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Oaxaca Dia de Los Muertos and Other Celebrations: Culture in Oaxaca

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pinatas

Mexico is definitely not the only country to celebrate Mexican celebrations and holidays including Oaxaca Dia de Los Muertos. Almost every part of the world celebrates different holidays and commemorates events from the past.

Mexican holiday celebrations and Mexican festivities tend to be pretty similar to the United States and Canada but customs and culture are very different. Mexico festivals and celebrations usually have a lot of historical and religious significance.

The Mexican culture preserves the meaning of the holidays with lots of ceremonies and fiestas (and yes, Mexicans love celebrating!). That usually includes large gatherings of family, friends and any one else who wants to join! So what are the main celebrations or holidays in Mexico?

1. Mexican Celebrations and Holidays: Las Posadas

Date: December 16th.

Christmas in Mexico actually begins with nine days of processions by candlight and parties on December 16th.

There may be a procession re-enacting Jesus’ family looking for lodging in Bethlehem. There is usually a Virgin Mary and San Jose plaster statue involved. Children dress up in the costumes of angels, shepherds and kings. Kids are always excited about this part of the festivities because there is always a pinata that needs to be broken.

2. Christmas or Noche Buena

Date: December 24th

A Mexican Christmas celebration is similar to Canada or United States but has much more depth and signifcance. Celebrations last around two months, honoring the small baby Jesus. Children in Mexico don’t receive presents on December 25 but rather on January 6, Three Kings Day. This represents the day the “three kings” that came to see baby Jesus after his birth and brought various gifts.

The main Mexican festival is held on December 24th in the evening when families get together at home to eat a big dinner. This probably includes a lot of regional dishes depending on the economic status of the family. After dinner, there may be some gift opening for the kids and more pinatas, of course. This is usually a happy family occasion and can go on until dawn. But firstly, many staunch Roman Catholics may head to the Church for Midnight Mass.

December 25 is generally a day to rest and eat leftovers. Similar to our Boxing Day on December 26.

Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos

3. Oaxaca Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead

Date: November 1st and 2nd

When visiting Mexico for the first time, this Mexican celebration can be a little alarming. In Oaxaca, Day of the Dead altars are set up in private homes with food, gifts and marigold flowers showing reverence to the dead. There are often toys left at the altars if the deceased happens to be a child. This ensures the small spirit has fun when visiting the family.

There are also many different skeleton references specifically in this celebration, either in costumes, food and culture. Mexicans will spend the night at the cemetery next to their loved ones graves. They’ll bring food and drink and celebrate the life of the deceased.

The Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos has morphed from the Catholic feast of All Soul’s Day and Indian rituals of death to the present celebration of Day of the Dead.

The belief is that the living have an opportunity on this particular day to show respect for their dead loved ones and wait for their spirits to return home.

4. The Three Kings Day or Los Tres Reyes Magos

Date: January 6

The Three Kings Day or Los Tres Reyes Magos is the main day when gifts are given to children.

This belief is based on the ancient arrival of the Wise Men into Bethlehem upon the birth of Jesus. The Wise Men brought gifts to the small child and children all over Mexico anxiously wait for this day on January 6 to wake up and find toys and presents.

On Three Kings Day a sweet bread or cake is made and decorated with fruit. Inside the cake is a tiny figure of a baby. Whoever gets the piece containing the baby has to host another part before February 2, the end of the holiday season. I remember when I lived in Mazatlan, Mexico and got a piece of this cake. Of course I got the baby and I had no idea of the cultural significance. I honestly thought it was a fertility symbol. That’s why it pays to know the customs of any country you live or go to frequently.

mexican celebration sombrero

5. Semana Santa or Easter Week

Date: generally March or April

Other than Christmas, Semana Santa is the most important holiday of the year. It runs every year from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and is as culturally significant as Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos.

Since the majority of Mexicans are Roman Catholic this holiday holds high significance as it is the same as the Christian holiday of Easter. But of course, it is a little more colorful in Mexico.

Depending on where you go you may see live plays or processions representing Christ’s crucifixtion. The community may have a role in playing the Biblical characters that were present at Christ’s crucifixion.

That being said, it is a week off from normal responsibilities so a lot of Mexicans will vacation to other parts of the country at this time. If you choose to visit Mexico during this week make sure you are aware that is will be very busy and make sure you plan your trip well beforehand in order to reserve accommodation.

6. 5 of May or 5 De Mayo

The holiday of Fifth Of May or 5 de Mayo is celebrated as a regional holiday. It commemorates the win of the Mexican army against the French Army in 1862 in the Battle of Puebla.

The holiday is celebrated all over Mexico and for some reason is also particularly embraced by Americans and Canadians. Even more so wherever there is a Mexican population.

The Battle at Puebla culminated when the economy was at a low point and Mexico had just won it’s independence from Spain.

The victory of the battle gave the people a new start and pride in their country as well as independence from other commonwealths so it was an amazing day for rejoicing and still continues to be so even after all these years.

5 de Mayo is celebrated with family get togethers, parades, music, food and fiestas.

7. Carnival or Carnaval

Carnaval is celebrated everywhere in Mexico to various degrees. It is a Catholic celebration that is an official Mexican celebration and holiday which kicks off a five-day party before Lent. Carnaval is exactly what it sounds like, parades, costumes, dancing and a general large party with lots of music.

Traditionally Carnval is celebrated as a last hurrah to self indulgences. Catholics must give up all vices for 40 days of fasting during Lent. Many Mexicans will stop eating meat during the festival of Lent if they are very religious and observant Catholics.

mexico celebrations

8. Independence Day or Dia De Independencia

Date: September 15-16

The Dia de Independencia is a holiday that is exactly what it sounds like. It actually commemorates Mexico’s struggle to completely separate from Spain beginning in September of 1810.

On Dia De Independencia many towns have parades and parties. Political speeches are spoken in the town square. In every town, small and large, the Día de Independencia is celebrated with “El Grito de Independencia” (Independence shout) are a reminder of the past.

Mexicans gather in the main square of the town at midnight to shout “Viva México” to commemorate the shout made by the Spanish priest, Miguel Hidalgo, one of the main leaders of the War of Independence.

Miguel Hidalgo is widely believed to be the “Father of the Nation” to Mexico and is revered everywhere. He is one of the heroes of this time in history.

9. Feast of Guadalupe or Virgen de Guadalupe

Date: December 16

Catholics are known to have many “patron saints” and the Virgin of Guadalupe is a main one.

The story goes that in the 1500’s a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to a poor Indian on a hill close to Mexico City. She told him she was the mother of God and told him to have the priests build a temple. She had an image of herself imprinted on his cactus cloth clothes and the cloth has never deteriorated even 460 some years later which defies scientific explanations.

The message she gave was supposedly of love and compassion and help and protection. Many Mexicans worship her solely as a patron saint and she is held in very high regard by most Mexicans. On December 12 the Feast of the Lady of Guadalupe is held generally with a mass and a Mariachi band of course!

Mexican celebrations are always very significant and meaningful to Mexicans. Tradition and religion always play a part but family is of the most important. Preserving the culture is very imporant to Mexicans and they need to honor the importance of the occasion.

Every holiday in Mexico has a special meaning. It is a time to decorate, eat, dance and worship. It is also a joyous time to celebrate being with friends and family. And that is the meaning of the Mexican culture.

What do you think? What are your favorite Mexican celebrations and holidays?

Next: Mazunte: The Ultimate Beach Town


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