Like all regions the world over, Mexico celebrates many unique historical and cultural holidays. With its rich history of exploration and discovery and a culture that combines Old World customs with fascinating indigenous traditions, Mexico’s calendar is packed with holidays and lively celebrations. But for those not from Mexico the meaning or significance of these holidays can sometimes be hard to glean. Mexico is a warm and inviting country, and it happily welcomes everyone to share in the celebration of its important dates, but for those who want to know what exactly they might be celebrating, below is a brief primer on some of the country’s biggest historic holidays.
It is a common misconception that May 5th (Cinco de Mayo) is Mexican Independence Day. In reality, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 victory of the Mexican army over the French at the Battle of Puebla and is only a minor holiday in Mexico. The actual date of Mexican Independence Day is September 16th. On that date in 1810 the Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla – one of the most important figures in Mexican history – gave what has become known as the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), a pronouncement of rebellion that marked the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. Sometime around 2:30 am on the morning of the 16th, Padre Hidalgo ordered the church bells to be rung in the town of Dolores Hidalgo, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, to call his congregation. Once the congregation had gathered, Padre Hidalgo delivered his speech (the grito), entreating the people of Nueva España( the Spanish colony of New Spain) to free themselves from European rule. The people answered Hidalgo’s call, and for the next eleven years, they would fight for their freedom, until on September 27th, 1821 Mexico gained its independence from Spain. For this reason, September 27th, known as the Consumación de la Independencia, is also celebrated as a holiday in Mexico as a minor holiday – no big parades or firework displays to be had on that date.
Another holiday that is related to the Cinco de Mayo event, historically speaking is the March celebration of the birthday of Benito Juárez (Natalicio de Benito Juárez). Formerly observed on March 21st, and now observed on the third Monday of March, this holiday celebrates the birth of one of Mexico’s greatest statesmen. Born to humble origins in the state of Oaxaca on March 21st, 1806, Benito Juárez is now one of the most respected figures from Mexico’s history. Educated as a lawyer, Juárezwould become a leader of Mexico’s Liberal Reform (La Reforma), a political movement that began with the 1855 removal of Antonio López de Santa Anna as President of Mexico, and whose aims included reducing the political power of the military, diminishing the political influence of the Catholic Church in Mexico, and recognizing the indigenous peoples of Mexico as fully equal citizens. The Liberal Reform did not come easily however. The liberals, under President Ignacio Comonfort, drafted the Constitution of 1857, but the remaining conservatives in the government refused to ratify it, instead of forming their own government, and in the process starting the three years long Reform War. During this time President Comonfortwas forced to resign, and Benito Juárez, as President of the Supreme Court, assumed the role of Mexico’s president. In 1861 President Juárez and his liberal government emerged victorious over their conservative counterparts, but the peace would not last long. Juárez was again put to the test when in 1862 the French, under Emperor Napoleon III, invaded Mexico and helped to install Maximillian von Habsburg, of the Austrian royal family, as Emperor Maximillian I of Mexico. This episode was linked to the battle that Mexico won with a very small army in Puebla. Regardless of that victory, Maximillian was installed as Emperor, but Juárez would not be defeated; he and his allies would continue to fight until in 1867 the French were finally driven from Mexico. Because of his strong leadership during these times of crises Benito Juárezbecame, a protagonist of Mexican history and his birthday is a major holiday in Mexico until today.
So there you have it, no big Cinco de Mayo celebration in Mexico, unless you are in either Puebla or a tourist destination like Cabo, where we love a good party and like to celebrate along with our visitors from abroad who feel like Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated in style.
Make sure not to miss the next installment, where we will explore some of Mexico’s colorful cultural holidays.