Mexicans celebrate a number of holidays and festivals throughout the year that are a vibrant expression of Mexico’s history and culture. Many of these celebrations have origins in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic civilizations, while others are tied to events and figures in Mexican history or religious holidays. Let’s take a look at some of the major holidays celebrated in Mexico.
New Year’s Day – January 1
In Mexico, New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo) is a national public holiday. Many Mexicans celebrate New Year’s Eve with parties and fireworks. The next day is spent recovering from the celebrations and welcoming the New Year with hope.
- Date: January 1
- What is it: Marks the start of the new year
- Traditions: Parties, fireworks, making resolutions
Three Kings’ Day – January 6
Known as Día de los Reyes in Mexico, Three Kings’ Day is celebrated on January 6th to honor the Three Wise Men (Reyes Magos). This holiday represents the day the Three Wise Men gave gifts to the baby Jesus.
On the evening of January 5th, children often leave their shoes on the windowsill or balcony so the Three Kings can leave gifts. Mexican families also cut the holiday bread rosca de reyes, in which a figurine of baby Jesus is hidden. Whoever finds the figurine hosts a party on Candlemas in February.
- Date: January 6
- What is it: Commemorates the Three Wise Men’s gifts to baby Jesus
- Traditions: Children put shoes out for gifts, rosca de reyes bread
Constitution Day – February 5
Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución) is a Mexican holiday celebrating the country’s Constitution of 1917. This constitution was an important milestone in Mexican history, as it established a democratic federal republic after decades of dictatorship.
The day is marked with military parades, patriotic ceremonies, and readings of the constitution in schools. Government officials make speeches reaffirming Mexico’s commitment to the democratic values laid out in the constitution.
- Date: February 5
- What is it: Commemorates Mexico’s 1917 Constitution
- Traditions: Military parades, ceremonies, constitution readings
Birthday of Benito Juárez – March 21
Benito Juárez’s birthday is a national public holiday celebrating the birth of one of Mexico’s most revered presidents and reformers. Juárez, who was born on March 21, 1806, served as president of Mexico from 1858 until his death in 1872.
He fought against the French occupation and overthrew the Mexican monarchy. As president he worked to separate church and state, improve indigenous rights, and establish a democratic federal government. His birthday honors his contributions to Mexico’s society and identity.
- Date: March 21
- What is it: Birthday of President Benito Juárez
- Traditions: Speeches, tributes to Juárez, celebrations of his life
Holy Week and Easter
In Mexico, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is celebrated with Holy Week (Semana Santa) observances across the country. Holy Week includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
Many towns and cities hold elaborate rituals and reenactments of the crucifixion. Oaxaca has especially vibrant and famous Holy Week traditions. Easter Sunday itself is more subdued with family meals and gatherings.
- Date: Changes annually, the week before Easter Sunday
- What is it: Holy Week celebrations leading up to Easter
- Traditions: Religious rituals, crucifixion reenactments, family meals
Labor Day – May 1
May 1st is Labor Day (Día del Trabajo) in Mexico. It commemorates the labor movement and the rights of all workers, similar to Labor Day in the United States and Canada. Large parades and demonstrations with unions and political parties are held in cities across Mexico.
- Date: May 1
- What is it: Celebration of workers and the labor movement
- Traditions: Parades, union demonstrations, labor activism
Cinco de Mayo – May 5
Cinco de Mayo is probably the most widely celebrated Mexican holiday outside of Mexico. However, it is a relatively minor holiday within Mexico. Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
In Mexico City, there are some military parades and recreation activities on this day. But the day is more prominently celebrated in the United States with parades, parties, and traditions like drinking margaritas and eating Mexican food.
- Date: May 5
- What is it: Commemorates Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862
- Traditions: Military parades in Mexico, more widely celebrated in the US
Independence Day – September 16
Mexico’s Independence Day (Día de la Independencia) celebrates the country’s independence from Spanish rule. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo issued the Cry of Dolores calling for the end of Spanish rule, sparking the Mexican War of Independence.
The day is celebrated with fiestas, parties, traditional Mexican food, parades, and reenactments of the Cry of Dolores. At 11 pm on September 15th, the president of Mexico recreates the Cry of Dolores and rings the bell at the National Palace in Mexico City.
- Date: September 16
- What is it: Independence from Spain in 1810
- Traditions: Parades, fiestas, food, reenacting the Cry of Dolores
Day of the Dead – November 1-2
One of Mexico’s most iconic and widely celebrated holidays is Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). This holiday takes place over November 1st and 2nd, coinciding with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
The holiday honors deceased loved ones. Families build ofrendas (altars) with photos, flowers, andfavorite foods of those who have passed. People dress in costumes and makeup depicting skulls (calaveras) and skeletons. Cempasúchil flowers are used to guide the spirits back to visit the living.
