Mexico is well known for its vibrant festivals and unique culture. Here are some of the most important Mexican holidays and traditions.
If you’ve ever been to Mexico, you’ll know firsthand that the country is extremely rich in culture and traditions. When I first came to Mexico, I quickly noticed how vibrant and lively Mexican celebrations are, even in small towns. They sure know how to throw a good party!
Whether it’s Independence Day or Day of the Dead, Mexican celebrations always revolve around good food, music, and fiestas (parties). If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico, it’s important to learn some of the most important Mexican holidays and traditions.
Table of Contents
- Mexican Holidays & Traditions
- 1. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
- 2. Cinco de Mayo
- 3. Mexican Independence Day
- 4. Semana Santa and Pascua
- 5. Las Posadas
- 6. New Year’s Eve
- 7. Día De Los Inocentes
- 8. Dia de los Reyes Magos
- 9. Carnival in Mexico
- 10. Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe
- 11. Dia de la Revolución
- 12. Dia de Santa Cecilia
- 13. Dia de la Madre
- 14. Dia del Padre
- 15. Dia del Niño
- 16. Guelaguetza Festival
- 17. Festival Internacional Cervantino
- Mexican Traditions
Mexican Holidays & Traditions
1. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
When: November 1st & 2nd
One of the most unique and well-known Mexican holidays, the Day of the Dead is a time to remember and honor loved ones who have left us. The epicenter of the tradition is in Mexico City and Oaxaca, where the celebrations are most flamboyant. They believe that during this time, spirits return to earth to greet their once mortal relatives.
The holiday is celebrated over two days, November 1st and 2nd. Families dress up in colorful costumes and often build altars in their homes with photographs of deceased relatives, as well as consume their favorite foods and drinks. Marigolds are a big part of Day of the Dead celebrations; they’re thought to guide lost souls back home.
Read my comprehensive guide to Day of the Dead in Mexico.
Day of the Dead in Mexico City
Dia de Muertos is the best time to visit Mexico City as it has the biggest Day of the Dead celebrations in the country. Mega ofrendas (altars) are placed throughout the city, most notably in main squares and museum grounds. The celebrations are massive, with the Dia de los Muertos parade as the highlight. Check out our guide to celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico City including the 2023 events schedule and program.
Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
Noted for its rich cultural heritage, the city of Oaxaca is unsurprisingly one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations for this celebration. Be sure to book hotels and flighs early though as they get booked up months in advance.
I would suggest going on a tour of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán’s major pantheon in the evening. This is an excellent chance to experience the atmosphere among the tombstones, ofrendas, and traditional music. Read my Oaxaca road trip itinerary and guide to celebrating Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.
2. Cinco de Mayo
When: 5th May
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s independence day (that would be September 16th). Instead, it commemorates the country’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s actually more celebrated in the US than in Mexico, but it’s still one of the major Mexican holidays.
Most of the celebrations take place in Puebla, where the war took place all those years ago. Traditions include military parades, reenactment of the Battle of Puebla and other festive events.
3. Mexican Independence Day
When: 15th & 16th September
This Mexican holiday commemorates the start of the Mexican War of Independence. On September 15th night, Mexicans commemorate their independence with colorful fireworks, festivals, and parties.
Flowers, as well as other decorations bearing the colors of Mexico’s flag — red, white, and green — are visible throughout the country. Mexicans show their patriotic spirit on Independence Day by joyfully blowing whistles and horns, throwing confetti, and chanting “Viva Mexico!”.
Of course, one of the most important elements of Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations is food — typical Mexican dishes like pozole and menu are sold at street stands during the vibrant celebrations throughout Mexico.
El Grito de Dolores
On the night of September 15th, 1810, national hero Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang a bell and shouted the Grito de Dolores (also known as el Grito de la Independencia) on the Presidential Balcony of the Palacio Nacional.
Since then, on the same day every year, the President of Mexico gives a speech at the same shout, and ends it by crying out “¡Viva México!” (“Long live Mexico!”), which is then echoed by the crowd. Thousands of people gather to watch this spectacle and the impressive firework display.
4. Semana Santa and Pascua
When: the week before Easter Sunday
Semana Santa, which translates to mean Holy Week, is a religious holiday that commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Mexico, Semana Santa is celebrated from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday.
