Are you one of those travelers that are always looking to maximize your cultural immersion whilst on your adventures?
Here’s a tip for your next vacation — start by planning ahead and ensuring your travels coincide with some of the key national holidays celebrated in your host country.
National holidays and how they are celebrated can provide great insight into a nation’s history, society, and the folklore that they preserve year on year.
In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, they take their national holidays pretty seriously.
Given their cultural backgrounds, which include their indigenous civilizations, gastronomic heritage, and turbulent pasts following their conquests, it is of no surprise that when it’s time to celebrate or commemorate they go all out.
Here we highlight the most important dates so you don’t skip the unmissables.
Holidays in Mexico
They say Mexicans are always in for a bash and know how to celebrate big. From small family gatherings to massive parades, there is sure always an excuse to party!
The Independence Day or El Grito is probably the most admired bank holiday and greatest cause of national pride.
Mexicans gather at their homes, restaurants or public plazas to toast with tequila and enjoy traditional garnachas as well as other Mexican antojitos.
They wear mariachi hats, folk outfits or simply the latest national football team’s shirt.
The president in turn, the mayor, and other politicians play the roll of recreating the callings of priest Miguel Hidalgo with a strong collection of shouts: “¡Viva México!”, whilst waving the Mexican flag on some sort of a balcony.
And, despite the classic rain and the irremediable controversy between the left and right wing, for one night only, everyone tries to forget poverty and corruption and rejoices on national identity.
Nobel Prize Octavio Paz, one of Mexico’s most prominent literary figures, was fascinated with the question of national identity: “What does it mean to be Mexican?”
In his efforts of pining down the concept of Mexican character, he wrote a collection of poems and essays published throughout his career.
I you are keen to learn more about this topic (and dig into Mexican politics, people, history, and culture) it is highly recommended to read a beautiful bundle of his work published under the title of The Labyrinth of Solitude (El laberinto de la soledad).
In the meantime, while you find the book, the calendar below will show you the most important celebrations in Mexico throughout the year.
|DATE||SPANISH NAME||ENGLISH NAME OR AMERICAN EQUIVALENT|
|January 1st||Año Nuevo||New Year’s Eve|
|January 6th||Día de los Reyes Magos||Wise Kings’ Day|
|February 2nd||Fiesta de la Candelaria||Candelaria Day|
|February 5th||Día de la Constitución||Constitution Day|
|March 21st||Aniversario del Natalicio de Benito Juárez||Anniversary of the Birth of Benito Juárez|
|Varies according to the moon calendar||Jueves Santo||Holy Thursday|
|Varies according to the moon calendar||Viernes Santo||Holy Friday|
|First full moon after the Spring Equinox||Domingo de Pascua||Easter Sunday|
|May 1st||Día del Trabajo||Labour Day|
|May 10th||Día de las Madres||Mother’s Day|
|May 5th||Aniversario de la Batalla de Puebla||(Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla) Cinco de Mayo|
|3rd Sunday of June||Día del Padre||Father’s Day|
|September 16th||Día de la Independencia de México||México’s Independence Day|
|October 12th||Día de la Raza||(Day of the Race) Columbus Day|
|November 1st||Día de Todos los Santos||Day of All Saints|
|November 2nd||Día de Muertos||Day of the Dead|
|November 20th||Día de la Revolución Mexicana||Mexican Revolution Day|
|December 12th||Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe||Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe|
|December 24th||Noche Buena||Christmas Eve|
|December 25th||Navidad||Christmas Day|
It has to be said that, even though there have been tremendous efforts from politicians such as ex-president Benito Juárez to separate the Church affairs from the State matters, Mexican history is like a colorful stained glass filled with a mix of symbols from ancient civilizations such as the Mayas and the Aztec, Western philosophy, and Christian dogma.
The truth is that many long-standing public holidays are rooted in spiritual faith.
Let’s begin with the symbol of the Virgin Mary in Mexican imaginary. Every twelfth of December, millions of people pay a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and take part in one of the biggest pilgrimages in the American continent.
Women and men from all ages and all parts of the country flee to her sanctuary to offer fresh flowers, pledge for eternal salvation, express gratitude or ask for a miracle.
Throughout the night, fireworks light up the sky and mariachis serenade the picture of la Virgen de Guadalupe, whose image is believed to appear in 1531 on Juan Diego’s clothing, an indigenous young man.
Following the cult of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the celebrations of the Holy Week (Semana Santa) must be consider. T
here are numerous events that have merged religious observances with popular folklore and currently attract thousands of tourists.
