The Mexican Culture | Customs & Traditions
Updated: Oct 5, 2019
The Mexican culture is so diverse and vast, there have been many major influences/influencers over the centuries that have helped to shape this colorful and vibrant culture that we know and love today.
With many major ancient civilizations existing throughout Mexico's history, you can expect to find quite a unique culture here today that just does not compare to anything else in the world!
I find the Mexican culture to be unique, mysterious and full of amazing history, it's easily one of the most fascinating cultures in the world, so here is everything that you need to know.
Ancient Civilisations & Cultural Influences
Though many ancient civilizations such as the Maya, Astec, Teotihuacanas, Olmec and Toltec are known for helping to create the Mexico we know today, they were not the only people who influenced how this country developed and advanced into the future.
A significant part of Mexican culture was also heavily influenced by the European colonization, led by Christopher Columbus. The colonization would come to define Mexico as the Spanish came here to conquer and there were huge differences between the European and Mexican cultures at the time.
Throughout this vast country you will find that the traditions & customs of the Mexican people are very much diversified, if you were to travel the country and visit different states, cities and small towns you will notice that the life here can be very different in all aspects from one place to the next, different regions in Mexico usually have their own cultural practices and celebrations that are unique to the region.
Many of the differences in each of the regions are thanks to how prominent the ancient civilizations were in each of the lands around the country.
In fact, most of the ancient customs in Mexico have been well preserved making it a unique and fascinating place to explore.
Exploring and traveling around Mexico can be a wonderful experience, especially if you want to learn and witness some real Mexican culture, there are tons of world heritage sites in Mexico that will let you immerse yourself into the past traditions, culture and heritage.
Languages of Mexico
Not everyone in Mexico speaks Spanish! While a large portion of the population (the majority) do speak Spanish it's not the only language spoken here, in fact, the Mexican government recognizes a total of 68 national languages, 63 of which are indigenous, with around 350 different dialects of those languages.
Throughout the country Spanish is roughly spoken by 92% of the population, 6% of the people here can speak Spanish as well as other indigenous languages, such as Nahuatl, Mixtec and Yucatec Maya.
Fun facts about the indigenous languages:
Mexico has no official language! While Spanish is the most prominent language in the country, there is nothing in the Mexican constitution that states an official language.
Many of the common Mexican words spoken by the different indigenous people have also become quite common in the English language. For example, chocolate, coyote, tomato and avocado all originate from the indigenous language of Nahuatl.
Mexican art is very unique from anything else that you may have seen from around the world, each and every piece from modern-day folk art to ancient relics are all very distinctive and have their own unique story.
Mexican art is of huge importance today, and it pretty much always has been, many traditional pieces of art often represent Mexico and Mexican Culture, showing a rich and colorful heritage that the Mexican people are more than proud of.
Over the last few decades and centuries, Mexico has spat out numerous artists who are not only praised for their works of art in Mexico but also the world.
Some of the most famous and influential Mexican artists of the last century include the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo and José Clemente Orozco, those are just a few names amongst the other hundreds of notable artists.
This could very easily be considered the most important form of art in Mexican culture today, there are not hundreds but thousands of different forms of Mexican folk art out there.
The Mexican people make use of a wide variety of objects to create intricately handcrafted ornaments like clay pottery, traditional masks, hammocks, glassware, garments, and colored baskets and rugs.
Common recurring themes in Mexican folk art often include different aspects of Mexican mythology, most commonly figures of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca legend.
If you would like to read more about Mexican art history, you can do so by clicking right here!
Mexican literature was not as well preserved as many would have likened it to be, and while the country has got many renowned writers, poets, and philosophers such as José Vasconcelos, Agustín Yáñez, Octavio Paz, Samuel Ramos, Carlos Fuentes, and many others, the fact remains that there are thousands of lost works from the Mesoamerican period.
Much of the works from the Mesoamerican period appear to have been lost to time and history, this is largely thanks to traditional rituals and the fact that the Indigenous people of Mexico didn't begin to properly document poetry, histories and other literature until after the Spanish colonization.
There were however a large number of works found from the Pre-Columbian era, that are widely believed to have belonged to Nezahualcoyotl, a philosopher from Texcoco.
The poetry and literature left behind from this philosopher was written in the classical Nahuatl language, much of the documentation gave us greater insight into ancient Mexican culture, heritage, and works of literature from this time period.
Music & Dance
Traditional Mexican music is one of, if not the most important parts of Mexican culture today, whichever fiesta or celebration you find yourself at in Mexico, you can be sure that there will be traditional music played at some point throughout the festivities.
The Mexican people are proud people, and a lot of Mexico's traditional music reflects that, the majority of the music sung is about country, history, legend, oppression, passion and love among many other things.
Mariachi, Ranchera & Norteño
Many people from around the world will commonly associate Mariachi bands with Mexican culture and music, and although Mariachi music might be the most well known or popular music from Mexico, there is a lot more to the traditional music here than one might think, in fact, there are three famous traditional styles of music here, which are Mariachi, Ranchera & Norteño.