Across the country, Mexicans celebrate with elaborate processions and ceremonies. Most of the larger Semana Santa celebrations include a dramatic reenactment of the capture, the trial, and the crucifixion of Jesus. The most spectacular Holy Week celebrations take place in Iztapalapa in Mexico City, Taxco, San Miguel de Allende and San Luis Potosí.
Many people also attend church services and enjoy a large feast with family and friends. Traditional Easter foods in Mexico are mostly fish dishes as Catholics not being allowed to eat meat during these times. Even though it’s one of the biggest Mexican holidays, many Mexicans take the chance to travel to different parts of the country.
5. Las Posadas
When: 16 – 24 December
Christmas in Mexico is celebrated from December 16th through December 24th. This lengthy Mexican celebration is known as Las Posadas, which commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. During Las Posadas, nine different processions are held in honor of Mary and Joseph’s journey, each of which is led by a child dressed up as an angel.
If you get the chance to celebrate with a family, expect to feast on traditional foods, light up candles, and sing some of the posada songs. These are the Mexican version of Christmas carols and allude to the journey Mary and Joseph took to birth baby Jesus.
Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, is one of the most important Mexican holidays. On Christmas Eve, a Nativity scene called a Belen is erected in homes and public squares across the country. Families gather together for a special feast called Ronquete, which typically features tamales, mole poblano, and bacalao (cod fish). After the feast, families attend Midnight Mass before returning home to open presents.
6. New Year’s Eve
When: 31 December
New Year’s Eve celebrations are a little different in Mexico from how you would imagine. If you’re looking for a big party and lots of booze, then Mexico isn’t the place to go. New Year’s in Mexico is characterized by family celebrations. There are a few weird and wonderful traditions during the new year celebrations that don’t happen anywhere other than Mexico.
Mexican New Year’s Traditions
- At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Mexicans begin eating 12 grapes, one for each chime of the clock’s bell. This tradition, known as “las doce uvas de la suerte,” is thought to bring good luck in the new year.
- Mexicans also like to splash a bucket of water out the window to get rid of the old year and bring in the new that this year has to offer.
- Many families also eat lentils as they think it will bring them good fortune. But only one spoonful!
- People walk down the streets with luggage, which is said to bring lots of travel in the upcoming year.
- They also clean up their house, to sweep out the old year and sweep in 12 coins from the outside of the house at midnight, which represents good fortune and wealth.
- On New Year’s Eve, many ladies believe that wearing red underwear will bring them love, yellow underwear will bring them prosperity and happiness, green will bring wealth and wellbeing, while white is for hope and peace.
7. Día De Los Inocentes
When: 28 December
Día De Los Inocentes, or Day of the Innocents, is Mexico’s version of April Fool’s Day. Celebrated on December 28th, this Mexican holiday commemorates King Herod’s massacre of innocents.
On Día De Los Inocentes, friends and family play practical jokes on one another. I found it quite bizarre to learn that even the media gets involved and on this day reports some completely outlandish and fake stories just for the fun of it.
8. Dia de los Reyes Magos
When: 6 January
The Day of the Three Kings known as Dia de Los Reyes Magos is perhaps more important than Christmas (for kids at least!). It celebrates the arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem to the birth of Jesus. In Mexico, this holiday is celebrated on January 6th, also known as Epiphany Day. On Dia de Los Reyes Magos, many Mexicans attend church services and then enjoy a feast.
One of the main things that happen during this day is children will open their presents to signify the wise men passing on their gifts to Jesus. Yes, that’s right, some children have to wait until the 6th of January to open their presents!
Rosca de Reyes
A Rosca de Reyes is a ring-shaped cake that is eaten on Dia de Los Reyes Magos. The cake is made of sweetened dough and is often decorated with fruit. Hidden inside the cake is a small figurine of baby Jesus. The person who finds the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is responsible for hosting a party on February 2nd, which is Dia de la Candelaria.
9. Carnival in Mexico
When: 21 February
Carnival is a festive season that takes place before Lent. In Mexico, Carnival is celebrated from February 16th through February 21st. During Carnival, people dress up in costumes and masks and take to the streets to dance and celebrate. One of the most popular Carnival celebrations in Mexico is in Orizaba, Veracruz, where revelers dance and party all week long.
Best Places to Experience Carnival in Mexico
Veracruz plays host to the largest carnival in Mexico. The festivities begin with the burning of a character representing bad moods, and the carnival is put to an end many days later with the burial of Juan Carnival.
