Mexican traditions make massive contributions to the local culture. In this wonderfully colorful and vibrant country, you will find many traditions that are completely unique to Mexico and not celebrated anywhere else in the world.
Arguably one of the most interesting things about Mexican traditions is their diversity and origins. For example, some have been celebrated for hundreds and thousands of years and were started by the Ancient Maya or other indigenous groups living in Latin America.
Others were introduced by Spanish Conquistadors during the colonization of Mexico and others, are relatively recent Mexican traditions. Some have sprouted up suddenly as a consequence of western/American influence, social media trends, etc.
Regardless of origins, there is one thing for certain. Learning about and experiencing Mexican traditions is a rewarding part of traveling to Mexico as much as trying the local cuisine and seeing the sights.
International bodies recognize the significance of Mexican traditions too. Some have been recognized by UNESCO.
28 Mexican Traditions to be Aware of
Mexican traditions may well be things that you discover and decide that you want to incorporate into your own life! This list is by no means exhaustive and indeed, there are different traditions that are celebrated in different parts of Mexico.
So some are very regional. For instance, something that is commonplace in the Yucatan may be virtually unheard of in Mexico City.
Almost everyone, regardless of whether they have traveled to Mexico or not, has heard of piñatas. The same rings true even if people know very little about Mexican culture,
At the most basic level, these are giant papier-mache and cardboard boxes filled with candy and other treats and decorated in vibrant colors. Piñatas will make an appearance at virtually every Mexican birthday party, particularly when it’s a child’s birthday.
They come in all manner of beautiful designs, shapes, and sizes. They are decorated with colored tissue paper, sequins, and glitter.
The objective is for the person whose birthday or occasion is being celebrated to hit the piñata with a large wooden stick until they release the treats within. A piñata may seem like little more than just a simple party game.
However, there is a fascinating history international behind them too. It is believed that the original piñatas were created in China.
Marco Polo brought them to Italy in the 13th century, inspired by the grand papier-mache figures of animals that the Chinese would use to celebrate the Lunar New Year. From Italy, the piñatas were taken to Spain, and then finally to the “New World” of Mexico
In the United States, some people may celebrate their sweet sixteen. However, in Mexico, it is turning 15 that is celebrated – aka a girl’s Quinceanera.
Most Mexicans are Catholic, and many people are deeply religious. So, it makes sense that the Quinceanera starts with religious celebrations.
The Quinceanera marks a girl reaching womanhood. There will be a mass at a Catholic church, followed by a party and, in true Mexican fashion, an abundance of food.
The Quinceañera traditionally wears a ball gown and as far as most Mexicans are concerned, more is definitely more! The gowns are often in bright colors – vibrant blues, pinks, and purples, with a poofy skirt, sequins, and sparkles.
Think princess chic. This is then paired with tiaras, sparkly jewelry, high heels, and lots of makeup! The Quinceanera may also have a date who is expected to dress to impress and wear a tuxedo.
The celebration often commences with a dance between the Quinceanera and her father, followed by a waltz with her suitor. Gifts that range from rosary beads and religious icons to shoes, clothes, and makeup, are given to the Quinceanera.
Three King’s Day
In Mexico, children do not open their Christmas presents on Christmas day, but on Three Kings Day. This day (El Dia de Los Reyes) is celebrated throughout Mexico, Latin America, and parts of Europe on January 6th.
It symbolizes the day that the Three Kings visited Jesus in Bethlehem and brought him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
All of the family fun and games that western families have with their loved ones on Christmas Day are enjoyed in Mexico on Kings Day. People will visit their extended families, sit down at grand family banquets, exchange gifts, and yell at each other for cheating at board games!
Most houses are decorated with a nativity scene ( Los Nacimientos). Like elsewhere in the world, many Mexicans will decorate their houses for days/weeks in advance of the actual day.
Most families will bake or purchase a traditional Kings Day cake known as a Rosca de Reyes. This delicious, circular donut-style cake is essentially a sweet bread and is decorated with candied fruit and icing sugar.
