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Mexico Culture

Official and Religious Holidays

January 1: Año Nuevo (New Year's Day), is an official Mexican holiday.

January 6: Día de los Santos Reyes is the day when Mexicans exchange Christmas presents in accordance with the arrival of the three gift-bearing wisemen to Jesus Christ. This day culminates the Christmastime festivities.

January 17: Feast Day of de San Antonio de Abad is a religious holiday during which the Catholic Church allows animals to enter the church for blessing.

February 2: Día de la Candelaria is a religious holiday that is celebrated with processions, dancing, bullfights in certain cities, and the blessing of the seeds and candles. The festivities are best seen in: San Juan de los Lagos, Jalapa; Talpa de Allende, Jalisco; and Santa Maria del Tuxla, Oaxaca. Since some of the tourist highlights are roads away from each other, the best way to go about your stay here in Mexico is to use a car hire. Like rentals in other parts of the world like car rental ireland, cars for hire are fit for every travel purpose. February 3-8 (2005): Carnaval is an official Mexican holiday that kicks off a five-day celebration of the libido before the Catholic lent. Beginning the weekend before Lent, Carnaval is celebrated exhubrantly with parades, floats and dancing in the streets. Port towns such as Ensenada, La Paz, Mazatlán and Veracruz are excellent places to watch Carnaval festivities. Dates change slightly as follows: 2006: Feb 23-28; 2007: Feb 15-20; 2008: Jan 31 - Feb 5; 2009: Feb 19-24; 2010: Feb 11-16.

February 5: Día de la Constitución an official holiday that commemorates Mexico's Constitution.

February 24: Flag Day, This Mexican national holiday honors the Mexican flag.

March 19: St. Joseph's Day, Día de San José, a religious holiday best seen in Tamulin, San Luis Potosi.

March 21: The Birthday of Benito Juárez, a famous Mexican president and national hero, this is an official Mexican holiday.

Semana Santa: Semana Santa is the holy week that ends the 40-day Lent period. This week includes Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is Mexican custom to break confetti-filled eggs over the heads of friends and family.

May 1: Primero de Mayo is the Mexican national holiday that is equivalent to the U.S. Labor Day. May 3: Holy Cross Day Día de la Santa Cruz, when construction workers decorate and mount crosses on unfinished buildings, followed by fireworks and picnics at the construction site.

May 5: Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican national holiday that honors the Mexican victory over the French army at Puebla de los Angeles in 1862.

May 10: Mother's Day, Due to the importance of the mother in Mexican culture, Mother's Day is an especially significant holiday.

June 1: Navy Day is an official Mexican holiday.

June 24: Saint John the Baptist Day is celebrated with religious festivities, fairs, and popular jokes connected to getting dunked in water.

June 29: Fiesta of Saint Peter and Saint Paul notable celebrations in Mexcaltitán, Nayarit and Zaachila, Oaxaca.

September 1: Annual State of the Union, Though this date is an approximation, the President delivers the address in the autumn.

September 16: Mexican Independence Day celebrates the day that Miguel Hidalgo delivered El Grito de Dolores, and announced the Mexican revolt against Spanish rule.

October 12: Día de la Raza, This day celebrates Columbus' arrival to the Americas, and the historical origins of the Mexican race.

November 1&2: Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an important Mexican holiday that merges Pre-Columbian beliefs and modern Catholocism. Europe's All Saints' Day and the Aztec worship of the dead contribute to these two days that honor Mexico's dead.

November 20: Mexican Revolution Day, This official Mexican holiday celebrates the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

December 12: Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, or the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is celebrated with a feast honoring Mexico's patron saint.

December 16: Las Posadas celebrates Joseph and Mary's search for shelter in Bethlehem with candlelight processions that end at various nativity scenes. Las Posadas continues through January 6.

December 25: Navidad, the Christmas holiday.

Carnaval

The festival of Carnaval is celebrated as a last indulgence of carnal pleasures that Catholics must give up for 40 days of fasting during Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The word Carnaval is derived from Latin, meaning take away or goodbye to flesh, and strict Catholics will give up meat eating during Lent.

Carnaval is officially celebrated for 5 days, leading up to Ash Wednesday, with the most vigorous celebration taking place over the one weekend. The wearing of masks during Carnaval is said to be a pagan practice as protection from evil spirits, but most likely evolved as a way to participate fully in the celebration with some anonymity.

Many cities have Carnaval celebration of various sizes, but the biggest events take place in the port cities, with the largest of all in Mazatlan. Mazatlan's Carnaval is said to attract well over 300,000 people, making it the third largest such event behind Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. Port towns such as Ensenada, La Paz and Veracruz are also excellent places to watch Carnaval festivities. This is one of the few times that hotel reservations are both necessary and more expensive. If you plan to attend, make sure you have arrangements in place several months in advance.

