Holidays and traditions
Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country, so many of the holidays celebrated in the country answer to the Christian calendar, such as Christmas, and Easter. But there are also religious holidays that are unique to Mexico, including Day of the Dead, as well as secular national holidays such as Independence Day. Each holiday in Mexico is unique, beautiful and festive, and a sight to behold in its own right, offering distinct traditions across regions.
The festive season begins in September with the celebration of Independence Day. Celebrations begin on the eve of the holiday with the Grito, a ceremony commemorating the Shout of Dolores in 1810, which gave way to the War of Independence. The Zócalo, Mexico’s largest public square, fills up with people draped in green, white and red, who gather to watch the President stand in the National Palace’s Balcony and ring the bell that was rung by Hidalgo himself over 200 years ago and proclaim the words “Long Live Mexico!”. This is followed by fireworks and festive music giving way to dancing well into the night. Every city, municipality, and Mexican embassy abroad hosts its own Grito celebration with the Governor, Mayor, or Ambassador conducting the ceremony, though some people prefer to watch the national Grito at home as they share a hearty bowl of Pozole with their families.
Once the autumn comes around, the smell of marigolds and Pan de Muertos fills the air, as Day of the Dead is just around the corner. Acting as both a commemoration of death and a celebration of life, this ancient holiday allows families to remember those they lost. Colorful shrines honoring the deceased, known as ofrendas, are placed in homes, offices, churches, schools, and squares in the weeks prior to the holiday, and on November 1st and 2nd, graveyards light up with candles and music as families arrive to remember their loved ones. Parades and street parties take place, with crowds of people with painted faces lining up the city streets. Dancers, puppets, and theater troupes have become a common sight.
Then comes the Christmas season. The season begins on December 12th with the annual pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe on Mount Tepeyac, outside Mexico City, in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s Patron Saint. From December 16th until the 24th, many Mexicans celebrate the Posadas, nightly celebrations symbolizing the journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus. This tradition is ancient, dating to pre-Columbian times, but became adapted into the Catholic tradition in the Colonial period. Posadas involve a candle-lit procession and the singing of carols outside the location of the celebration. Once the guests are allowed inside, prayers are recited, and an assortment of fruits and nuts are served while guests enjoy the traditional fruit punch sweetened by cane sugar. Then, the piñata is broken. A piñata is a seven-pointed structure made out of clay and paper maché, filled with fruits and sweets. It is meant to symbolize the Devil, while its seven points represent the seven deadly sins. People take turns hitting the piñata while songs are sung. Another common tradition are the Pastorelas, short plays depicting the Nativity and the story of Christmas.
Mexican cuisine is renowned worldwide for its rich flavors, wide variety, and fresh ingredients. It varies heavily from region to region, but common ingredients include maize, beans, tomato, squash, and chilli, all of which formed the basis of the Pre-Columbian diet. With Spanish colonization, new ingredients were added, including beef, chicken, pork, and dairy. The blending of Spanish and Indigenous cooking methods, ingredients, and recipes produced a unique and delicious cuisine.
The country’s staple food is maize, which is ground into flour, and made into masa, a kind of maize dough. Masa is used to make all sorts of food, including dumplings wrapped in corn or palm leaves, known as tamales, and tortillas, a soft maize flatbread used to accompany meals. Other food items that contain masa include sopes, tlacoyos, and gorditas. Maize can also be used to prepare a thick, warm drink, known as atole, which is perfect for cold winter nights.
One of the most popular uses for tortillas is to make tacos, where a meat, seafood, or vegetable filling is added to the tortilla. Sauces, cilantro and onions are often added on top, and the taco is commonly garnished with lime. Varieties for tacos are almost infinite, as are preparation methods, from deep fried and cabbage-topped fish and shrimp tacos in Baja California, to shawarma-style pork and pineapple tacos al pastor in Mexico City, to the small, steamed tacos de canasta popular in the north, to the sweet and spicy cochinita pibil tacos garnished with purple onions in Yucatan. There is even a growing number of vegan taquerías across the country where meatless versions of old favorites are seamlessly recreated.
Chillis and tomatoes are blended with other ingredients and spices to create a rich array of sauces that can be served with vegetables or meat. Some of the most complex and exquisite of these are known as moles, the best of which are made in the regions of Puebla and Oaxaca.
For thousands of years, the region which is now Mexico has been a vibrant cultural center where the arts have flourished, from the intricate codexes of Mesoamerica, to the vibrant art scene of today. It was, however, in the twentieth century when Mexican arts and culture experienced a golden age. Muralists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and painters such as Frida Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo became the purveyors of a new national identity forged in the fires of revolution. They developed unique styles that blended modernism with pre-Columbian identity, and became among the most respected and influential figures in the art world on a global scale.
Folk art, including pottery, embroidery, and metallurgy has also played a large role in shaping Mexican culture. These items, made by hand by skilled artisans, are crafted through methods that have been passed down from generation to generation, and sold in markets across the country. There are styles unique to different regions, reflecting the diversity of the many Indigenous groups and cultures that inhabit the country. In Puebla, one can find ornate talavera covered in symmetric designs of white, blue and gold, while in Oaxaca, one can find a variety of crafts created with a unique black clay, and in Zacatecas and Nayarit, the Huichol people create sculptures and masks covered in colorful beads.