If you happen to be in Mexico over the festive period and you don’t have local friends to enjoy a Rosca de Reyes with, you can pick one up from a local bakery. Be careful though, as a small, hard plastic religious figurine is cooked inside the dough. Whoever finds it has to cook dinner for the other dinner guests!
Mexicans welcome any opportunity for a feast and Kings Day is no different. A Mexican drink called atole is often served, along with black beans and rice, soups, and slow-cooked chicken or pork.
Día de la Candelaria
Unfortunate enough to find the little figure of baby Jesus inside the Rosca de Reyes on Kings Day? Well, it is your turn to cook dinner for everyone on Día de la Candelaria.
The Día de la Candelaria is celebrated on the 2nd of February and marks exactly 40 days since Christmas. It is said that on this day, the Virgin Mary went to church, lit a candle, requested purification for giving birth outside of wedlock, and thanked God for Jesus.
So, whoever found the religious figure on Kings Day should cook this day. Traditionally, tamales are eaten, along with a feast of other traditional Mexican food.
Mexican Street Performers
Sadly, a rapidly declining Mexican tradition is the existence of Mexican street performers. These are not the sort of buskers that stand beside you at restaurants in crowded cities, but performers that wander through traditional Mexican residential neighborhoods.
You may find just one man singing with the aid of a guitar, or a trio of people singing together. Some of them are very good and they often walk or cycle around various neighborhoods daily.
If you like what you hear, you are supposed to toss a few coins from your window or balcony. The performers will often perform songs on request.
Mariachi bands are one of the most famous and best-loved of all Mexican traditions. This group of musicians typically contains at least four people, but sometimes mariachis can include as many as 12 or more musicians.
Most people can easily recognize a Mariachi band by their attire, their colorful wide-brimmed hats, and their style of music. But Mariachi bands are far more than just a collection of Mexican guitarists performing traditional tunes.
Mariachi bands date back to the 19th century and are believed to have originated in the state of Jalisco. Nobody is quite sure what the word “mariachi” means and there are various theories about its linguistic roots.
The most common theory is that this was an indigenous word, likely part of a language used by the Cora Indians. “Mariachi” was the name of a tree that grew in Jalisco and it was the wood from this tree that was used to make the first mariachi instruments.
Today, it is common to hire mariachi bands to perform at weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations. In Mexico City, head to Piazza Garibaldi.
Every day, dozens of mariachi bands gather in this square. For a few pesos, they will play you any song you like.
It’s touristy, yes. But it’s an absolute must-have experience while you are in the Mexican capital.
Dia De Los Muertos
Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is perhaps one of the most famous Mexican traditions and one that fascinates countless people internationally. It usually takes place on the 1st or 2nd of November annually, although extended celebrations do occur.
Essentially, the celebration honors the lives of loved ones that have passed away. It is believed that the gates of heaven are opened and for a brief period, the deceased can return to earth to eat, drink and celebrate with their loved ones.
History of the Day of the Dead
This tradition dates back over 3,000 years and it is believed that some form of Dia De Los Muertos celebrations have happened in the country even prior to the Hispanic occupation. Indeed, the Aztecs and the Nahua people believed that upon dying, the deceased would travel to the land of the dead (Chicunamictlán).
From here, they would have to complete nine levels of challenges to earn the right to reach Mictlán, the final resting place. The indigenous peoples would place the deceased’s favorite foods, water, and useful items on their graves to help them on their journey.
This practice has been adapted to today’s Dia de Los Muertos celebrations. Locals will decorate the graves of their family members with offerings or they will place these offerings on a makeshift altar in their homes.
Around the country, people attend all-day parties, dress up in Catrina makeup, decorate their homes, and attend parades. In the lead-up to Dia de Los Muertos, you will note many stores around the country selling sugar skulls, figurines, and other vibrant knick-knacks. These make great Mexico souvenirs from your trip.
Where to Celebrate the Day of the Dead
Oaxaca is widely regarded as being one of the best places in Mexico to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos. The highlight of experiencing the celebrations here is the comparsas, a carnival-style parade involving music, larger-than-life floats, dancing, and traditional costumes.
In the village of San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, you can catch a unique rug-making contest in the village square. Michoacán state has long been regarded as one of the best places to experience the day of the dead.
