) are expected.