Mexican birthday traditions are not all that different from western birthday traditions. In Mexico, your birthday is known as your cumpleaños. The person whose birthday it is is usually presented with gifts (regalos), birthday cards, and congratulations of Feliz cumpleaños (Happy birthday!)
There are also some uniquely Mexican birthday traditions that take place during this time too. For, instance the smashing of the pinata, pushing someone’s face into their birthday cake and hiring a mariachi band to perform at parties.
This article on Mexican birthday traditions has been written by an expat in Mexico. it will discuss all the exciting things that you need to look out for if you are ever fortunate enough to be invited to a Mexican birthday party or alternatively if you are planning a birthday celebration for your Mexican friends and relatives.
Mexican Birthday Traditions to Know
Smashing the Piñata
As far as most Mexicans are concerned, you never need an excuse to have a piñata! Most people have piñatas for their birthday and Christmas celebrations.
Piñatas are giant paper mache and cardboard boxes that are filled with candy and other treats. You can buy piñatas in a variety of different shapes and sizes and they are decorated in all manner of vibrant colors.
Usually, before a birthday party starts in Mexico, someone will go out to buy a piñata and then they will head to a dulceria. This is essentially a giant supermarket that stocks aisle upon aisle of candies.
The person will buy all manner of candies and chocolates and then stuff them inside the piñata. The piñata is then fixed to a wall or ceiling usually in a garden or outside space of a house.
If it is your birthday, the objective is for you to hit the piñata with a large wooden stick or a bat while blindfolded, until it breaks and all of the candies fall out. Some high-quality pinatas can be quite durable and it can take a while to destroy them!
At a birthday party, people often take turns hitting the piñata. It is a lot of fun as it can take several people and plenty of whacks until the piñata is broken.
If there are a lot of people attending the party, particularly if there are a lot of children involved, it is not uncommon for multiple party guests to buy and bring piñatas.
A little history of the Piñata
Almost everybody has heard of piñatas, whether they have traveled to Mexico and Latin America or not. These colorful cardboard creations have become something of a symbol of Mexico.
However, interestingly, they didn’t originate here. It is believed that piñatas were originally created in China. Then, the great explorer Marco Polo discovered them on his travels and took them to Italy in the 13th century. From there, the tradition of the pinata spread to Spain and finally to Mexico.
Having a birthday cake
Large, sweet, and sugary cakes are often enjoyed at birthday parties in Mexico just as they are in the United States. Traditionally, people would purchase tres leches cakes.
These are colorful multi-tiered cakes with sponges in all colors of the rainbow. However today, people choose whatever cake they like.
So, they may go out to Walmart or to the local supermarket to purchase a birthday cake that is covered in a thick, decadent layer of frosting in flavors like chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. Alternatively, they may decide to have a birthday cake custom-made by a local bakery restaurant or patisserie.
They may request a specific design or to have the name of the person written on the top with icing.
Hiring a mariachi band
One of the most interesting Mexican birthday traditions, at least from an outside perspective, is the hiring of mariachi bands to perform at parties. in Mexico, you can hire a mariachi band to sing a selection of songs at a birthday party or any other occasion for as little as $30 for several hours.
As you drive around the residential areas of various different Mexican towns and cities you will probably see signs outside people’s homes saying that they are Mariachi for hire. Hiring a mariachi as a local to perform at a Mexican birthday party is significantly cheaper than watching a performance somewhere touristic such as the Mariachi Square in Mexico City or Tlaquepaque in Jalisco.
Hiring a mariachi band is particularly common when hosting parties for young children. As an outsider, you will also be more than welcome to hire Mariachi in Mexico. Your custom will be appreciated and you really don’t need any excuse to listen to this wonderful music.
Singing Las Mañanitas
Las Mañanitas is the Mexican version of the Happy Birthday song. Traditionally, it would be sung to the person whose birthday it was early in the morning.
However, times have changed and now you will often find that this song is sung at any time of the day. It is often sung when gifts are being given or when the person is about to blow out the candle on their birthday cake while they are surrounded by friends and family.
If you are to go to a restaurant in Mexico for your birthday and you tell them about the occasion, you can have a special cake made and presented to you at the end of the meal. Chances are the wait staff will sing Las Mañanitas to you and the song will be played out over loudspeakers for everybody in the restaurant to hear.
Whether you like that attention or not is another matter!