Mariachi is a widely known folk style of music that traditionally consists of 5 musicians dressed up in matching charro suits.
Ranchera music came about just as the Mexican revolution was happening, and much of the music is about country, patriotism, heroism, passion and love. Though this kind of music is not as widely known, it is still just as important to Mexican culture.
Norteños is music from the north of Mexico, just as its name would suggest. This music was first introduced into Mexican culture in the late 19th and early 20th-century.
Thanks to the Europeans bringing things such as the accordion, waltz, and polka here, Mexican musicians were able to stir up a new genre of music by mixing these new European elements to their already existing music art forms.
Traditional Mexican dance styles have changed quite a bit over the last few centuries, this is mainly because Mexico has one of the most unique cultures in the world today, that was heavily influenced by Mesoamerica, Spanish and European rule, you can expect for art forms like dance to be very unique and different.
Because of all of the cultural influences over the years, there is a mix of self-expression and art form that can be seen in Mexican dance, and while there are many different dance styles and variations of dance styles, there are three dance styles that have stood the test of time and are a compliment to Mexican culture.
Danza is a native ritualistic dance style that is more commonly seen during religious events and festivals. This popular form of dance is often associated with community, unity, and life.
Mestizo is another popular Mexican dance style that is heavily influenced by European culture. Unlike the previous mention, this form of dance can be more commonly seen at different fiestas, celebrations, events, and festivals all over the country, not only religious ones.
Bailes Regionales is the third and final style of traditional dance that dates back to the 18th-century. In Jalisco, the Jarabe Tapatio "hat dance" is a very popular and iconic courting dance that is usually performed by several people, and it involves the throwing a sombrero to the center of the dance floor, performing and dancing around it until finishing the traditional dance with a collective "OLÉ!” and round of applause.
Traditional Mexican clothing is very unique and distinctive as most of the attire is very bright, colorful and well detailed with small intricacies, when you see traditional Mexican clothing, you know it's Mexican clothing!
As I've mentioned many times in this article already, Mexico is such a huge and vast country, so you can be sure that the traditional style of dress and attire will be different from region to region.
Some of the main characteristics of traditional Mexican attire that can be seen anywhere in Mexico, shared amongst the different regions are listed below.
The use of bright colors.
Small Intricacies and well-detailed designs.
The use of leather materials.
Flower and feather decorations.
There are different styles from different regions and different costumes for the various events taking place across the country.
You will find traditional Mexican clothing worn by Mariachi bands, traditional dancers, entertainers, indigenous peoples, and other people of Mexican nationality celebrating both religious and non-religious events.
Some of the most popular and well-known men's attire in Mexico are the sombrero, sarape, charro suit, Baja jacket, guayabera, and poncho.
While many people will globally recognize the different attire for men, the women's clothing is also very beautiful, some of the more well-known women's clothing in Mexico are the huipil, rebozo, quechquémitl, enredo, chincuete, refajo, enagua, and the posahuanco.
Holidays & Traditions
Mexican holidays or celebrations are commonly called fiestas here in Mexico and they play an important part in modern-day society and Mexican culture.
Unlike the states or other first world countries, Mexico has a traditional holiday or fiesta happening somewhere in the country almost every day!
There is understood to be a minimum of 10,000 fiestas happening throughout the year that are celebrated in the different regions of the country. Though some are more famous than others, all could easily be considered important!
Just below is a list of some of the more important and widely celebrated holidays in Mexico.
Mexico's Independence Day
Mexico's independence day is celebrated on September 16th and not on May 5th, in contrast to what many Americans seem to believe.
Mexico's Independence Day, celebrates the country's liberation from Spain in 1810, the celebration/fiesta starts one day before the actual event took place.
On the day of Mexico's independence, you can expect parades, celebrations and fiestas to be happening in almost every city or colonial town across the entire country.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Celebrated on December 12th, this Mexican holiday is one of the most significant and widely celebrated religious holidays throughout the year.
Los Posadas is a nine-day fiesta from December 16th to December 24th, in which the Catholics in Mexico reenact Mary and Joseph's pilgrimage to Bethlehem in a search for a place to stay.
The Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), is a hugely popular two day religious festival that is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd across the country of Mexico and also some states in the U.S.
Although Christmas exists in Mexico, it's quite a different experience to what you would normally be used to if you are in the U.S or Europe, Christmas is celebrated mainly from December 24th to December 26th but here in Mexico the festivities generally last an entire month.
Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo, which marks a Mexican military victory over the French in 1862, is more widely celebrated in the United States than it is in Mexico.
Natalicio de Benito Juárez (Benito Juárez Day)
Benito Juarez Day is a national holiday that is widely celebrated across the entire country every year. This public holiday always takes place on the third Monday in March, regardless of the date. The holiday is in commemoration of Benito Juarez and celebrates the birth of the former president of Mexico.