During Carnaval, everyone participates in the many events and activities that make up the celebration. People of all ages throw and break cascarones, confetti filled eggshells, over each other. There are many booths that offer food, drinks, snacks and games and crafts of every type. Music of all sorts is played non-stop, by live bands, DJs or the boom box.

Some Carnavals also have a collection of rides like those found at an amusement park. Depending on the town, there may be many organized parties, outdoor festivals and masquerade balls. Many of these types of events charge an entrance fee, or may be entirely private. Mazatlan hosts a public street fair and dance for a small admission, as well as on offshore fireworks display that commemorates an old naval battle.

During the final days, many different events present awards, one for the Flower Queen, and literary awards to those who have written the best Flowery Poem. In Mazatlán, a prestigious national award is presented for the best unpublished literary work from anywhere in Mexico, called the Clemencia Isaura Poetry award.

In the evenings there are fireworks displays including the traditional castillo, or castle, a large fireworks platform unique to Mexico. On Saturday evening, there is the coronation of the Carnaval Queen and the humorous El Rey Feo, or Ugly King. There will also be the burning of an effigy, usually someone unpopular at the time, known as the Quema de Mal Humor or Burning of Bad Humor.

Sunday is the biggest organized celebration of the weekend, and typically includes the big float parade, and lots of musicians playing on stages and dancing in the streets. When Monday arrives, there is El Día del Marido Oprimido, or the Day of the Oppressed Husband. On this one day, for 23.5 hours, husbands have the freedom to do as they wish ... within the law and religious faith of course.

By the time Fat Tuesday rolls around, many people have to get back to work, and just about everyone has had their fill of revelry and indulgence, ready to accept the restrictions of Lent.

The dates for the celebration change slightly from year to year, according to the following schedule (provided by the Mazatlan Carnaval promotions department): 2006: Feb 23-28; 2007: Feb 15-20; 2008: Jan 31 - Feb 5; 2009: Feb 19-24; 2010: Feb 11-16.

If you're looking for a festival of dancing, costumes, music, fireworks, food, drink and just being wild and crazy ... then Carnaval is the holiday for you.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa is Mexico's second most important holiday season of the year, behind only Christmas, and runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. In addition to attending Mass on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, many Mexicans will also take advantage of the holiday to go on vacation. If you're planning to visit Mexico during Semana Santa, make sure you checked on availability in advance.

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, celebrates the Christian holiday of Easter. Mexico is nearly 90 percent Catholic, so this religious holiday takes on a special meaning that the entire community shares and participates in.

All of Mexico celebrates Semana Santa, but certain cities and villages are better known for celebrating the holiday, and often provide reenactments of the events leading up to Christ's crucifixion on the cross. The best known cities are Ixtapalapa (in Mexico City), Pátzcuaro, San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas), and Taxco. Smaller and silent torch lit processions, Processión del Silencio, also take place in Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosí.

Each community celebrates the holiday with it's own regional flavor, however, popular with the whole country is the breaking of cascarones, colored egg shells filled with confetti, over friends and family. Churches will be filled with those attending Mass on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and families will take this opportunity to be together.

The most moving event of Semana Santa is the reenactment of the Passion of Christ, or the Passion Play. The event's in the mentioned cities are sponsored by religious or community groups, and can include large processions of penitents, sometimes on their knees, a portrayal of the last supper and the crucifixion itself.

Something to be prepared for are the penitent ones or penitentes - the men and women who show their faith and penitence by inflicting pain on themselves during this most holy week - an ancient tradition dating to the middle ages and introduced to Mexico from Spain almost 500 years ago. Self flagellation in the streets is included as are the Animas, women dressed in black with hoods and chained together carry crucifixes.

In many cities, important religious images from the church will be displayed, traditional altars are decorated at home and in the streets, and flower decorations and palm crosses will be found everywhere. The central colonial cities seem to celebrate this holiday with the most reverence and tradition, and if you wish to see the beauty of traditional Mexico, Semana Santa would be well worth seeing for yourself.

Cinco de Mayo

History

The battle at Puebla in 1862 happened at a violent and chaotic time in Mexico's history. Mexico had finally gained independence from Spain in 1821 after a difficult and bloody struggle, and a number of internal political takeovers and wars, including the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Mexican Civil War of 1858, had mostly wiped out the national economy.

During this period of struggle Mexico had accumulated heavy debts to several nations, including Spain, England and France, who were demanding payment. Similar debt to the U.S. was previously settled after the Mexican-American War. France was eager to add to its empire at that time, and used the debt issue to move forward with goals of establishing its own leadership in Mexico. Realizing France's intent of empire expansion, Spain and England withdrew their support. When Mexico finally stopped making any loan payments, France took action on it's own to install Napoleon's relative, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, as ruler of Mexico.