Tepoztlan is a pueblo mágico characterized by a lively open-air market that overruns the town during the day. It truly comes alive during the carnival. During these days, Chinelo dancers are seen leaping to the music of flutes and drums in their colorful masks.
The carnival in La Paz of Baja de California is a 10-day long party. Four spectacular parades and a slew of musical performances keep the party going. At the end of the party, a King of Happiness will be crowned. Check out this Baja California road trip to plan your journey!
10. Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe
When: 12 December
Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe is one of the few religious Mexican holidays, and it celebrates the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. This event is said to have occurred in 1531 on Tepeyac Hill, just outside of Mexico City.
Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe is one of the biggest Mexican celebrations, with processions and masses taking place around the country. The holiday is also a time for Mexicans to reflect on their faith and give thanks for the Virgin’s protection.
11. Dia de la Revolución
When: 3rd Monday of November
On the third Monday of November, Dia de la Revolucion is celebrated to mark the start of the Mexican revolution. The revolution was an extended sequence of armed regional conflicts in Mexico that took place from approximately 1910 to 1920. It was a defining event in modern Mexican history.
Today, Mexico celebrates with parades and reenactments to commemorate the struggle for independence. I was pretty shocked to see kids parading with firearms! Many Mexicans view this holiday as a time to be proud of their country and its people.
12. Dia de Santa Cecilia
When: 22 November
Dia de Santa Cecilia is the celebration of the patron saint of musicians, Saint Cecilia. On Dia de Santa Cecilia, musical concerts and events are held in cities and towns across the country. This Mexican holiday is a time for people to celebrate their traditional music.
Hundreds of Mariachis playing together at the Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City is quite the spectacle. They walk in procession with other musicians and their families to La Basílica de Guadalupe.
13. Dia de la Madre
When: 14 May
Dia de la Madre is a holiday that celebrates mothers on May 14th. It’s a particularly big affair in Mexico City as children buy lavish gifts for their mums and restaurants fill up with dinner reservations.
In general, Mother’s Day in Mexico is celebrated similarly to in the United States: with a nice family meal, flowers, and presents. But in Mexico, mariachi music, special mass services, and extravagant school performances are common.
14. Dia del Padre
When: 3rd Sunday of June
You guessed it, Dia del Padre is a holiday that celebrates fathers. Every year in Mexico, Dia del Padre is celebrated on the third Sunday of June as a way for children to honor their fathers. This holiday emphasizes gift-giving and quality time spent between father and child. It represents an opportunity for Mexicans to express how grateful they are for their male role models.
15. Dia del Niño
When: 30 April
The Day of the Child is a festival to celebrate children. On April 30th in Mexico, children are showered with gifts, candy, and toys. This holiday is a time for Mexicans to celebrate the joy of children.
16. Guelaguetza Festival
When: Last Monday of July
The Guelaguetza Festival is a two-week celebration that takes place in Oaxaca. This festival celebrates the indigenous cultures of Mexico and features traditional music, dance, and food. The Guelaguetza Festival culminates with a parade called Lunes del Cerro on the last Monday of July.
There are several other events held in Oaxaca during the two weeks of the Guelaguetza celebration, including concerts, talks, exhibitions, and the famous mezcal fair where you can try lots of different mezcal plus other traditional Mexican alcohol. Check out other things to do in Oaxaca.
17. Festival Internacional Cervantino
When: 12 to 30 October
The Cervantino Festival is a cultural festival that is a huge event throughout the city of Guanajuato. The Cervantino Festival takes place from October 12th to October 30th. The festival began in the mid-20th century when Miguel de Cervantes’ plays called ‘entremeses’ were performed in city plazas.
Today the festival encapsulates its originality with a cultural buffet of folk music, art, theater, and special guests come specially from all over the globe to perform their talents. This is a truly unique event, and participating in the festival is one of the best things to do in Guanajuato.
18. Jarabe Tapatío
Jarabe Tapatío, also known as the Mexican hat dance, is arguably the most well-known traditional Mexican folk dance that is often performed at festivals and celebrations. Mexico’s national dance is intricately linked with its pride as a nation.
The dance is done by a group of dancers who wear sombreros or traditional Mexican hats. The hats are used to keep time with the music, and the dancers often perform acrobatic feats such as flips and turns. They also put on distinctly Mexican clothing; the male dancer wears a charro suit and the female dancer a china poblana dress.