- Date: November 1-2
- What is it: Honoring and celebrating deceased loved ones
- Traditions: Ofrendas, skull makeup and costumes, marigold flowers
Revolution Day – November 20
Revolution Day (Día de la Revolución) honors the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. The Mexican Revolution was a civil war that ousted dictator Porfirio Diaz and led to the creation of modern Mexico’s constitution.
Major celebrations are held in Mexico City with parades, festivals, and reenactments of revolutionary war scenes. Many cities have street fairs and festivals with music, food, and vendors.
- Date: November 20
- What is it: Commemorates the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910
- Traditions: Parades, battle reenactments, street festivals
Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12
Our Lady of Guadalupe Day (Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) honors the patron saint of Mexico. The Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous Mexican man named Juan Diego in 1531 and her image was miraculously imprinted on his cloak.
This day marks the anniversary of that miracle. Mexicans commemorate the day by attending mass, singing, dancing, lighting candles, and making offerings to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.
- Date: December 12
- What is it: Honors the Virgin Mary, Mexico’s patron saint
- Traditions: Mass, singing, dancing, offerings
Christmas Eve – December 24
In Mexico, the most important Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve (Nochebuena), rather than Christmas Day. Families gather together for a large Christmas Eve dinner around midnight. Traditional dishes include bacalao (salt cod), romeritos (shrimp), and ponche (fruit punch).
After dinner, family members may exchange hugs and gifts. Children often get gifts from baby Jesus (Niño Dios) rather than Santa Claus. Mass is also attended at midnight on Christmas Eve.
- Date: December 24
- What is it: Traditional family Christmas Eve celebrations
- Traditions: Large dinner at midnight, gift giving from baby Jesus
Other Holidays and Annual Events
In additional to major national holidays, Mexico has numerous other annual celebrations, festivals, and events that vary by region. Here are a few examples:
- Guelaguetza – Oaxaca’s annual indigenous culture festival in July
- Day of the Dead Festival – Oaxaca’s huge Day of the Dead celebration in late October/early November
- Alebrijes Parade – Giant alebrije sculptures paraded in Mexico City prior to Day of the Dead
- Carnaval – Multi-day celebration involving parades, costumes and dancing during the week leading up to Lent
- Feria de San Marcos – Massive fair in Aguascalientes with concerts, food, bullfighting and more, April into May
- International Balloon Festival – Popular hot air balloon festival in Leon, Guanajuato in November
There are countless more regional fairs, festivals, rodeos, pilgrimages, and events held across Mexico each year. The diversity and vibrancy of these celebrations reflect Mexico’s rich culture.
Types of Mexican Holidays
Looking at the major Mexican holidays and celebrations above, we can break them into a few main categories:
Secular National Holidays
Some holidays commemorate important national historical events and figures including Independence Day, Revolution Day, Benito Juárez’s birthday, and Constitution Day. These secular patriotic holidays involve ceremonies, military parades, and bringing people together.
Catholic Religious Holidays
Mexico has a high percentage of Catholics, so many holidays follow the Catholic liturgical calendar. These include Christmas, Day of the Dead, Holy Week, and the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. These involve attending mass, religious rituals, and family gatherings.
Festivals and Celebrations
Many annual festivals have grown out of religious holidays and local customs. For example, Cinco de Mayo is now more an occasion for battle reenactments and celebrations. Day of the Dead involves parades, costumes, and street fairs in addition to honoring deceased loved ones.
Important People and History
Some holidays honor the birthdays of key figures in Mexico’s history, such as Benito Juárez and Miguel Hidalgo. Others commemorate historic events like the start of the revolution and independence from Spain.
Major Holiday Traditions and Customs
We can also look at Mexican holiday traditions and identify some commonalities and customs that occur across many of these important days:
- Religious rituals and mass: Many holidays involve going to mass, religious parades, and saint veneration.
- Cemeteries and honoring the dead: Gravesites are cleaned and decorated on Day of the Dead and many flock to cemeteries. Even Our Lady of Guadalupe pays homage to Mexico’s indigenous roots and relationship with death.
- Parades and reenactments: Military parades recreate key battles while parade floats reference historical events and figures.
- Patriotic symbols: The Mexican flag, national anthem, and other patriotic symbols are prominently displayed.
- Festive food: Certain dishes become associated with holidays, for example the bread and Christmas Eve dinner.
- Family gatherings: Most holidays involve bringing the extended family together.
- Music, art, and costumes: Marigold flowers, skull decorations, and traditional music help define the festive atmosphere.
Mexican holidays and celebrations form an important part of Mexico’s cultural heritage, bringing families and communities together to honor history, religious figures, and deceased loved ones. From prominent holidays like Christmas and Easter to patriotic days remembering the revolution, these special days infuse Mexican life with rich tradition and identity. Although some holidays have become more secular over time, they still retain the vibrant energy that makes Mexican culture so renowned worldwide.