Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th. This marks the day in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo issued the Cry of Dolores, calling for the end of Spanish rule in Mexico. However, some confusion arises because the eve of Independence Day, September 15th, is marked by El Grito de Dolores, a ceremony re-enacting Hidalgo’s historic proclamation.
When is Mexican Independence Day? September 16th
What do Mexicans celebrate on September 15th? El Grito de Dolores, the eve of Independence Day
Why are both September 15th and 16th significant? The 15th marks the original Cry of Dolores in 1810, while the 16th marks the day Mexico officially declared independence from Spain in 1821.
The Cry of Dolores
In 1810, Mexico was under Spanish colonial rule. On September 16th of that year, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo issued a call to arms encouraging Mexicans to rise up against Spanish authority. This became known as the Cry of Dolores or El Grito de Dolores.
Hidalgo’s proclamation is considered the spark that ignited the Mexican War of Independence. His impassioned call rallied thousands of indigenous and mestizo peasants to join in revolt across Mexico.
The revolutionary army led by Hidalgo would gain some victories early on. However, Hidalgo was eventually captured and executed in 1811. Even so, the embers of rebellion continued to smolder in Mexico for over a decade after his death.
The Significance of Dolores
Why is this event known as the Cry of Dolores? Hidalgo’s call to arms occurred in the town of Dolores, in the province of Guanajuato. At the time, Dolores was a small agricultural community of about 600 people.
In the pre-dawn hours of September 16, 1810, Hidalgo rang the church bell to gather the townspeople. It was from this church in Dolores that he made his impassioned speech denouncing Spanish tyranny and urging an uprising.
Ever since, Dolores has held symbolic importance as the birthplace of Mexico’s independence movement. The ‘Cry of Dolores’ refers specifically to the ringing of the church bell that gathered the people to hear Hidalgo’s call to revolution.
Independence Day vs. El Grito de Dolores
So when did Mexico actually achieve independence? After 11 years of fighting between rebels and Spanish colonial forces, Mexico finally declared independence on September 28, 1821.
September 28th became the official Independence Day celebration. However, as the years passed, September 16th and the Cry of Dolores became increasingly symbolic as the opening salvo of the independence struggle.
In 1825, the president of Mexico declared September 16th a national holiday in honor of the launch of the insurgency. As the date gained prominence, September 28th was superseded and forgotten.
Now every September 15th at 11 pm, Mexico’s president re-enacts El Grito de Dolores from the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City. Shouts of “¡Viva México!” accompany bell-ringing and fireworks to commemorate Hidalgo’s historic call to arms.
After the ceremony, Independence Day is celebrated on the 16th with parades, performances, special events, and food. So the 15th honors the eve of independence at Dolores, while the 16th honors independence itself.
Timeline of Key Dates
Here is a summary of the key dates surrounding Mexico’s independence:
- September 16, 1810 – Miguel Hidalgo issues the Cry of Dolores calling for Mexican independence from Spain
- September 28, 1821 – Mexico officially declares independence after 11 years of war with Spain
- September 16, 1825 – Mexico celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Cry of Dolores by making September 16th Independence Day
- September 15-16 – Modern annual celebrations commemorate the eve (15th) and day (16th) of independence
Celebrations Across Mexico
Independence Day celebrations span both the 15th and 16th with festivities large and small across Mexico.
On the evening of the 15th, the re-enactment of the Grito takes place at city and town plazas throughout the country. Families gather in their local plazas to hear speeches, bell-ringing, and cries of “¡Viva México!”
On the 16th, parades and festivals continue the celebration. The largest Independence Day parade takes place in Mexico City’s Plaza de la Constitución. Streets are decorated in green, white, and red – the colors of the Mexican flag.
Children dress as revolutionary heroes like Hidalgo or José María Morelos. Many women don traditional Mexican dresses and dance in the streets. Traditional Mexican food like tamales, pozole, and chiles en nogada are enjoyed by revelers.
Independence Day is a national celebration that brings Mexicans from all walks of life together. Even Mexicans living abroad will plan events and gatherings to honor their cultural heritage.
Independence Day Food Traditions
Certain dishes are strongly associated with the Independence Day period:
- Chiles en nogada – Poblano peppers stuffed with meat and dried fruit, covered in walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds, replicating the colors of the Mexican flag.
