All over the world people celebrate a variety of holidays. Some are holidays shared in common by a large array of disparate cultures, but many are holidays unique to a certain region, country, or people. For those looking to understand a new culture, there is no better place to start than looking into the histories and traditions behind their unique holidays. Mexico, with its mix of European influences and indigenous traditions, celebrates a range of distinctive holidays, and below we will examine the significance of some of the most popular of these.
Of course the first cultural holiday that usually comes to mind when thinking of Mexico is the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Día de Muertos is officially celebrated on November 2nd, but is often extended to include October 31st and November 1st. These three dates may sound familiar, as they coincide with the Catholic observance of Allhallowtide, which encompasses All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. This is no accident; Día de Muertos is a product of the integrated heritage of Mexico, combining the Catholic traditions of the Old World with the Pre-Columbian traditions of Mesoamerica. The origins of Día de Muertos can be traced back to an Aztec festival honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl, which literally translates as Lady of the Dead. Originally celebrated around the beginning of August, and usually lasting the entire month, this ancient version of Día de Muertos was a celebration of the important role Mictecacihuatl, who as Queen of the Underworld watched over the bones of departed ancestors, played in Aztec culture. With Spanish colonization and the spread of Catholicism in Mexico, this festival for the dead would eventually be synthesized with somewhat similar Christian traditions to create the modern Día de Muertos. Today in Mexico Día de Muertos still carries the festive spirit of the ancient Aztec celebration; it is not a day to mourn lost loved ones, but rather a time to celebrate their lives. On the Day of the Dead families will often visit the gravesites of the deceased to decorate them with marigolds and offerings of food, and to sing and tell stories of those who have passed away. There is even a tradition of writing short, humorous poems to commemorate the dead. And then of course there is the iconic pageantry associated with Día de Muertos. Gatherings and parades of people dressed in colorful outfits and with their faces painted to resemble skulls, can be found all over Mexico on the Day of the Dead. This modern imagery is based the famous etching, La Calavera Catrina, created in 1910 by José Guadalupe Posada. Day of the Dead may carry a somewhat ominous name, but truly it is one of the most lively, engaging, and distinctive holidays celebrated anywhere.
Another fun holiday in Mexico is the Día de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Holy Innocents). This holiday, celebrated on December 28 This holiday, celebrated on December 28th, is derived from the Western Christian Feast of the Holy Innocents, but takes a fun twist in Mexico. Día de los Santos Inocentes in Mexico is a day to play practical jokes on friends, family, and even strangers. In this way it is somewhat akin to April Fools’ Day, though the pranks often tend to be a bit more elaborate. Even the media likes to get involved on Día de los Santos Inocentes, with news anchors reporting on astonishing fake stories, and newspapers even going so far as to have two front pages; the real one, and one that features headlines and reporting on fabulous and ridiculous items. It’s all in good fun of course, and there’s even a little poem to recite when someone’s been fooled:
Que te dejaste engañar,
Sabiendo que en este día
Nada se debe prestar
(Innocent little dove,
You let yourself be fooled,
Knowing that on this day
Nothing should be lent)
So anyone who finds themselves in Mexico on December 28th should take everything they hear with a grain of salt. Though, just as with April Fools’ Day, these pranks still manage to catch even the most wary by surprise. But then, that’s what makes it so fun.
Mexico is a country that has always enjoyed a good celebration. It is a culture that has cultivated a fun and festive atmosphere surrounding its holidays, and it welcomes people from all over the world to come and join in the festivities. And with a little basic knowledge of Mexico’s unique holidays, it becomes even easier to appreciate and enjoy the revelry.