19. The Vaqueria
Vaquerias are a religious celebration unique to the Yucatan Peninsula, that’s held in honor of the patron saint. These dances share the sounds of the Jarana orchestra with the Jarana traditional dance. Men and women wear Yucatan festival costumes; the huipil dress and shawl for women and the guayabera shirt, Panama hat and red scarf for men.
Traditionally, vaquerias were a three day, four night celebration. A large display of fireworks would mark the start of the party before the party began. During the dance, male dancers spontaneously yelled ‘bomba’ and all music would stop. At this point, one man would shout out a ridiculously funny rhyme and the orchestra and dancing resumed.
20. The Danza de los Voladores
Performed for centuries by the Totonac people of Mexico, The Danza de Los Voladores is held to honor the sun god and to ask for a good harvest. The ritual involves four men climbing to the top of a pole and then leaping off, spinning around the pole as they descend. This Mexican tradition comes from Papantla in the state of Veracruz, but it has spread throughout Mexico.
In Puerto Vallarta, you can see this spectacle every evening on the Malecon at 6 pm, alongside the stunning sunsets the seaside city has to offer. Plus if you stick around until 10 pm you’ll be able to make a night of it with the daily firework display.
21. Dance of the Parachicos
The Dance of the Parachicos is a traditional dance that originated in the state of Chiapas. This dance is performed by men who dress up as women and wear colorful costumes. The costumes can come across as a little disturbing and certainly take some getting used to if you’ve never seen them before.
The Dance of the Parachicos is usually performed in the town of Chiapas de Corzo, during Mexican festivals and celebrations. To be a Parachico is not simply to wear the outfit; it is classed as a birthright. The best place to see the traditional dance is at Las Pichanchas, one of the best restaurants in San Cristobal de las Casas. They have a daily dance show at 8pm.
22. Mariachi Music
Mariachi music is perhaps the most famous type of traditional Mexican music. It originated from the state of Jalisco in the 18th century. The music is often accompanied by singing and dancing and is used to celebrate special occasions such as weddings, births, and religious festivals.
You’ll see a lot of these types of bands in restaurants throughout Mexico too. They often play instruments such as guitar, guitarrón, violin, vihuela Mexicana, harp, and trumpet, all overlayed by the vocals of usually a deep-voiced man. When you come across a good one, you won’t miss them as people tend to cheer and offer lavish tips if they are a well-put-together band.
23. Quinceañera Parties
A quinceañera is a coming-of-age celebration for girls who turn 15 years old. This is one of the most important Mexican celebrations and it’s often compared to a wedding. A quinceañera party usually includes a mass, a feast, and dancing.
Traditionally, as girls neared their 15th birthdays, the elder women in their communities would teach them cooking and weaving as preparation for their future roles as wives. The girl’s father would introduce her to potential suitors. These days, this has been toned down, but the tradition lives on and many young girls look forward to this day from a very young age.
24. Mexican Piñatas
A piñata is a type of party feature that originated in Mexico. Piñatas are usually made out of papier-mâché these days but they were originally made from clay. They are filled with candy, fruit, and other small toys and then hung from a tree or ceiling.
The kids are usually blindfolded and take turns hitting the piñata with a stick in an attempt to break it open and release the contents. It used to be a uniquely Mexican tradition, but nowadays the colorful nature of the piñatas has spread worldwide.
25. Mexican Siesta
The Mexican siesta is a traditional afternoon nap that originated in Spain and was brought over during the colonial Spanish days. The siesta is typically taken after a large midday meal, and it helps people to avoid the hottest hours of the day.
The siesta is still practiced in many parts of Mexico, particularly in rural areas. But from my experience, big cities and larger build-up areas generally don’t take part in the practice anymore. This is a shame because I love an afternoon nap!
Salsa is a popular style of dance that originated in Cuba and was brought to Mexico by Cuban immigrants. The dance is characterized by fast-paced movements and often includes spins, turns, and dips. Mexicans love dancing salsa; you’ll often find them dancing in local parks throughout Mexico.
There are many places in Mexico City where you can go to salsa dance. If you haven’t already walked past a class or two, a good place to start would be Parque Alameda near Palacio de Bellas Artes. I walked through this park multiple times and saw at least 2 or 3 open dances (with music) going on close to the park’s bandstands.
27. Tradtional Mexican Foods
Mexican cuisine is rich and flavorful, with a diverse range of dishes that reflect the country’s history and culture. Mention Mexican food and most people think of tacos and burritos, but Mexican cooking is so much more than that.