France invaded at the gulf coast of Mexico along the state of Veracruz (see map) and began to march toward Mexico City, a distance today of less than 600 miles. Although American President Abraham Lincoln was sympathetic to Mexico's cause, and for which he is honored in Mexico, the U.S. was involved in its own Civil War at the time and was unable to provide any direct assistance.

Marching on toward Mexico City, the French army encountered strong resistance at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. Lead by Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, a small, poorly armed militia estimated at 4,500 men were able to stop and defeat a well outfitted French army of 6,500 soldiers, which stopped the invasion of the country. The victory was a glorious moment for Mexican patriots, which at the time helped to develop a needed sense of national unity, and is the cause for the historical date's celebration.

Unfortunately, the victory was short lived. Upon hearing the bad news, Napoleon had found an excuse to send more troops overseas to try and invade Mexico again, even against the wishes of the French populace. 30,000 more troops and a full year later, the French were eventually able to depose the Mexican army, take over Mexico City and install Maximilian as the ruler of Mexico.

Maximilian's rule of Mexico was also short lived, from 1864 to 1867. With the American Civil War now over, the U.S. began to provide more political and military assistance to Mexico to expel the French, after which Maximilian was executed by the Mexicans - today his bullet riddled shirt is on display in the museum at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. So despite the eventual French invasion of Mexico City, Cinco de Mayo honors the bravery and victory of General Zaragoza's small, outnumbered militia at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Today the holiday of Cinco de Mayo is more of a regional holiday in Mexico, celebrated most vigorously in the state of Puebla. There is some limited recognition of the holiday throughout the country with different levels of enthusiasm, but it's nothing like that found in Puebla. Celebrating Cinco de Mayo has become increasingly popular along the U.S.-Mexico border and in parts of the U.S. that have a high population of people with a Mexican heritage. In these areas the holiday is a celebration of Mexican culture, of food, music, beverage and customs unique to Mexico.

Commercial interests in the United States and Mexico have also been successful in promoting the holiday, with products and services focused on Mexican food, beverages and festivities, with music playing a more visible role as well. Several cities throughout the U.S. hold parades and concerts during the week following up to May 5th, so that Cinco de Mayo has become a bigger holiday north of the border than to the south, and adopted into the holiday calendar of more and more people every year.

[Sources: Encyclopedia Encarta, Encyclopedia Britanica, Prescott's Mexico:1900, HistoryChannel.com, other sources.]

Mexico's Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead holiday)

Día de los Muertos is an important Mexican holiday that merges Pre-Columbian beliefs and modern Catholocism. Europe's All Saints' Day and the Aztec worship of the dead contribute to these two days that honor Mexico's dead. Dead relatives, both young and old, are allowed to return to the mortal world for two days to visit loved ones.

Mexicans welcome the spirits of their families with delicious food, tasty candies decorated like skulls, and lighted candles to guide them home. Gravestones are decorated, and the whole family will gather in the graveyard to await and pay respects to the deceased.

Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe - December 12

The Celebration

On this day people from all parts of Mexico make their way to Mexico's chief religious center at the Basilica of the Virgen of Guadalupe, located in Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo, a northern neighbourhood of Mexico City. There, they will celebrate the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) with a mass ceremony and a traditional fair in her honor. The Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe became an national holiday in 1859.

Today, tens of thousands of people travel to Mexico City to visit the place where the Virgin appeared to the Mexican People. The holiday is a national fiesta that includes traditional music and fun attractions. Pilgrims bring presents to the virgin, usually bouquets of flowers while other visitors will perform dances and song for her. Some pilgirms walk on their knees on the stone street leading to the Basilica, asking for miracles or giving thanks to the virgin for a petition granted.

At the plaza the fiesta starts after the mass ceremony with delicious food, vendors selling crafts and clothes, along with many performences of music and dance. In other parts of Mexico, similar festivities are organized with some unique variations of the celebration. In some places, altars of flowers are built in her honor. Other parts have traditional food prepared like buñuelos, raspados and tortas as well as activities like parades, rodeos, and bullfights.

History of the Celebration

The Story behind this celebration demonstrates how the Catholic faith gained importance in the hearts of the Mexican people. It is a story of miracles and faith which mark a change in the history of Mexico.

The Spaniards, after they conquered Mexico, had in mind the goal of converting the indigenous indians into catholicism. But the spaniards encountered many difficulties because the Mexican people had existing strong beliefs in their many gods. It wasn't until the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego that this started to change.