A fiesta is a Mexican term for a party. Like in many other countries, most people in Mexico like to celebrate their birthdays with their close friends and family.
A party is often hosted at home, complete with delicious homemade Mexican food such as carne asada, elotes, tacos, and tamales. There is music and dancing, exchanging of gifts and board games are often played.
Most people in Mexico have large families and family is considered important in Latin culture. So, the family members that attend a person’s birthday party are usually not just immediate relatives like parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters. Instead, they are cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, godparents, and the entire extended family.
Pushing someone’s face into their cake!
One of the most unique Mexican birthday traditions is something known as La Mordida. This is the act of pushing a person’s face into their birthday cake.
Some may say that this is a waste of good cake. Others may find this hilarious, particularly if you are the one doing the pushing and not the one being pushed into the cake!
La Mordida means ¨bribe¨ in Spanish. However, in this instance, it is used to mean ¨taking a bite¨.
Partygoers will chant ¨mordida mordida mordida!¨, as the birthday girl/boys face, is pushed into the cake. The person is then encouraged to take a giant bite of their birthday cake before everybody else.
Exchanging gifts is a big part of Mexican birthday traditions, particularly for young children. in Mexico, gifts are known as regalos.
Notable birthdays in Mexico
There are several birthday milestones in Mexico that are considered particularly important. Like in most countries, turning 18 in Mexico marks you officially becoming an adult. Age 21 is further confirmation of your adulthood.
Birthdays that mark your entrance into a new decade (e.g. when you turn 30, 40, 50, etc) are also considered milestones. However, two of the most important birthdays in Mexico are when a person turns three (known as the Presentación de Tres Años) and when a girl turns 15 (The Quinceañera).
Presentación de Tres Años
The Presentación de Tres Años is a centuries-old Mexican tradition that is deeply rooted in Catholicism. Many years ago, people would take their children to church on their third birthday.
This was largely because, at that time, there were not as many medical advancements as there are today. So, a higher proportion of children would get sick or sadly passed away very early in life.
So, at the Presentación de Tres Años, the parents would be praying and asking for a long life and good health for their child. The parents, along with the godparents, would ask the church for guidance on helping them to raise their children well.
Obviously today, infant mortality rates are fortunately much lower. However, the traditions of the Presentación de Tres Años are still celebrated.
The extended family of a child will go to the local church. There can be as many as 15 to 20 well-dressed relatives in attendance.
After the church service, the family may go out for dinner, or they may return back to someone’s home to eat delicious foods like carnitas and mole. Then, of course, there is the cutting of the birthday cake.
Little girls celebrating their third birthdays may wear beautiful miniature gowns, not unlike a tiny version of a Quinceañera dress. Little boys often wear suits.
The Quinceañera in Mexico is like the Latin version of a girl’s sweet 16 in the United States. It marks a young girl’s transformation from a child into a woman.
Its name comes from the Spanish words quince (15) and años (years). You will find that a lot of people go all out for Quinceañera celebrations.
The parties and outfits that you see during this occasion can be very elaborate – sometimes on the same scale as a wedding!
Quinceañeras are celebrated in several countries across Latin America – including Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela as well as in Latin communities in the United States.
The occasion has Aztec roots. Thousands of years ago, when an Aztec girl turned 15, she would be considered ready for marriage.
Her older relatives would teach her important life skills such as cooking, weaving, and the important role of a woman in the household.
Today, the Quinceañera is mostly about having a big party. Most Mexicans are Catholic and some people are deeply religious.
The Quinceañera celebrations may start with the girl attending a Catholic mass and being presented with a rosary or a pendant by her godparents. From there, the ceremony moves on to a fiesta.
This may be held at the home of the birthday girl or at an outside venue or event hall. (In the Yucatan peninsula, there are many gorgeous haciendas that families hire out for such occasions).
The Quinceañera wears a big, colorful dress that resembles a Princess ballgown. She also often wears a tiara, makeup, and lots of jewelry.
Wealthy Mexican families often spend hundreds of dollars on their children’s Quinceañera celebrations.
Final thoughts on Mexican birthday traditions
Do you have any further questions about Mexican birthday traditions, other Mexican traditions, or planning a trip to Mexico for the first time? Feel free to reach out.
I live in the Yucatan capital of Merida and I’m happy to assist with any questions that you may have.
Have a wonderful time traveling in Mexico. safe travels!