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 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Fiestas and Ferias


ballet Amalia Hernandez in Mexico CityThroughout 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 heritage.
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

The Guadalupe

Portrait of Notre dame de Guadalupe in San Miguel de Allende 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.

     Right picture : 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.

Christmas season

the piñatas in papier maché in Chilpancingo
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.

Humoristic vision of the death

autel of the fiesta of death in Mexico 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.

See special chapter about the day of the death in Mexico

     Right 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.


Superbe video about the day of the death in Tzintzuntzan (Michoacán) 

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.

Other famous fiestas

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, Cozumel, Acapulco and Veracruz.

carnival in CozumelThe festivals of Mazatlán and Veracruz rival the celebration of Mardi gras in New Orleans.

Left picture : carnival in Cozumel

Holy week (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).

carnival in San Juan ChamulaIn 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.

relaxation for the musicians before Saturday Night fever in Guanajuato (El Bajio)

                                  Picture above : relaxation for the musicians before Saturday Night fever in Guanajuato (El Bajio)



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