Unique celebrations take place in Pátzcuaro and Janitzio. On the night of November 1st, locals light candles and decorate the local graveyards.
Contests are hosted to find the best-decorated grave and in Janitzio, fishermen perform dances from their boats. The movements are said to awaken the souls of the dead…
The Mexican Charrería
The Mexican Charreria is one of the best-loved sporting Mexican traditions that has been part of the country’s culture for centuries. In some ways, a Mexican Charrería could be compared to an American rodeo, though it certainly has its differences.
UNESCO recognized the Mexican Charreria and inscribed it as a cultural asset in 2016. It sits on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Charreria has roots in the Northern Mexico states of Jalisco and Hidalgo. However, this Mexican tradition was not created by the indigenous people of Mexico, but by the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century.
The Spanish were tasked with raising horses and managing farms in “New” Spain. To pass the time in rural parts of Mexico, they invented games and contests which developed into the Mexican Charreria as it is today. Contests were usually between different haciendas.
When the haciendas lost their importance and started to close down following the Mexican Revolution, the 1921 Asociación Nacional de Charros was developed to protect Mexican traditions surrounding the Charreria.
You will find Charrerias on the outskirts of many large Mexican towns and cities. They are often free to attend and you may find that you are the only tourist in attendance.
The experience of attending goes way beyond simply seeing the show and the contest. Men wear traditional clothing while women wear gorgeous embroidered skirts that flow down to their ankles.
Mexican street food eats and snacks are abundant in the stands and are available for just a few pesos. Durros with salsa Valentina, in particular, are not to be missed.
One of the most beautiful Mexican traditions is that of creating and hanging papel picado. Papel Picado are colored pieces of tissue paper that are cut and crafted into different shapes and designs.
You will find papel picado in virtually every Mexican town and city. They are usually hung up across central squares and can be seen fluttering in the wind, adding a touch of color to their surroundings.
You will see them decorating the facades of churches, stores, and residential homes. Some are used to express a particular wish, while others are simply there for decorative purposes and for the homeowner’s love of crafting.
Papel Picado are generally used to decorate the interior and exterior spaces at events and celebrations like christenings and weddings. This is one of several Mexican traditions with Aztec roots.
Indeed, it is believed that thousands of years ago, the Aztecs would use mulberry and fig tree bark to make a paper called Amate. They would decorate the paper with scenes of daily life or historic events.
Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is arguably one of the most famous Mexican traditions that have been adapted and celebrated in the United States. However, it may come as a surprise to hear that this is not a very big celebration in Mexico at all.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican independence day. Instead, it commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
In Mexico, it is not really celebrated. Mexicans are aware of this historical event and will observe the day, but the only real part of the country where celebrations take place is in Puebla.
If you happen to be planning a trip to Mexico that corresponds with this date, it is worth considering incorporating Puebla into your trip. The old city can easily be visited on a day trip from CDMX.
In Puebla, you can find a military reenactment, flamenco dancing, live mariachi bands, fireworks, and parades. Elsewhere in the country, it is business as normal for the most part.
However, Cinco de Maya has become a wonderful annual event that celebrates all things to do with Mexican traditions and culture. It is observed by Mexican Americans and diaspora throughout the USA and beyond.
Bullfighting is one of the more controversial Mexican traditions and Mexico is one of the only countries in the world where this is still permitted. The practice has been illegalized twice in the country’s history but at the present moment, it is not illegal.
The sport was introduced by Spanish conquistadors in Mexico some 500 years ago. Animal protection laws exist in some Mexican states, however, bulls are not included in these.
Bulls used in Mexican bullfighting are typically raised with the specific purpose of being used in bullfighting and they die in the ring. Most Mexicans do not approve of the continuation of this sport and its legality may be set to change going forwards.
Mexican Street Food Culture
Street food is a huge part of Mexican food culture. A lot of fast foods prepared on the streets and in market stalls are called antojitos (“little cravings”) because they are generally small snacks and not a full meal.
However with that being said, you can also find tacos, papas francescas (French fries), burros, and other Mexican food favorites served at street food stands. You will note that the options vary significantly from one part of Mexico to another. For instance, Yucatan food is unlike food found elsewhere in the country.
