their history, Mexicans have been greatly interested in commemorative
fiestas. Even before the Spanish arrival they followed each other
without any break. There were always processions, dances
and music. Now religious and non-religious fairs as well as
strictly local festivities are opportunities for celebrations of
all kinds. Even if it is a religious celebration, it doesn’t
mean that devotion will be on display. It is the country with the
most “fiestas” in Latin America. There is always a celebration
somewhere any day of the year.
Every State developed its own history and customs depending on natural
and cultural influences. Mexicans have a strong link with ancestral
art. Traditional arts and crafts such as pottery, jewelry, woodcarving
and masks, come from pre-Hispanic
The organization of the celebration of the Saint of the city is
given to the religious brotherhoods, called mayordomas, which were
created at the beginning of the colonial era.
Membership in such an organization is a great honor because the
preparation of a fiesta is a big part of the life of the community
; this activity needs the collaboration of everyone. The fiesta
lasts usually one or two days but if the Saint is very famous, it
could last one week or more and could have some extra amusements
like bullfights, cockfights, commercial and agricultural shows.
The fiesta will be very different depending on the States
; In Michoacán, it will
ring at the beat of the zapateo (tapping feet) of the baile
de los Viejitos (dances of the Little Old Men) In Yucatán,
it will follow the rhythm of the vaquerias (dance of the cowgirls).
This prolonged fiesta is called feria, or fair.
Above picture : ballet
Amalia Hernandez in Mexico City
On the national calendar, the most important yearly fiesta is the
one organized to honor Notre Dame of
Guadelupe, protector of Mexico. It is celebrated countrywide
but the biggest celebration occurs in the Basilique
of Guadelupe, in the northern
part of Mexico City, on December 12th, anniversary of one of
the apparitions of the Virgen to San Diego. According to legend,
these apparitions occurred at the very same place where the pagan
temple of Tonantzin was built, then later destroyed by order of
the first bishop of Mexico City.
The feria of Guadalupe is a national fair. The ceremonies attract
thousands of faithful to the sanctuary. They arrive the previous
day. Many of them walk on their knees the long avenue that goes
to the basilica. Some walked from remote villages. Even with the
religious nature of this day, even with the depressing view of the
pilgrims struggling to reach the basilica with bloody knees, there
is an atmosphere of carnival around the church. With bright costumes,
the Concheros dance in circles the whole night and until
the following morning.
: Portrait of Notre Dame de Guadalupe in San Miguel de Allende
Many pilgrims camp on the big esplanade around the basilica. In
the morning, they attend mass then take part in the various entertainments.
To manifest a specific recognition to the Virgin, they would hang
on her statue, a milagro, a silver symbolic charm representing the
eyes, the heart, the legs or any other part of the body that was
healed by the saint’s intercession. After dark, most of them
go back home; while the itinerant dealers sell their remaining food,
souvenirs and other goods, other penitents pursue their lonely devotion.
Soon after the feria of Guadalupe is Christmas : mixture of Spanish
costumes from Colonial period and customs from USA. It looks like
before the Spanish conquest, there is no solemnity to show the solstice
of winter, (there is not really a winter season). Mexicans understand
and celebrate Nativity in a confused way.
Under the Christmas tree, there is the crèche (the nacimiento)
but the posada is not more than a place for drinking and having
fun. This custom began at the beginning of the colonization. The
missionaries tried to dramatize the celebration of Christmas in
the spirits of their neophytes.
Left picture : the piñatas in
papier maché in Chilpancingo
The nine days of posadas (hostels) starts on December 16th
and commemorates the adventures of Mary and Joseph searching for
a place to stay in Bethlehem. The traditional posada starts with
a procession. Half of the guests circle the house with lighted candles
and a tray with pictures of the Saint Family. They stop in front
of the door and sing the first paragraph of the litany, called the
litany of the posada, begging for a place to stay. The other half
refuses them. The dialogue continues with several paragraphs until
the first group unveils their identity. The religious part is done.