One of the most impressive rites is the Via Crucis, when massive live representations of the Stations of the Cross take place in several cities such as Puebla, San Luis Potosí, and Querétaro; being the one in Mexico City the oldest one.
Another notable Mexican public holiday born from Catholicism is the Día de Reyes. Children receive presents “from the Three Kings” on the morning of the sixth of January.
This tradition came from Europe and it was quickly spread by Catholic families.
It commemorates the biblical passage that narrates the visit of the three wise men and their offerings brought from the Far East to baby Jesus.
On that day, families and friends get together and share a cup of hot chocolate paired with a traditional oval-shaped bread called Rosca de Reyes, which is decorated with a sugary coating, fruit cheese strips, and crystalized figs.
Each person cuts a slice and whoever gets the hidden baby-figure (made from ceramic or plastic) must get the tamales for the Calendaria´s party on the second of February.
Finally, the most iconic Mexican holiday paved over sacred grounds is the Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos, when the loved ones who have left this world are remembered in a very special way.
Families build altars at home or visit the pantheon to decorate their relative´s tombs. It is believed that the spirits come back for one night to enjoy their favorite food and drinks.
Popular films such as The Book of Life and Coco have helped to publicize this ancient tradition dedicated to honor one´s ancestors, as well as other deceased kindreds and friends.
Apart from the altars, there are parade, poetry readings and other activities that make the Day of the Death a unique feature of Mexican cultural heritage.
For your convenience, the list below shows which are national holidays, largely connected to historical moments, and which are celebrations related to spiritual traditions, considered “unofficial” but usually embraced by most of the population.
|SPANISH NAME||NATIONAL BANK HOLIDAY||SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS CELEBRATION|
|Día de los Reyes Magos||x|
|Fiesta de la Candelaria||x|
|Día de la Constitución||x|
|Aniversario del Natalicio de Benito Juárez||x|
|Domingo de Pascua||x|
|Día del Trabajo||x|
|Día de las Madres|
|Aniversario de la Batalla de Puebla||x|
|Día del Padre|
|Día de la Independencia de México||x|
|Día de la Raza|
|Día de Todos los Santos||x|
|Día de Muertos|
|Día de la Revolución Mexicana||x|
|Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe||x|
Other Latin American Holidays
As we mentioned earlier, many Latin American territories share a similar history in the sense that the native populations were conquered and converted to Christianity following the discovery of the Americans.
Not surprisingly then most Latin American countries have the twelfth of October marked down on their calendars as a national holiday titled El Día de la Raza (The Day of the Race).
In the United States of America this date is known as Columbus Day, the day Cristobal Colón made landfall in the Americas having crossed the Atlantic from Spain.
Some Latin American countries have changed the name to fit a more politically correct vision of that historical event such as the Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Cultural Diversity Respect Day) in Argentina and Día del Encuentro de Dos Mundos (Meeting of Two Worlds Day) in Peru.
Thus, despite the oppression that many native people suffered following Colons arrival, this is now a date to celebrate their culture, which has endured, survived or transmuted beyond the conquest.
A subsequent reflection on the history of many Latin American nations is the commemoration of their Independence Day (Día de la Independencia) and/or the anniversary of a revolution.
The earliest being Haiti (becoming independent from France in 1804) and the latest being Cuba (severing ties with Spain in 1902, almost 100 years later).
Aside from the more historically significant holidays, let’s not forget that Latin America also has some amazing festivals that should not be disregarded.
Here are some of the most astounding events to look out for this 2020:
- International BA Tango Festival and Championship, August.
- The San Antonio de Areco Gaucho Festival, November.
- Oruru Carnival (Dance of the Devils), February.
- Festival de la Candelaria, February.
- Carnival de Rio de Janeiro, February/March.
The origins of the carnival are to signal the beginning of Lent. Thus, the party starts 40 days before Holy Week and symbolizes the last crazy and profane days prior to this important religious event, hence its frivolous and vibrant displays.
- Fiesta de la Vendimia de Chile (Chile Wine Festival), March and April.
- Semana Valdiviana, February.
- International Festival of Viña del Mar, February.
- International Film Festival, March.
- Medellin Flower Fair, August.
- Festival de la Luz, December.
- Festival del Caribe, Fiesta del Fuego, July.
- Havana World Music Festival, March.
- Inti Raymi, Festival of the Sun, June.
If you are looking to immerse yourself in Latin America’s cultural heritage, consider learning the basic vocabulary of the language you are most interested in before traveling to a particular territory.