The customs of Mexico are filled with color, mysticism, and longstanding traditions. Each festival offers a glimpse into revered historical events, ancestral cultures and Mexican legends. Some of the most celebrated Mexican traditions are rooted in the Aztec, Olmeca and Mayan rituals as well as European influence. Each Mexican city adapts the traditions to their own local rituals and customs. Here are some of the popular traditions of México.
This is a grand celebration of the state of Oaxaca that is also known as “Los Lunes del Cerro.” It takes place on the following two Mondays after July 16 when representatives of the eight regions of the state meet at Cerro Fortín. The celebration showcases popular dances like the Danza de la Pluma, Sones Serranos, Flor de Piña, Mixtec, and the Sandunga dance.
The popular event brings together dancers from the 8 regions of the State of Oaxaca who perform folk dances for a week accompanied by wind music, typical costumes and Mexican gastronomy.
Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe
The devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe is deeply rooted in Mexican culture. The celebration is one of the most important and popular traditions in Mexico.
It is celebrated on December 12, when the Virgin is believed to have appeared to San Juan Diego on El Tepeyac hill. The celebrations begin on December 11 at 6:45 p.m. with a popular serenade to the Virgin, as well as other tributes to her. It is customary that at 12:00 a.m. musicians and artists sing the traditional mañanitas to honor the virgin.
Danza de los Voladores
This is a ritual that has its origin in pre-Hispanic times in the Papantla region, on the border between Veracruz and Puebla Mexico. However, it is also carried out in other regions of the Mexican nation. It is a ritual full of symbolism and mysticism. Legends tell that the danza facilitated communication with the gods and was used to invoke rain in times of drought. This Mexican tradition does not have a specific date. The is ritual takes place mainly in Papantla, Veracruz and consists of a series of dances and movements performed after climbing a 30-meter-high trunk.
Once up, dancers tie a rope that in turn is tied to a cross at the top of the post. The performers descend as they go around, while the caporal plays the flute at the top of the post. Dancers wear typical costumes, and although it is originally from Veracruz, the ritual is also seen across Mexico in tourist places for the enjoyment of visitors.
Día de Muertos
This celebration is one of the most recognized traditions of Mexico. It is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November throughout the country with some variations depending on the region but with aspects that are preserved everywhere. During these days, families place an offering with photos of deceased relatives and loved ones in their homes.
The offering has very particular elements, such as cempazuchitl flower, colored confetti, incense and the food and objects that those who are remembered liked when they lived. Skulls made of sugar are also placed with the names of the people who are still alive.
Another way to celebrate is to spend the whole night in the grave sites of deceased loved ones and decorate them with flowers and food. Some families listen to music and the atmosphere is ceremonial, and festive.
According to legend, the deceased visit their relatives in the physical world during these days. They are believed to walk along the path of petals that loved ones lay out to guide them home.
One of the traditional elements of this festival is the altar. Here people place the offerings for the dead, including food and drink.The altar, adorned with a white tablecloth, is made up of several tiers. The first represents grandparents and adults, while the second is for the rest of the family. During this celebration, cemeteries are decorated with festive themes.
La Catrina is a female figure with more than 100 years of history created by the Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada. La Catrina is a skeleton woman who wears a large hat and is the Mexican representation of death. The great lady of death appeared for the first time in 1912. La Catrina’s original name was La Calavera Garbancera and was designed as a criticism of the classism of Mexican society. Its meaning is that death makes us all equal, rich and poor.
One of Posada’s most famous quotes are: “We are all skulls,” and, “Death is democratic, since in the end, güera, brunette, rich or poor, all people end up being skulls.”
This Catholic tradition was introduced during the Spanish colonial period and with time it gave rise to popular practices such as the lavish construction of nativity scenes, eating the delicious Rosca de Reyes and sending a letter to the Reyes Magos.
The tradition is celebrated on January 6 and commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Child Jesus. On this date, it is customary to eat the famous Rosca de Reyes, a delicious, sweet roll. Inside the pastry, is a small plastic doll and whoever gets it is named godfather or godmother.
Of the customs and traditions in Mexico, this is one of the favorites of the children, because that same day at night, the Reyes Magos leave toys for the children who wrote them a letter and placed it in a shoe. Children believe that the Magi pick up the letters and leave the toys for them next to their shoes.
Aniversario del Día de la Independencia
Independence Day is celebrated on September 16 in every corner of Mexico. It begins on the night of the 15th, when people congregate in the main squares and zócalos of each city or town. The celebration culminates when the president and members of the local government simulate the famous Grito de Independencia, ring a bell and wave the national flag, recreating the start of the rebellion that led to independence by Don Miguel Hidalgo.
To celebrate, all cities are highly decorated. Food stalls are established around the squares offering traditional dishes representative of Mexican cuisine, such as chiles en nogada and mole poblano. The party culminates when the attendees shout with pride: “Long live Mexico!” The festivity full of color, typical food, mezcal and mariachi music all the squares of the Mexican Republic. On September 16 there is a military parade and a roll call of the armed forces.
It is one of the most beloved traditions in Mexico. It is celebrated from December 16 of each year until December 24. Like many other traditions, this one also has a religious origin. Here is a recreation of the journey that the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph made in search of refuge in the days before the birth of the Child Jesus. On those dates there are processions in which candles are lit and Christmas songs are sung.
The procession ends at the home of one of the participants (chosen in advance), in which they have a small party with music and dance. Each night a different house is chosen.
It is celebrated on the night of December 31 of each year. On this date it is customary to get together as a family to say goodbye to the old year and receive the new.
There are many traditions that Mexicans follow during this night, which have to do with abundance, renewal, wishes fulfilled, among others. Among these traditions are:
- Standing on a chair, with the aim of achieving success in the workplace.
- Walking around the block with personal bags to take trips in the year to come.
- Using different colored underwear according to one’s wishes. For a year full of passion, red; for health, green; for abundance and prosperity, yellow, for true love, pink.
- Sweeping from the inside to the outside of a house, according to custom, bad energies are removed.
- Throwing salt on the floor hours before midnight, so that bad energies are absorbed.
- Eating 12 grapes, one for each end of the year chime. Each grape represents a wish.
Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is a reporting, research, advocacy and charitable organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We fill the void in coverage of urgent social, political, human rights, economic and gender inequalities affecting the Americas. Through our allies in Latin America, we highlight contributions, heritage, history, leadership and innovation. Latina Republic reports on stories that integrate local strategies to the betterment of the region. We make space for and empower unheard voices and celebrate the rich histories of Latin America.