From street food like tacos and tamales to regional specialties like mole poblano and chiles en nogada, there are endless possibilities for deliciousness. Here are some of my favorite traditional Mexican dishes:
- Mole Poblano – A sauce made from a variety of chili peppers, nuts, seeds, and spices. It is typically served over chicken or turkey.
- Pozole – A soup made from hominy (a type of corn), pork, and chili peppers. It is often garnished with shredded cabbage, radishes, and lime.
- Tamales – A dish made from corn dough that is filled with meat, vegetables, or fruit, and then steamed in a corn husk.
- Menudo – A soup made from beef stomach, chili peppers, and hominy.
- Chiles en Nogada – A dish made from poblano chili peppers that are stuffed with a picadillo (a mix of meat, fruits, and vegetables) and then covered in a creamy walnut sauce.
- Birria – A stew made from goat or beef that is cooked in a chili pepper and spice-based broth.
- Barbacoa – Made with slow-cooked meat (usually beef, lamb, or goat) that is typically served with tortillas, salsa, and guacamole.
- Enchiladas – A dish made from corn tortillas that are filled with meat or cheese and then covered in a chili pepper sauce and usually topped with cheese.
- Chalupas – A dish made from fried or toasted corn tortillas that are filled with meat, vegetables, or beans.
- Sopes – A thicker type of tortilla, sopes are made from masa harina (a type of corn flour) and are typically fried or grilled. They are often topped with meat, beans, cheese, and salsa.
- Huaraches – Another type of corn tortilla, huaraches are oblong-shaped and usually grilled. They are often topped with meat, vegetables, or cheese.
- Tostadas – A dish made from a flat and fried corn tortilla that is typically topped with meat, beans, lettuce, cheese, and salsa.
28. Tequila & Mezcal
Tequila is a type of Mexican spirit that is made from the blue agave plant. Before coming to Mexico, I wasn’t a big fan of tequila. I did not like how the sour taste that burns the back of your throat. But through my time in the country, I have come to fall in love with the drink.
Mezcal is also a Mexican spirit made from the agave plant, but it tastes completely different. It’s often considered to be a smokier and more flavorful version of tequila. This is like the rolls-royce of tequila, it’s more expensive and packs a smokey punch.
Both of these drinks are the pinnacle of Mexican alcohol. If you want to get to know them better, check out this Tequila tour from Guadalajara.
29. Traditional Cantina
Cantinas are often associated with tequila and mezcal, and they are traditional drinking holes that serve up tequila and a whole lot of character. Traditionally, cantinas were visited only by men (a couple of them in Merida still don’t allow women). La Negrita is one of the best places to visit in Merida for it’s old-school decor and atmosphere. Today, cantinas have evolved, but most of them have still retained those western saloon swinging doors and cowboy-hat-toting clientele.
Better known as bullfighting, this is a traditional contest that involves a matador (swordsman) and a bull. The origins of this sport come from the need to provide entertainment for the Spanish soldiers stationed in Mexico.
It is still a popular event, particularly in rural areas, and is often combined with other festivals or celebrations. The Plaza Mexico, which seats 48,000 people, has hosted some of the most distinctive events.
This is one of the few traditions in Mexico which I am completely against. I included it as it is still a Mexican tradition, but I wanted to bring awareness to the pain and suffering the bulls go through during a fight. It is not only gruesome but downright cruel. And because of this, 4 states in Mexico have now banned the practice, hopefully with more to follow soon.
Further Reading on Mexico
As you can see, the diversity of traditions and festivals here in Mexico is impressive. There are a multitude of celebrations throughout the year that will make for a truly memorable visit. Mexican traditions like the mariachi bands can be spotted singing year-round, but you can also time your trip to visit during unique Mexican celebrations like the Day of the Dead.
I hope this guide to the 30 best Mexican holidays and traditions was helpful. If you have any questions or further comments please send me a message in the comment section below.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- 30 Mexico Fun Facts that Will Surprise You
- Day of the Dead in Mexico City: 2022 Schedule & Events
- Best Time to Visit Mexico City
- Visiting Teotihuacan: My Guide to the Mexico City Pyramids
- Guanajuato Itinerary: An Epic 10-Day Road Trip
- 30 Cool Things to Do in Guanajuato, Mexico in 2022
- 30 Best Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende
- Where to Stay in Mexico City in 2022
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