Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day), nationwide. This national holiday is perhaps the quietest day in Mexico. Most people stay home or attend church. All businesses are closed. In traditional indigenous communities, new tribal leaders are inaugurated with colorful ceremonies rooted in the pre-Hispanic past. January 1.
Día de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day), nationwide. This day commemorates the Three Kings’ presenting gifts to the Christ Child. Children receive presents, much like they do at Christmas in the United States. Friends and families gather to share the Rosca de Reyes, a special cake. Inside the cake is a small doll representing the Christ Child; whoever receives the doll must host a tamales-and-atole (a warm drink made of corn dough) party on February 2. January 6.
Feast of San Antonio Abad, Mexico City. This feast is celebrated through the Blessing of the Animals at the Santiago Tlatelolco Church on the Plaza of Three Cultures, at San Juan Bautista Church in Coyoacán, and at the Church of San Fernando, 2 blocks north of the Juárez-Reforma intersection. January 17.
Regional Fair, León, Guanajuato. One of Mexico’s largest fairs celebrates the founding of this shoemaking and leather-craft city. The fair features parades, theater, craft exhibits, music, and dance. Month of January.
Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas), nationwide. Music, dances, processions, food, and other festivities lead up to a blessing of seed and candles in a ceremony that mixes pre-Hispanic and European traditions marking the end of winter. Those who attended the Three Kings celebration reunite to share atole and tamales at a party hosted by the recipient of the doll found in the Rosca. Celebrations are especially festive in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz. February 2.
Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day), nationwide. This national holiday is in honor of the current Mexican constitution, signed in 1917 as a result of the revolutionary war of 1910. It’s celebrated through small parades. February 5.
Carnaval, nationwide. Carnaval takes place the 3 days preceding Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The cities of Tepoztlán, Huejotzingo, Chamula, Veracruz, Cozumel, and Mazatlán celebrate with special gusto. In some places, such as Veracruz, Mazatlán, and Cozumel, the celebration resembles New Orleans’s Mardi Gras, with a festive atmosphere and parades. In Chamula, the event harks back to pre-Hispanic times, with ritualistic running on flaming branches. On Shrove Tuesday, in Tepoztlán and Huejotzingo, brilliantly clad chinelos (masked dancers) fill the streets. Transportation and hotels are packed, so it’s best to make reservations 6 months in advance and arrive a couple of days ahead of the beginning of celebrations.
Ash Wednesday, nationwide. The start of Lent and time of abstinence, this is a day of reverence nationwide; some towns honor it with folk dancing and fairs.
Annual Witches Conference, Lake Catemaco, Veracruz. Shamans, white witches, black witches, and practitioners of Caribbean, Afro, and Antillean ritualistic practices gather on the shores of the lake. Taking place the first Friday night of March every year, the annual gathering is a spectacle of witches, healers, magicians, and wizards.
Benito Juárez’s Birthday, nationwide. This national holiday celebrating one of Mexico’s most beloved leaders is observed through small hometown celebrations, especially in Juárez’s birthplace, Guelatao, Oaxaca. March 21.
Spring Equinox, Chichén Itzá. On the first day of spring, the Temple of Kukulkán — Chichén Itzá’s main pyramid — aligns with the sun, and the shadow of the plumed serpent moves slowly from the top of the building down. When the shadow reaches the bottom, the body joins the carved stone snake’s head at the base of the pyramid. According to ancient legend, at the moment that the serpent is whole, the earth is fertilized. Visitors come from around the world to marvel at this sight, so advance arrangements are advisable. Elsewhere, equinox festivals and celebrations welcome spring, in the custom of the ancient Mexicans, with dances and prayers to the elements and the four cardinal points. It’s customary to wear white with a red ribbon. March 21 (the shadow appears Mar 19-23).
Festival de México en el Centro Histórico (Annual Mexico City Festival), Mexico City. Regarded as one of Latin America’s most vibrant celebrations of art and culture, this 2-week festival features diverse events including opera, concerts, theater, art exhibits, dance productions, and gourmet fare. Proceeds go toward the rescue and restoration of the art and architecture of Mexico City’s historic downtown area. For a detailed schedule and more information, visit www.festival.org.mx. Mid- to late March, depending on Easter.
