Janaury 6 – Dia de Reyes or Three Kings Day is a celebration of the arrival of the Three Kings or Magi who presented gifts to the Baby Jesus. On the 12th day after Christmas, children in Mexico traditionally receive their gifts. It is customary to eat Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread shaped like a wreath with candied fruit on top, and a figurine of the Baby Jesus baked inside. The person who finds the figurine is expected to host a party on Dia de la Candelaria, celebrated on February 2nd, when tamales are served.
February 2 – Día de la Candelaria (Day of the Candles or Candle Mass) is celebrated forty days after Christmas. Like many other Mexican celebrations, it represents a fusion of pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholic beliefs. Catholics celebrate the “Feast of Purification” and according to Jewish law, it was customary to bring a baby to the temple after 40 days had passed. So Jesus would have been taken to the temple on or near February 2nd. This date also marks the mid-way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. This may be a vestige of an old Pagan tradition, since this date has long been thought to be a marker or predictor of the weather to come. Día de la Candelaria is a follow-up to the festivities of King’s Day. If while eating the Rosca de Reyes you are lucky enough to find the figurine of the Baby Jesus, you get the honor of hosting the Candlemass feast and tamales are the food of choice. Tamales date back to at least pre-Colombian Mexico and possibly even further when the Spaniards were served tamales by the Aztecs during their first visits to Mexico.
February 24 – Dia de la Bandera or Mexican Flag Day. The story behind the shield in the center of the tri-color flag is legendary. In the early 12th century, the Aztecs were building a great civilization. The story goes that they received a vision from the god “Huitzilopochtli” that would direct them where to build their central city or “zocólalo” for the Tenochtitlan Empire. When they saw an eagle perched on a nopal cactus with a serpent in its talon, located on an island, this is where they should begin to build their permanent city. They supposedly did encounter this on an island in the middle of Lake Anáhuac, which is now known today as México City. It is said that under Mexico City today are many levels of civilizations. Many of the Catholic cathedrals created by the Spaniards are actually built on top of underground pyramids built by the Aztecs. Nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear cactus, is a delicious vegetable native to Mexico and is often grilled and mixed together to make warm salads.
April – Semana Santa (Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Saturday) and Pascua (Resurrection Sunday). For most Mexicans, this period of time is set aside for vacations. It is also marks the time of Lent so seafood and fish are predominant ingredients in holiday meals. From Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday many Mexicans celebrate outdoors and dine on delicious street foods. Aguas frescas are refreshing waters flavored with pineapple, melon, tamarindo, jicama, and chia seeds, dispensed by women with beautiful flower-decorated stands.
May 5 – Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, where a poorly equipped and outnumbered Mexican army with Mesitozo and Zapotec Indians inspired by freedom and determined to defend it were able to defeat the French at the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe in the city of Puebla. While the holiday is more popular in the U.S. than in most of Mexico, Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the state of Puebla include traditional dances, piñatas, and foods like Mole and chipotle sauces, tacos and Margaritas, of course!
September 16th – Mexico’s Independence Day. “El Grito” is the shout or cry for Independence and this day is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Mexico. In 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla began the Mexican revolution that was to eventually free the country from Spanish rule with his shout for Independence “El Grito!!” The cause of the Mexican Revolution had been festering for more than 100 years. A harsh four class system separated the population into Indian, Mestizo (mixed), Mexican born Spaniards and the ruling pure Spanish class. Wealth, land holdings and power were all held by the smallest group of pure Spanish origin. The victory marked Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule. The very special dish “Chile en Nogada” is prepared to symbolize the bright colors of the Mexican flag, red, white and green. Chile en Nogada is a poblano pepper relleno filled with picadillo (meat, dried fruits, walnuts, candied cactus) and topped with a pecan cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.
Dia de los Muertos – November 1 & 2, Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a festive holiday for honoring, celebrating and remembering family that has gone before. It serves to educate young family members with their ancestors by visiting grave sites, cleaning and adorning the crypts with flowers and gifts for the departed. November 1 is usually set aside to honor dead infants and children, “angelitos” or little angels and November 2 for honoring those who died as adults. The celebration goes back to pre-Columbian times. Aztec cultures celebrated their ancestry in a similar holiday in late July. Rather than abolish the pagan ritual, the Spanish moved the holiday to November 1 and 2 to coincide with the Catholic All Saints Day. As with many ancient cultures, the dead were buried along with possessions that would help them through the next life. Colorfully adorned skulls called “calacas” made of sugar are decorated and eaten by children. Pan de Muertos, a rich egg bread, is prepared at celebration dinners.
December 12th – Dia de Guadalupe is one of the most important celebrations for Mexicans and Catholics around the world. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the most famous and celebrated of all saints and is the patron saint of Mexico. She was first encountered in 1531 by an Aztec Indian, San Juan Diego, on the hill of Tepeyac, now known in the region near Mexico City. When she appeared to Juan Diego, she asked that a temple be built so that she could attend to the “weeping, sorrows and prayers” of all the people. While he tried to relay this sighting to the Bishop he had no proof so he returned to the hill and once again appearing, she told him to pick some very rare Castilian roses and return to the Bishop. Upon seeing this miracle, the Bishop then believed Juan Diego’s story and commissioned a Basilica to be built in honor of The Virgin of Guadalupe. Dia de Guadalupe is celebrated with parades, pilgrimages and fiestas throughout much of Mexico and most of Latin America. This day also marks the beginning of the Christmas Posadas and holiday feast celebrations all over Mexico.