Mexico's Civic Holiday Guide | Tradition & Culture
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
While Mexico may only have a small number of national holidays decreed by statute, there are endless other traditions and holidays that the Mexican people love to celebrate all year round, some of the more popular holidays which are widely celebrated but are still not national holidays are called civic holidays, and there is a handful or two of them.
Importance of Civic Holidays & Traditions
There are believed to be more than 10,000 traditions and celebrations happening in Mexico throughout the year, this number seems incredible, just by the sheer number of holidays that's happening here should show you how much the tradition and culture mean to the Mexican people!
While it would prove almost impossible for me to cover each and every single celebration, there are a small number of Civic holidays that are widely celebrated across the country that I can tell you about.
Even though these celebrations/holidays are not obligatory in Mexico, some regions, states or cities may consider some of the traditions to be of greater importance than in other areas of the country, it's not uncommon for workers to get days off during local celebrations or festivities.
Mexico is also a profoundly religious country, so many of the most important celebrations and festivities taking place here are usually somewhat or entirely spiritual, and with most of the country being catholic, you can expect to see some of the same celebrations as you would in other catholic countries from around the world.
Even though some of these holidays are celebrated all over the world, Mexico definitely has a unique take on some of the festivities that do take place here.
Día del Ejército (February 19th)
Mexican Army Day is widely celebrated across the country annually, but you will most likely only be able to find events and celebrations happening in the major cities.
This holiday "kills two birds with one stone", as Mexico celebrates the foundation day of the Mexican Army in 1913, while also commemorating the 1911 Loyalty March, in which President Madero was escorted by the Cadets of the Military College to the National Palace.
Typical celebrations to be found in major cities include parades, marches, ceremonies and fiestas.
Día de la Bandera (February 24th)
Mexico’s Flag Day has been and will be celebrated on February 24th every year since the original start date of February 24th in 1937.
In 1937 the new Mexican government decided to create a national holiday to celebrate and honour the country's past and present flags.
The design of the current flag "red, white, and green with the country's national coat of arms" are very symbolic, the colour scheme represents the national liberation army while the coat of arms in the centre is derived from an Aztec legend that their gods told them to build a city where they spot an eagle on a nopal eating a serpent.
You will find there to be events and celebrations in almost every city in the country, in some of the major cities, the public comes out in thousands to honour and celebrate Mexico's flag day.
The Mexican flag can be seen hoisted at full mast almost everywhere, especially in public sectors such as schools, offices, government buildings, and some residencies on February 24th.
Heroica Defensa de Veracruz (April 24th)
The heroic defence of Veracruz is not as widely celebrated as some other holidays, as most of the festivities and celebrations take place only in Veracruz and in a few other cities along the Gulf of Mexico.
The holiday is in commemoration of the battle against the U.S military which occurred in the small city of Veracruz in 1914, during the Mexican Revolution.
50 Mexican soldiers bravely defied orders to retreat from the city during an invasion by the U.S, it is believed that the soldiers were able to defend the port town for around 20 days before succumbing to the force of the U.S military.
Cinco de Mayo (May 5th)
Mexico's not so independence day, 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.
There is a common misconception in the United States that this holiday celebrates the independence day of Mexico.
It's quite funny that there are literally thousands if not millions of people every year that celebrate a holiday they have no idea about, the truth is that Cinco de Mayo is more celebrated in the state of California than in the entire country of Mexico.
Sadly the celebrations in the U.S are just used as a marketing ploy to promote and sell cheap beer, very little if any real celebrations are actually happening.
Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico, it's just like any other day for most of the country, however, in the city of Puebla (where the victory took place), this holiday is a big deal, with thousands of Mexicans coming out to celebrate and enjoy the local festivities.
Día de la Marina (June 1st)
Mexico's Navy Day or as it is known here, Día de la Marina, is celebrated throughout the country on June 1st every year and has been since the holiday first began in 1942.
Though this holiday is widely celebrated, you will often find that Navy Day is particularly festive in the country's port towns.
You can expect the festivities and celebrations to be quite something special in the cities located in the Baja California Peninsula. During this time you will often find thousands of Mexican nationals and tourists coming together to enjoy the events organized by the Mexican government and military.
The Mexican port towns celebrate this annual holiday very differently to mainland cities in the country, in the likes of Tulum, Cancun, Campeche and others you can typically find events and activities such as sailing competitions, volleyball tournaments, ceremonies, parades, and firework shows.
Día de los Niños Héroes (September 13th)
Boy heroes day is an annual holiday that commemorates the heroism and bravery of the six young teenagers who tragically lost their lives fighting against the invading U.S military in 1847.