Semana Santa (Holy Week), nationwide. Mexico celebrates the last week in the life of Christ, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, with somber religious processions, spoofing of Judas, and reenactments of biblical events, plus food and craft fairs. Among the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon, celebrations have pre-Hispanic overtones. Pátzcuaro, Taxco, and Malinalco hold special celebrations. Businesses close during this traditional week of Mexican national vacations.
If you plan to travel to or around Mexico during Holy Week, make your reservations early. Flights into and out of the country will be full months in advance. Buses to these towns and to almost anywhere else in Mexico will be full, so try arriving on the Wednesday or Thursday before Good Friday. Easter Sunday is quiet, and the week following is a traditional vacation period. Early April.
San Marcos National Fair, Aguascalientes. Mexico’s largest fair, first held in 1604, lasts 22 days. About a million visitors come for bullfights and rodeos, as well as ranchera music and mariachis. There are craft and industrial exhibits, markets, fireworks, and folk dancing. Mid-April.
Labor Day, nationwide. Workers’ parades countrywide; everything closes. May 1.
Cinco de Mayo, Puebla and nationwide. This national holiday celebrates the defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla. May 5.
Feast of San Isidro, nationwide. A blessing of seeds and work animals honors the patron saint of farmers. May 15.
Cancún Jazz Festival. Over Memorial Day weekend, the Parque de las Palapas, as well as the area around the Convention Center, has live performances from jazz musicians from around the world. For dates and schedule information, check www.cancun.eventguide.com.
International Gay Festival. This weekend event in Cancún kicks off with a welcome fiesta of food, drinks, and mariachi music. Additional festivities include a tequila party, tour of Cancún, sunset Caribbean cruise, bar and beach parties, and a final champagne breakfast. For information, check www.cancun.eventguide.com.
Día de la Marina (Navy Day), various towns. All coastal towns celebrate the holiday, with naval parades and fireworks. June 1.
Corpus Christi, nationwide. This day, celebrated nationwide, honors the Body of Christ (the Eucharist) with processions, Masses, and food. Festivities include performances of voladores (flying pole dancers) beside the church and at the ruins of El Tajín, Veracruz. In Mexico City, children dressed as Indians and carrying decorated baskets of fruit for the priest’s blessing gather with their parents before the National Cathedral. Mulitas (mules), handmade from dried cornhusks and painted, are traditionally sold outside all churches on that day to represent a prayer for fertility. Dates vary, but celebrations take place on the Thursday following “Holy Trinity” Sunday.
National Ceramics Fair and Fiesta, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. This pottery center on the outskirts of Guadalajara offers craft demonstrations and competitions, as well as mariachis, dancers, and colorful parades. June 14 to July 14.
Día de San Pedro y San Pablo (St. Peter and St. Paul Day), nationwide. This feast day is celebrated wherever St. Peter is the patron saint; it also honors anyone named Pedro or Peter. It’s especially festive at San Pedro Tlaquepaque, near Guadalajara, with mariachi bands, folk dancers, and parades with floats. June 29.
Guelaguetza Dance Festival, Oaxaca. This is one of Mexico’s most popular events. Villagers from the seven regions around Oaxaca gather in the city’s amphitheater. They dress in traditional costumes, and many wear colorful “dancing” masks. The celebration dates from pre-Hispanic times. Make advance reservations — this festival attracts visitors from around the world. Check out www.visitmexico.com for more details. Late July.
International Chamber Music Festival, San Miguel de Allende. Held since 1982 in this beautiful town, the festival features international award-winning classical music ensembles. See www.festivalsanmiguel.com for details. July 30 to August 15.
Fall of Tenochtitlán, Mexico City. The last battle of the Spanish Conquest took place at Tlatelolco, ruins that are now part of the Plaza of Three Cultures. Wreath-laying ceremonies there and at the Cuauhtémoc monument on Reforma commemorate the surrender of Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec king, to Cortez, and the loss of thousands of lives. August 13.