Popular Mexican street food treats include elotes – fresh corn on the cob grilled in front of you and topped with a generous serving of mayonnaise, chili powder, and lime. Sweet treats like crepes, churros, and marquesitas are also popular
Traditionally, you order your street food and stand and eat it by the stand from where you purchased it. You can easily find a filling snack for well under 100 pesos.
Carnival is one of the most elaborate and exciting Mexican traditions. In 2023, this will take place between the 16th and the 21st of February.
Carnival was introduced to Mexicans by Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors in the 15th century and the festivities are believed to have Pagan origin. More than 225 communities across the country celebrate it in various ways.
But why do Mexicans celebrate carnival today? Most people in Mexico follow the Catholic faith. They celebrate carnival as the period where they can indulge in carnal pleasures for the last time before giving certain things up for 40 days for lent.
Campeche is the site of the oldest carnival celebrations in Mexico. Parades and festivities started here in 1582.
Today, Campeches celebrations extend over a whopping three weeks. During this time, the boardwalk of this city is dressed in colors, decorations, and papel picado.
During the week of carnival, a grand parade takes place and “comparsas” (singers and musicians) fill the streets. Arguably the best carnival in Mexico takes place in Veracruz.
The city hosts the second largest carnival in Latin America, second only to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Cozumel carnival and Mazatlan carnival are other celebrations to add to your radar.
Benito Juarez Birthday
Benito Juarez’s birthday is a Mexican public holiday that is celebrated every year on the 21st of March. It is recognized by Mexican labor laws and as such, a lot of Mexicans will plan a short vacation or getaway trip during this time to maximize their days off and the opportunity to travel.
But who was Benito Juarez and what is the significance of this day? Benito Juarez served as the president of Mexico from 1858 until his death in 1872.
He was a Zapotec and the first Mexican president of indigenous origin. He is largely revered and admired as the Mexican president who aided the people in their quest for independence.
Large celebrations do not take place all over Mexico on this day. However, you will find some Mexican traditions and events in certain areas.
Benito Guarez was born in the city of San Pablo Guelatao. Here, you will find dances and parades, tournaments, and fireworks.
Semana Santa or “Holy Week” is the Mexican celebration of Easter. Since most Mexicans are Catholic, Semana Santa follows the same Easter dates as most Christian and Catholic countries.
In 2023, Semana Santa will begin on Sunday 2nd April and end on Saturday 8th April. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the celebrations. In Mexico, it is known as Domingo de Ramos.
Many Mexican churches will decorate their interiors with palm fronds. Locals will often decorate their doors with these, believing that the palms will help to ward off evil.
Notable Dates of Semana Santa
Holy Thursday is one of the most important days of Holy Week. It is said to have been this day when Jesus and his disciples sat down to enjoy their last supper.
One of the most common Mexican traditions during this time is to attend a Catholic mass at your local church and then visit 7 other churches in your area. Many churches hand out bread as a mark of the last supper.
On Good Friday, many towns and cities have processions reenacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In the city of San Luis Potosi and other parts of the country, there is a procession of silence.
Participants wear hoods of anonymity, walk barefoot, and carry crosses, chains, or other religious symbols.
Holy Saturday marks the day between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Most people attend a holy vigil in the evening and light candles.
On Easter Sunday, it is customary to attend mass at a local church. The ceremony celebrates the rise of Christ and churches are often full to the brim with people having to stand or wait outside.
People in coastal areas will then flock to the beaches to swim and have picnics with their families. This is particularly true of the Yucatan beaches and Puerto Vallerta.
Mexican Independence Day
Mexican Independence Day is not Cinco de Mayo. Instead, this holiday takes place on the 16th of September every year.
The day marks the country’s independence from Spain. It was Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic Priest, who made the first cry for independence in 1810.
He gained several followers for his cause – a ragtag group of people from different backgrounds that hoped for Mexican independence. However, he was unfortunately defrocked from his Priest status and later beheaded by the Spanish.
Mexico would not gain independence from the Spanish until 1821. However, it is the bravery of Father Hidalgo and the others that spoke out, that is celebrated during independence day.