It's a widely celebrated holiday across the country, but there are no celebrations that even compare to the events and celebrations that take place at the Castillo de Chapultepec in Mexico City.
It is here in Castillo de Chapultepec where the historic event took place, and there really is something special and unique about the festivities that take place here at this annual holiday!
Around the park and grounds of the Castillo, you will find memorials and statues that were built to help remember and commemorate the young boys.
Throughout the day in the park, you can expect to find thousands of Mexicans enjoying the festivities, there are ceremonies, special tours, fiestas and fireworks that take place.
Consumación de la Independencia (September 27th)
Consummation of independence is an event that is celebrated across Mexico annually, that takes place shortly after the Mexican Independence Day on September 16th (Día de la Independencia).
There are three holidays in total that are all intertwined together, as all are in celebration of events that took place which help to aid the country's liberation from Spanish rule.
Things kick off on September 15th, where the country first celebrates, Cry of Dolores (El Grito de Dolores), this date marks beginning of the Mexican war of independence.
After the Cry of Dolores is Mexico's actual Independence Day which is celebrated on September 16th. I talk more about this topic in this article found here.
And then finally there is the Consummation of independence which is in commemoration of the events that took place on September 27th 1821, where the Mexican general Iturbide led a military parade into Mexico City.
Descubrimiento de América (October 12th)
Columbus day in Mexico is somewhat controversial, it is a topic in which many people have vastly different opinions about, and because of this, you can expect there to be not many celebrations or events commemorating this day.
Instead of celebrating Columbus day many Mexicans choose to celebrate Día de la Raza in its place, and for those not celebrating, October 12th has become a popular day for protests, rallies and street marches in recent times.
Día de Muertos (November 1st & 2nd)
The Day of the Dead 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 US.
This long-running celebration is almost as old as time itself, it is believed to have first begun over 3,000 years ago and is from the pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, it is also understood that the Aztecs had a prominent role in the development of this tradition.
The tradition usually starts off with families and friends, creating in-home shrines and preparing ofrendas (offerings) to welcome back their deceased loved ones.
Once the oferendas are ready, everyone proceeds to visit the cemetery where the tombs or gravestones of the deceased will also be decorated with flowers, photos of the departed, and the oferendas (favourite foods and drinks) of the dead.
It is believed through prayer and the giving of oferendas that the deceased will find their way back home to join in on the celebration of life with their beloved family members during this two-day festival.
Unlike Halloween, this festival is rather intimate and is only celebrated amongst family members and friends, it would be difficult for a tourist to arrive at a cemetery and to try and take part, however, there are some cities in the country that do have some public celebrations and events taking place in this time.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (December 12th)
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12th, this Mexican holiday is one of the most significant and widely celebrated religious holidays throughout the year.
The catholic's living in Mexico are celebrating an event that occurred during the earlier half of the 15th century. There were many accounts taken of a man named Juan Diego who said the Virgin Mary appeared twice to him in Mexico City, on December 9th and December 12th in the year 1531.
When she first appeared to Juan Diego, she asked that a shrine in her name be built in the spot in which she had appeared, so Juan Diego set out on a path to inform the people and church of what he had seen, but nobody would believe him.
On the second appearance, she had told Juan Diego to collect roses in a tilmátli (men's outer garment) which he was then to present to the local bishop, once he arrived with the bishop he opened the tilmátli releasing the roses onto the floor, which then fell into a shape which appeared to be Virgen of Guadalupe herself.
The celebrations/fiestas are held in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, there are literally thousands of Catholics flocking to the Basilica of Guadalupe that are travelling from different regions across the country, paying pilgrimage, all in hopes to see an image of the Virgin Mary, at the Basilica in Mexico City.
Las Posadas (December 16th to 24th)
Los Posadas is a nine-day fiesta that takes place 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.
What seems like a small pilgrimage, families, friends and even strangers, walk the streets together carrying candles and singing, usually with one or two people leading the pack carrying a shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
In contrast to what some may believe, the people don't go from door to door looking for shelter, but the destination is rather prearranged.
Once everyone has arrived into the home, the family usually provides food, snacks and traditional drinks like horchata or atole, after the food and drinks are given out. There is also often a small mass that takes place.
This fiesta does also usually have plenty of pinatas so that the children can take part in the festivities as well as the adults.
Once the festivities have ended the shrine usually stays into the home of the family that welcomed its guests until the next day when it is collected to make its next journey to another welcoming home, this is repeated for eight more days.