- Pozole – A soup made with hominy, pork, and chiles.
- Tamales – Corn dough stuffed with meat, cheese, or chiles, wrapped in a corn husk.
These iconic Mexican foods link Independence Day celebrations to the country’s pre-Hispanic culinary traditions. By serving them, Mexicans commemorate both independence and cultural heritage.
Traditions and Customs
In addition to major public festivities, Independence Day is steeped in traditions and customs that Mexicans have maintained for generations:
- El Grito – Every town plaza re-enacts the Cry of Dolores on the night of September 15th, commemorating Hidalgo’s 1810 call to arms.
- Chiles en nogada – Eating this seasonal dish around Independence Day represents the red, white, and green of the Mexican flag.
- Mariachi music – Mariachi bands play traditional Mexican music as part of the Independence Day celebrations.
- Folkloric dancing – On Independence Day, people perform regional dances wearing traditional outfits.
- The National Palace balcony – Mexico’s president emerges on the balcony where leaders have commemorated independence since 1812.
- Zócalo gathering – Huge crowds congregate in Mexico City’s main plaza to hear the Cry of Dolores re-enactment.
By upholding these time-honored traditions, Mexicans stay connected to the long history of their independence.
Mexico’s Independence Movement
Mexico’s independence from Spain was not an easy victory after Hidalgo’s initial call to action. It took 11 years of sustained fighting to finally win freedom from colonial rule.
Early Insurgent Leaders
After Hidalgo was executed in 1811, the revolt was kept alive by other courageous leaders:
- José María Morelos – A priest who led rebel forces after Hidalgo’s death, scoring victories and publishing the Sentimientos de la Nación that laid out principles for an independent Mexico.
- Vicente Guerrero – A guerrilla fighter from the rugged mountains of southern Mexico who kept the insurgency going using hit-and-run tactics against colonial forces.
These leaders and others continued to resist Spanish control after Hidalgo. But eventually divisions and infighting weakened the insurgents, leading to a stalemate with no clear winner.
Agustín de Iturbide and the Army of Three Guarantees
The independence movement became revitalized when colonial officer Agustín de Iturbide switched sides in 1821 and joined the rebels. Iturbide crafted a deal called the Plan of Iguala that promised:
- Independence from Spain
- The protection of Catholicism
- Equal rights for Spanish and Mexican-born citizens
Iturbide assembled a new military force called the Army of Three Guarantees to fight for the Plan of Iguala. With their help, Spain’s viceroy was quickly persuaded to accept Mexico’s independence.
Declaration of Independence
On September 28, 1821, the Army of Three Guarantees triumphantly marched into Mexico City. The following day, the Act of Independence was signed declaring Mexico a sovereign nation free from Spanish rule.
Although Iturbide named himself emperor, his reign was short. In 1824, Mexico became a republic and the difficult task began of shaping the new nation.
The long war left Mexico weakened and still plagued by deep divisions. But Independence Day celebrations remain a unifying national tradition that connects Mexicans to their shared identity.
Lasting Legacy of Independence
Mexico’s independence changed the country profoundly, leaving an enduring legacy:
- Sovereignty – Mexico determined its own destiny as an independent nation after three centuries of external rule.
- Mexican identity – A distinct Mexican culture and identity emerged after centuries under Spanish colonialism.
- Instability – Political instability, coups, and power struggles followed independence.
- Lost territory – Half of Mexico’s land was lost to the U.S. in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848).
- French occupation – France invaded and set up a puppet monarchy under Emperor Maximilian I from 1864–1867 before Mexicans restored independence.
- One-party rule – The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) dominated Mexican politics for 71 years after the Mexican Revolution until its defeat in 2000.
While independence brought many ongoing challenges, it allowed Mexico to develop as a distinct nation shaped by its people according to their own values and needs.
Mexican Independence Day celebrations honor both the eve and the day of independence from colonial Spain. While the Cry of Dolores on September 16, 1810 launched the insurgency, independence was not formally achieved until September 28, 1821 after 11 years of struggle.
Modern celebrations focus on September 15-16 to commemorate the beginning cry for freedom. The eve of the 16th sees re-enactments of Hidalgo’s historic call to arms. On Independence Day proper, parades and festivals celebrate nationhood.
By upholding these traditions and honoring Mexico’s native heroes, Independence Day remains a unifying patriotic event for all Mexicans.