Día de la Revolución (Revolution Day)
Mexico's Revolution Day (Dia de la Revolución) is a national public holiday that celebrates the anniversary of the 7-year revolution that started in 1910, which ultimately brought an end to the Porfiriato dictatorship. The official anniversary date is November 20th, however, the public holiday is always celebrated on the third Monday in November, regardless of the date.
If you would like to know more about the different Mexican holidays, I have two articles about it the you can read right here!
Mexico is a secular country, meaning that religious beliefs and practices cannot get involved in matters of the state or country, making Mexico neutral in terms of religious preferences.
Even though Mexico is a secular country, and you can find people practicing many religions from around the world, you will most commonly find that the Mexican people generally practice or believe in Roman Catholicism, which is embraced by roughly 89% of the population.
Catholicism wasn't introduced to the Mexican people until the early 16th-century when the Spanish came here to colonize. The Europeans brought with them many traditions, religious beliefs, knowledge and most importantly a different way of life.
The Spanish conquistadors drastically changed life here in Mexico, forever changing the country's future, not only did they influence education, religious practices, self-expression, art and society but they also managed to turn Mexico into one of the biggest Catholic countries in the world today.
With 89% of the Mexican population being Catholic, that makes Mexico the second-largest Catholic country in the world, just behind Brazil. There are a staggering 100 million+ people in Mexico alone that are Catholic, that's a crazy number considering that Mexico is a secular country.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
The virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. There is a fascinating history about the lady of Guadalupe, I have covered this topic in a little more detail on my Mexico holiday guide, which you can read right here.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is located in Mexico City is a national shrine in homage for the patron saint. The basilica is one of the most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the entire world.
Family and religion are two of the most important elements in Mexican society today. No matter where you are in the country, those are the two things that never really change anywhere in Mexico.
What I will say is noticeably different from place to place, is that maybe outside of the big cities, Mexican families & friends are typically more inclined to take care of one another.
I have visited numerous small colonial towns throughout the country now, and the one thing I found that all of the small towns and cities had in common was that the people were closer, friendlier and genuinely seemed to enjoy helping one and other.
Families in Mexico tend to be very large in size, and they are also usually a tight-knit group, most of the people and families I have met are surrounded by other family members and friends who are not too far, usually living just next door or in the same neighborhood.
The connection between family and friends is visibly strong, oftentimes certain members of the family play important parts or roles to help make sure that the family is well taken care of, these roles also extend to non-immediate family members such as uncle's, cousins and aunties.
As I have previously mentioned just above, religion in modern-day Mexico is very much an important aspect of society. I'm from a country that is very much a Catholic country (Ireland) but I must say the devotion and dedication to religion here in Mexico are very different from what I know back in my home country.
Of every single home that I have been to in Mexico, and I must say there has been a fair few, there was not one home that I have found which didn't have a shrine, cross, or holy picture of some sort hung up somewhere within the walls, the home in which I am living now has a shrine in the living room, crosses and pictures in almost every room of the house, something I am not accustomed to, even in Ireland it would be hard going to find dedication and devotion.
Another important aspect of modern-day Mexico is how family & friends come together and celebrate, there are thousands of fiestas happening across the country every day for many different reasons, whether it be for birthdays, christenings, anniversaries or other religious reasons, you can bet that there is a party happening somewhere!
One very big and important event that a Mexican family can prepare for and celebrate is the quinceañera. This fiesta happens once a young girl reaches the age of 15 and the fiesta is in celebration of the young girl's journey from childhood to womanhood.
This grand fiesta more times than not makes sure that everyone attending has a great time at the party.
The young woman is often dressed up in a fancy, expensive intricate dress, you will also find things like food, alcohol and traditional live music for the guests to enjoy.
Before the fiesta takes place you can expect the young woman to attend a mass with closer family members and friends at the girl's local church. The girl is also accompanied all afternoon by her damas (maids of honor) and chambelánes (chamberlains).
Traditional Mexican Cuisine
Mexico is famous for its wide variety of colorful, delicious and traditionally spicy dishes. Many of the staple foods here in Mexico vary from region to region, but you will commonly see foods such as burritos, mole, tacos, pozole, enchiladas and tamales everywhere, whether it be in fancy restaurants, street food stalls or in the homes of Mexican families.
While many of the traditional foods do differ from region to region there are however many other staple foods that do stay the same across the country, the likes of tortilla's, corn, beans, rice, and peppers do not change from place to place.
Here are some of the different traditional foods you can expect to find in certain regions of the country, so here are some of the key dishes from different areas of the country.
Sopa de lima.
Panuchos and salbutes.
Tzic de venado.
Pavo en escabeche.
Sopa de guías.
Pescado a la veracruzana.
arroz a la tumbada.
mole de Xico.
Chiles en nogada.
Cemitas and Chanclas.