In Mexico, this day is known as “Grito de Independencia”. In a similar manner to US 4th July, families will gather to have parties, share food, have a BBQ with some ice-cold cervezas, and watch fireworks.
Día Del Niño
Día Del Niño is the Mexican observance of children’s day. This is a holiday that is celebrated in different forms and on different dates all over the world.
It was established on December 14, 1954, by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN).In Mexico, it takes place on the 30th of April each year.
Children still have to attend school on this day but there are no classes and teachers will prepare a day of games, movies, and fun activities for their students. Some parents give their children gifts and treat the Día Del Niño as a sort of mini-Christmas.
Dia de la Madre
Dia de la Madre is Mexican Mother’s Day. It is celebrated in May each year, on the second sunday of the month.
The holiday is observed in a similar way to Mother’s day is celebrated in the United States and much of the western world. People take the day as an opportunity to show their appreciation to their mothers – sending gifts, buying flowers, and taking their moms out for dinner.
Essentially, it is little more than a commercial holiday. In Mexico, it was only introduced as recently as 1922, making it the first Latin American country to participate in the holiday.
The Day of the Mariachi
Not only are mariachi musicians an integral contributor to Mexican traditions in themselves, but there is also a designated day that celebrates them. The Day of the Mariachi takes place every year on the 22nd of November.
Santa Cecilia is the Mexican patron saint of musicians and this is essentially her day. Hundreds of Mariachi musicians gather in the central square of Mexico City and walk in a procession to attend mass at La Basilica de Guadalupe.
Fiestas are quite simply, Mexican parties. If you spend any amount of time in Mexico, you will quickly discover that the locals don’t really need much of an excuse at all to organize a fiesta.
You can be walking down a residential street on a random Tuesday and hear banda music and reggaeton blaring out from someone’s yard. While it is not a uniquely Mexican thing to host parties to celebrate certain occasions and life events, the Mexican way of doing this is unique.
Someone will always lay out a large spread of snack foods like durros, esquites, elotes, and meat and cheese platters. There’s a lot of music and dancing, with mariachi bands often being hired for the occasion.
A party can go on all through the day and the night. Sometimes fireworks and firecrackers are set off just because.
The sheer mention of a siesta likely conjures up images of a Mexican snoozing beneath a sombrero. The siesta is an afternoon nap and a perfect way to rest and rejuvenate after lunch in a hot country.
In reality, though, few Mexicans have the luxury of having an afternoon siesta. Indeed, an interesting fact about Mexico that you may or may not know, is that Mexicans work some of the longest hours in the world.
It is not uncommon for people to work as much as 10-12 hours per day. Most people work 6 days a week and some have multiple jobs.
With all that working, there is little time for a siesta. Mexican siestas used to be incorporated into people’s days but the government abolished them in 1944.
The lucky few people that have flexible schedules or are self-employed may still decide to head home for a quick snooze after lunch and before their afternoon engagements. This may be done in a bed or a hamaca (hammock).
The Mexican Hat Dance
The Mexican hat dance, also known as Jarabe Tapatío is the national dance of Mexico. It originated in Guadalajara in the 19th century and was seen as a courtship ritual.
Typically, two dancers: one male and one female, perform the dance. The moves symbolize the man inviting the woman out to date and pursue a romantic relationship.
The pair dance around a sombrero laid on the floor and the woman will repeatedly reject the advances of the man until she is eventually won over by her suitor
Back in the 19th century, Spanish colonizers were irked by the Mexican hat dance. The dance is fairly innocent, especially by modern standards. However, the Spanish considered it sexually suggestive and did not want Mexicans to do the dance.
This, in turn, led to the dance catching on even more! The Mexican hat dance was the people’s way of rebelling against their colonizers.
Jesus Gonzalez Rubio created the Mexican hat dance song in 1924. It is often played by live musicians and mariachi bands at events.
New Years Eve
Mexicans celebrate New Year’s Eve like much of the world. The anticipated arrival of a new year marks new beginnings and opportunities.