The party starts : painted jugs, the pinatas, filled with sweets,
burst into pieces. People drink a punch with hot rum and fruits
while eating the traditional Christmas salad and other elements
of the feat. In Mexico City, the cultural
international center of the Villa Jones organizes a posada for its
members and the visitors who want to participate.
vision of the death
The mocking, humoristic, ironic style of the Mexicans concerning
the death is really astonishing. This free and easy manner is noticed
especially on the day of the dead, a celebration with Pre-Hispanic
rituals. During the weeks before this day, bakers would paint on
their windows comic scenes showing families of skeletons savoring
the “ Exquisito Pan de Muerto ", the delicious
bread of the dead, dry bread with a coffee flavor. On October 31st,
people in the country wait for the « muertitos chicos
» or almas of dead children. For a more joyful visit on the
earth, people would exhibit toys, cakes, hot chocolate and honey.
The almes of the adults arrive the following night. A dinner is
prepared for them. On a very well adorned table. People would exhibit
food, offering, flowers and gifts. It is a rite to respect the memory
of the deceased and attract their spirits.
picture : autel of the fiesta of death in Mexico
Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead
Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
As practised by the indigenous communities of Mexico, el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) commemorates the transitory return to Earth of deceased relatives and loved ones. The festivities take place each year at the end of October to the beginning of November. This period also marks the completion of the annual cycle of cultivation of maize, the country’s predominant food crop.
Families facilitate the return of the souls to Earth by laying flower petals, candles and offerings along the path leading from the cemetery to their homes. The deceased’s favourite dishes are prepared and placed around the home shrine and the tomb alongside flowers and typical handicrafts, such as paper cut-outs. Great care is taken with all aspects of the preparations, for it is believed that the dead are capable of bringing prosperity (e.g. an abundant maize harvest) or misfortune (e.g. illness, accidents, financial difficulties) upon their families depending on how satisfactorily the rituals are executed. The dead are divided into several categories according to cause of death, age, sex and, in some cases, profession. A specific day of worship, determined by these categories, is designated for each deceased person. This encounter between the living and the dead affirms the role of the individual within society and contributes to reinforcing the political and social status of Mexico’s indigenous communities.
The Day of the Dead celebration holds great significance in the life of Mexico’s indigenous communities. The fusion of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Catholic feasts brings together two universes, one marked by indigenous belief systems, the other by worldviews introduced by the Europeans in the sixteenth century. Extract from Unesco website. See the slideshow and the video on the website.
As everywhere in Mexico,
all villages around a lake celebrate the day of the dead,
with lights, prays, processions candles, songs and dances
until early morning.
Every year, Oaxaca is the theater of another big
fiesta where the Indian and Catholic traditions blend. It is the
Guelaguetza, once celebrated
in honor of Centeotl, God of corn, and now known as the fiesta of
Notre-Dame of Mont Carmel. The festivities start the Monday after
July16th (21st and 28th of July 2014) and take place in the mountain of the moon in Oaxaca.
Anxious to save this custom, the authorities organize a big contest
with dances and songs. The Guelaguetza
reunite tribes coming from several States. The men, women, and children
dressed in their holidays clothes make a very colorful crowd.
Carnival is celebrated everywhere with more or less display : frantic
achievements of the Chinelo dancers in the dirty village of Tepotzlán
(Morelos) ; parades, formal balls in Mérida,
Mazatlán, La Paz, Campeche,
Acapulco and Veracruz.
festivals of Mazatlán and Veracruz rival the celebration
of Mardi gras in New Orleans.
Left picture : carnival in Cozumel
(13-20 April 2014) is marked by a re-enactment
of the Passion like in Ixtapalapa, a neighbor of Mexico
City or by processions of penitents with black hoods in Taxco.
From April 20 – May 13, 2013, there is the
Feria de San Marcos in Aguascalientes
that lasts 30 days (dates to be confirmed for 2014).
May, the masons feast on the roofs on the day of Saint Cross.
In June, the celebration of the day of Saint John is more or less
confused with Chaac the God of the rain in San
Juan Chamula (Chiapas).
In July, they celebrate Saint Jack day,
in August, the inhabitants of Huamantla,
of Cholula, Tepetzintla, Miltá
Alpa and Santa Maria del Tula celebrate
the Asomption. Tlaxcala,
spends two weeks in creating wonderful flowers and sawdust rugs
to celebrate the Assumption.
The beginning of September is reserved for the charros,
15/16th of September, Independence Day
4th of October, San Francisco celebrations
Right picture : carnival
in San Juan Chamula
1st/2nd of November : Day of the Dead
On November 20th, the Mexican revolution is celebrated and so on.
The year goes on a never-ending circle of fiestas of all kind.
above : relaxation for the musicians before Saturday Night fever
in Guanajuato (El Bajio)