12 Months of Mexico: Festive Trips for 2023
What’s better than visiting a place and happening upon a lively local street fair or parade? Luckily Mexico is not only a hot vacation destination, but a country that has a lot to celebrate. Primarily a Catholic population, Mexicans observe several holy days as well as milestones in their revolution with special food and drink, as well as colorful festivals.
As a visitor, it’s helpful to know what’s being celebrated and when. Whether travelers want to know how to participate in the festivities or simply when to avoid bank closures and blackout dates, this list of major Mexican holidays each month can be a useful guide. And for multiday celebrations, like that of Dia de los Muertos or Christmas, clients might want to plan a trip to coincide with these Mexican holidays to experience the special events firsthand.
January 6: Day of the Holy Kings (El Dia de Reyes)
The first big Mexican holiday of the year is also known as Three Kings’ Day or Epiphany. Recognized in many cultures, including Italy, this religious holiday acknowledges the day the Three Wise Men or Magi gave gifts to Jesus Christ. Day of the Kings is another winter holiday celebrated by exchanging gifts. Many holiday markets throughout Mexico remain open until January 6 for those still shopping for El Dia de Reyes. Look for a rosca de reyes or king’s cake, made with candied fruits to symbolize the gems of a crown. The treat is usually accompanied by a hot chocolate or atole, a warm, corn-based drink usually served with tamales.
February 2: Candelaria
Dia de Candelaria, also known as Candlemas, is considered one of the oldest celebrations in Christianity, which marks the day Mary brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. In Mexico, advent lasts for 40 days, and Candelaria marks the end of the Christmas season. This feast day has a lot in common with Kings’ Day, including corn-based food and drink; whomever finds the tiny baby hidden in the king’s cake on January 6 is responsible for hosting Candelaria just a few weeks later. Festivities — including a bull run — can be found around the country in Veracruz, Jalisco, and Mexico City. The date coincides with the Aztec calendar and their celebration asking for a bountiful harvest.
March 20: Benito Juarez’s Birthday
The third Monday of March marks the birth of Benito Juarez, the first indigenous president of Mexico, born March 21, 1806. It’s a widely celebrated national holiday, especially in Oaxaca where Juarez was born. Tournaments, dance performances, and fireworks displays mark the occasion. In Mexico City, the sitting president gives a speech, followed by parades and celebrations in Alameda Central and around the city. A figure for Mexican nationalism, Juarez is honored with displays of the Mexican flag at every turn. If you’re visiting Mexico during Spring Break, be aware that many businesses shutter on this holiday.
April 2-9: Holy Week
Holy Week, or Semana Santa, kicks off on Palm Sunday (April 2, 2023) and ends with Easter on the following Sunday. The next week is known as Pascua, lasting through Saturday, April 15. This period is considered one of the most important holiday celebrations in Mexico, and many schools and businesses are closed for the full two weeks. While the subject matter is a tad morbid — the capture, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus — the spiritual processions held during this time are fascinating to witness. Another spectacle is the burning of effigies that resemble Judas, which takes place in towns such as San Miguel de Allende. Early spring is a wonderful time to visit Mexico, but since many Mexicans are also traveling throughout the country, it requires plenty of advanced planning.
May 5: Cinco de Mayo/Battle of Puebla
Americans commonly associate Cinco de Mayo, literally translated to the “Fifth of May,” with Mexico. However, it is not the country’s independence day, but a triumph of Mexican forces over the French during the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Still, the day is widely recognized in Mexico as a government holiday, and costumed parades as well as battle reenactments are held, especially in the states of Puebla and Veracruz. Don’t be surprised to find that your past Cinco de Mayo parties at home were wilder than in Mexico; in the States, the day more broadly symbolizes Mexican-American heritage, while across Mexico it is only a historic military milestone.
June 21: Summer Solstice
The first day of summer is also the longest of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s a date that’s long been recognized by ancient cultures; the annual celebration at Stonehenge is one famous example. In Mexico, it’s all about the Mayans, who were known for their early interest in astronomy and the movement of the sun. The temple of Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan (near Cancun and Riviera Maya), was constructed to align with the changing position of the sun throughout the year. When the solstice rolls around, the structure is cast in shadow on two sides, making it look like it has split in half. Regardless of where you’re staying, Mayan Midsummer is an exciting occasion to mark in Mexico — if you can make it out to see the ruins, even better.
July: The Grape Harvest
Many might not associate Mexico with wine, but the country has its own vineyards and late July is a wonderful time to visit them. The Guadalupe Valley in Baja California is Mexico’s main wine-producing region, and the Ruta del Vino Bike Ride and Wine Festival has been held each July, beginning in 2015. (The 2023 date is TBD.) A 36-mile loop brings riders —competitive and leisurely — past about 25 wineries. A festival at the finish line is free and open to the public. If you’re staying closer to central Mexico, La Redonda vineyard in Queretaro (173 miles north of Mexico City) hosts a grape harvest festival in late July that invites visitors to try their hand — or feet — at grape crushing.
August 15: Assumption of Mary
This religious holiday, also known as Ascension, celebrates all things Virgin Mary — known to many as the Mother of God. While most observances are private, including home altars and church services, visitors might witness local girls dressed in veils with silver crowns. It’s not a holiday without a parade, and so a large float of the Virgin Mary decorated in flowers is carried by women and girls in traditional dress on this day. Altars are decorated with gorgeous paper flowers, small candles, and apples, so look for these items in August. Garlands, votives, and apple-themed jewelry make for lovely and sentimental souvenirs.
September 16: Independence Day
Mexican Independence Day is in mid-September, a time when most families are back to work and school. If you happen to be visiting Mexico during the 16th, expect fireworks, fiestas, and more. Don your very best red, white, and green to reflect the colors of the Mexican flag and expect most operating hours to be suspended for the day. A man named Miguel Hidalgo made a plea to revolt against the Spanish on September 16, 1810, in a town called Dolores, and his cry for independence is known as El Grito de Dolores. Traditional food enjoyed on Independence Day includes pozole, a type of stew, as well as tamales and enchiladas.
October: Dia de los Muertos Festivities
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated on November 1 and 2. However, the parades and festivities leading up to these important dates are held beginning in late October. Symbols of this spiritual holiday, like sugar skulls and catrinas, are becoming so popularized that there is now a Day of the Dead Barbie. Expect to see colorful paper garlands and plenty of marigolds at altars honoring the dead around the country. While Mexicans also celebrate Halloween, this holiday is very different and personal. Parades begin on October 21 in 2023 and continue through the first week of November. Mexico City has become a hotspot for Dia de los Muertos in recent years, due to its massive parades and elaborate events.
November 20: Revolution Day
A public holiday throughout Mexico, Revolution Day marks the 10-year revolution of 1910 that fought against the dictatorship at the time. Pancho Villa, a Mexican “Robin Hood,” was a central figure during the revolution, robbing the rich to give to the poor as well as leading a crucial military campaign during the uprising. Cries of “Viva Mexico!” are likely to be heard at outdoor bazaars and parades. It’s a notable time of year for visitors from the U.S., as Revolution Day is typically just a few days before Thanksgiving.
December: Feast Days
December is full of feast days in Mexico, beginning on December 8 with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and leading up to Christmas on December 25. This feast day kicks off the winter season with street festivals, particularly in Central Mexico in the state of Jalisco. Christmastime is an exciting season to visit Mexico, and visitors will find Christmas trees and plenty of decorations as well as unusual traditions like radish carving on December 23 or street fairs featuring a rainbow of pinatas. Thousands of pilgrims still travel to Mexico City each year for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.
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