Mexicans are warm, family-oriented people so it is probably no surprise that they spend most of New Year’s Eve at home enjoying food, drinks, and conversations with loved ones. However, younger generations may also prefer to go to parties in Mexico City or in coastal areas like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, etc.
If you meander around the central squares of most Mexican towns and cities on New Year’s Eve you will likely see makeshift stalls set up. Their vendors sell all manner of weird and wonderful items – from street food to handmade art and artisanal goods.
One of the most unique Mexican traditions for the New Year is to eat twelve grapes at midnight to guarantee good luck for the year ahead. Equally superstitious is the idea that if you wear yellow underwear, you will be lucky in love and that if you drag an empty suitcase around the block, you will have prosperous travels in the near future.
New Years Day
New Year’s day in Mexico is known locally as Año Nuevo. It is a national public holiday with businesses and schools observing it as a day of rest.
Most tourist attractions and archaeological sites are still open on New Year’s Day. However, banks, supermarkets, and most stores will be closed.
For most Mexicans, this is something of a rest day after a late night on New Years Eve. They may head to the beach, go for a walk, or spend the day having dinner and enjoying extended celebrations with loved ones.
Dia de la Revolución
Dia de la Revolución (Revolution Day) is an annual public holiday celebrated on the 20th of November each year in Mexico. It marks what was the start of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.
On this day, parades and civil ceremonies take place throughout the country, complete with floats and lots of music and dancing. Official speeches and ceremonies are hosted in the central square of Mexico City (Zocalo) and the country’s largest Revolution Day parade starts from this point.
Mexican Christmas Traditions
Mexican traditions at Christmas time are a pleasure to see and experience. Official celebrations start on the 16th of December each year and the period between the 16th and the 24th of December is known as “Las Posadas”.
This translates to meaning “inn”. During this time, Mexican children will go from door to door in the neighborhoods singing and asking if there is any room at the inn.
This is comparable to carol singing in most western countries, with the “inn” symbolizing Mary and Josephs’s quest to find the inn in Bethlehem. In the festive period, Mexicans enjoy ponche and rompope – two very festive alcoholic drinks.
Rompope is essentially Mexican eggnog. Ponche is something of a Mexican version of European mulled wine – warm, red wine is spiced with cinnamon and other flavorings and enjoyed as part of an evening with family.
Dance of the Parachicos
The Dance of the Parachicos is such a valued Mexican tradition that it was inscribed by UNESCO in 2010 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The dance takes place as part of the annual Traditional Great Feast.
The feast takes place from 4 to 23 January every year in the Pueblos Magico of Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas. The celebrations honor three Catholic Saints Saint Anthony Abbot, Our Lord of Esquipulas, and Saint Sebastian.
The Dance of the Parachicos is one aspect of a larger celebration. The dance and the dancers respectively are considered a communal offering to the saints.
They dance along a procession route through Chiapas, day and night, wearing carved traditional wooden masks. Along the way, they carry religious icons and stop at a number of churches to pay their respects.
Guelaguetza Festival, Oaxaca
Mexican traditions and culture extend far beyond what initially meets the eye. There are many subcultures and indigenous groups living within this country and customs vary significantly from one state to another.
Oaxaca state is home to six different indigenous groups. The Zapotec and Mixtec peoples are among these and Oaxaca is home to more speakers of indigenous languages than other Mexican states.
The Guelaguetza Festival is a celebration of cultural heritage and differences throughout all Mexican indigenous groups. It is celebrated on the last two Mondays of July each year.
Members of Oaxaca’s six indigenous groups take to the streets to participate in processions and perform folk dances from their cultures. The indigenous peoples wear their traditional attire and often set up stalls selling handicrafts and food items from their region.
During the celebrations, locals will also nominate a young woman to represent Centeotl, the corn goddess. Entrants are not judged on their physical appearances but on their knowledge of their culture and heritage.
Parting Words: Mexican Traditions and Festivities
Do you have any additional questions about these Mexican traditions and how to attend them? Alternatively, have you traveled extensively in Mexico and have some others you would recommend?
Feel free to reach out via the comments below if you need anything. I live in the Yucatan capital of Merida and I am always happy to assist where I can.
Safe travels! Melissa xo