Juan Diego was a young indigenous Indian walking toward the Hill of Tepeyac on December 12, 1531 when he was stopped by the appearence of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary appearing to Juan Diego was a young woman with black hair and dark skin which looked more like an indigenous person. She ordered Juan Diego to go to the Bishop and ask him to build a church at the Hill of Tepeyac. Juan Diego then ran to the Bishop to tell him what the Virgin Mary had told him. The Bishop didn't believe what this young men was telling him and decided to ignore the petition.

The Virgin Mary appeared again in front of Juan Diego and told him to collect flowers from the top of the hill, but because it was December Juan Diego knew that there was not going to be any flowers at the rocky hill. Upon reaching the top of the hill, Juan Diego was surprised to see that it was covered with colorful and beautiful flowers. Juan Diego, as he was asked to, collected the flowers using his overcoat and ran again to see the Bishop.

Juan Diego gave the coat full of flowers to the bishop, and here the bishop discovered the image of Virgin Mary's picture was miraculously traced on the coat. Seeing both the unseasonal flowers and the image of the Virgin, the Bishop realized Juan Diego had told him the truth and The Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe was built on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City.

Celebrating Christmas in Mexico - Posadas y Navidad

Almost everyone in Mexico takes the last two weeks in December off. One of the biggest fiestas of the year - in small towns, big cities, the beach resorts, everywhere - Christmas in Mexico is celebrated in a variety of ways. A common denominator is the posada, a recreation of Mary (on donkey) and Joseph searching for a "room at the inn." Accompanying them is a choir of small children who knock on doors asking for lodging for the weary couple. By previous arrangement, there are no takers. The procession, which takes place during the 12 days before Christmas, moves along, growing in numbers until it reaches the church, where mass is held. After the service, the children get to enjoy a festive piñata party.

You can expect to find some regional differences, which makes a Mexican Christmas not only a cross cultural mix, but a varied and interesting experience.

For example, in the Ajijic area, a "riviera resort community" suburb of Guadalajara, in the little village of San Antonio, the posada is a most moving and spiritual experience. Same for Taxco and Querétaro. Catch the event in these areas if you can. Also in Querétaro, there's a huge parade on December 23.

In the town of Cajititlán (near Guadalajara), as in many other places in the Hispanic world, they celebrate the holidays on Three Kings Day (Epiphany), which falls on January 6th. In fact, this was the traditional time to celebrate the gift-giving aspect of Christmas throughout Mexico. But in most parts of the country, the holiday now coincides with the day of celebration north-of-the-border: December 25. Many children now expect gifts on both days.

The ritual often begins in the afternoon or at dinner time when the family shares a rosca or two (a rosca is a sweet, ring-shaped loaf with a ceramic muñeca (doll) representing the Christ child baked inside). Unlike a cracker-jack box where the winner takes all, whoever is unlucky enough to get the doll has to throw a party on February 2 (Día de Candelaría) for all the others present. In this case, the "winner", who has to foot the time and expense, is often the loser. (Note: on the afternoon of Día de Candelaría, dancers gather for a performance in the churchyard.

Sometimes as many as six different dance groups perform at the same time. The dancers are divided among those portraying Christians and Moors, each competing for the most attention. Other groups are represented as well. In small towns where this festival is held, there's also a special market on that day.) The party itself usually includes some favorite dish spiced with a zesty regional molé sauce.

The fiesta for the Virgin de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca, December 16-18, signals the beginning of the navidád festivities. The highlight, again, is the posada, held at a different church each night from December 18-24. On December 23, the annual Noche de los Rábanos takes place. This is a very festive time when booths are set up along the length and breadth of the zócalo. The focal point of each booth is an exhibit of hand-carved, giant radishes. Most often, these sculptures carry a religious theme. But this is not necessarily so. The subject could be comical, a scene from a bullfight or anything that strikes the fancy of the sculptor. On Nochebuena, processions from various churches fan out to the zócalo. There are also colorfully-decorated floats, music, traditional dancing, and piñata prizes. The crowning glory of this fiesta is a mammoth fireworks display.

On Christmas Eve, in Santiago Tuxtla (Veracruz), everybody assembles in the zócalo for an evening of dancing the huapango to the accompaniment of a jarocho band.

In Quiroga (Michoacán), villagers present Nativity plays (Pastorelas) at churches on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.

México City, takes on a festive air with the famed zócalo (or sometimes called the Plaza de la Constitución) ablaze with a sea of colorful lights festooning this ancient square. The festival of lights goes on throughout the Christmas/New Year's period. In addition, there's a colorful flag-raising/lowering ceremony every morning and afternoon during the holidays. The rest of the city is similarly decorated. And, of course, traditional services are held in the city's many churches.

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