Assumption of the Virgin Mary, nationwide. This day is celebrated throughout the country with special Masses and, in some places, with processions. In Huamantla, flower petals and colored sawdust carpet the streets. At midnight on August 15, a statue of the Virgin is carried through the streets; on August 16 is the running of the bulls. On August 15 in Santa Clara del Cobre, near Pátzcuaro, Our Lady of Santa Clara de Asis and the Virgen de la Sagrado Patrona are honored with a parade of floats, dancers on the main square, and an exposition of regional crafts. Buses to Huamantla from Puebla and Mexico City will be full, and there are few hotels in Huamantla. Plan to stay in Puebla and commute to the festivities. August 15 to 17.
Fiestas de la Vendimia (Wine Harvest Festival), Ensenada, Baja California. This food and wine festival celebrates the annual harvest, with blessings, seminars, parties, and wine tastings. Check out www.visitmexico.com for more details. Mid- to late August.
International Mariachi Festival, Guadalajara, Jalisco. These public concerts of mariachi music include visiting mariachi groups from around the world (even Japan!). Workshops and lectures focus on the history, culture, and music of the mariachi in Mexico. Check www.mariachi-jalisco.com.mx to confirm dates and the performance schedule. August 30 to September 9.
Reto al Tepozteco (Tepozteco Challenge), Tepoztlán, Morelos. This celebration of King Tepoztecatl’s conversion to the Catholic religion includes a performance depicting the event. A procession leads toward the Tepozteco Pyramid, where people offer food and beverages. This event includes hypnotic chinelo dances, fireworks, and a food festival. September 7 and 8.
Independence Day, nationwide. Celebrates Mexico’s independence from Spain with parades, picnics, and family reunions. At 11pm on September 15, the president gives the famous independence grito (shout) from the National Palace in Mexico City. At least half a million people crowd into the zócalo (main plaza), and the rest of the country watches on TV or participates in local celebrations. Tall buildings downtown are draped in the national colors (red, green, and white), and the zócalo is ablaze with lights. Many people drive downtown at night to see the lights. Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende, where Independence conspirators lived and met, also celebrate elaborately; the schedule of events is exactly the same in every village, town, and city across Mexico. September 15 and 16.
Fall Equinox, Chichén Itzá. The same shadow play that occurs during the spring equinox is repeated. September 21 and 22.
Fiestas de Octubre (October Festivals), Guadalajara. This “most Mexican of cities” celebrates for a month with its trademark mariachi music. It’s a bountiful display of popular culture and fine arts, and a spectacular spread of traditional food, Mexican beer, and wine. All month.
Festival Internacional Cervantino, Guanajuato. This festival began in the 1970s as a cultural event, bringing performing artists from all over the world to this picturesque village northeast of Mexico City. Now the artists travel all over the republic after appearing in Guanajuato. Check www.festivalcervantino.gob.mx for details. Mid- to late October.
Día de la Raza (“Ethnicity Day,” or Columbus Day), nationwide. This day commemorates the fusion of the Spanish and Mexican peoples. October 12.
Feria Nacional del Mole, Mexico City. Just south of Mexico City, thousands of varieties of mole will be prepared for sampling and competition. This spicy sauce is a Mexican staple, made of unsweetened chocolate, peppers, and spices, often served with meat or poultry. Between October 1 and 15.
Day of the Dead, nationwide. This holiday (Nov 1) actually lasts for 2 days: All Saints’ Day, honoring saints and deceased children, and All Souls’ Day, honoring deceased adults. Relatives gather at cemeteries countrywide, carrying candles and food, and often spend the night beside graves of loved ones. Weeks before, bakers begin producing bread in the shape of mummies or round loaves decorated with bread “bones.” Sugar skulls emblazoned with glittery names are sold everywhere. Many days ahead, homes and churches erect altars laden with bread, fruit, flowers, candles, favorite foods, and photographs of saints and of the deceased. On both nights, costumed children walk through the streets, often carrying mock coffins and pumpkin lanterns, into which they expect money to be dropped.
The most famous celebration — which has become almost too well known — is on Janitzio, an island on Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, west of Mexico City. Mixquic, a mountain village south of Mexico City, hosts an elaborate street fair. At around 11pm on both nights, solemn processions lead to the cemetery in the center of town. Cemeteries around Oaxaca are well known for their solemn vigils, and some for their Carnaval-like atmosphere. November 1 and 2.
Fiestas de Noviembre (November Festivals), Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. The month’s events include the annual Pipeline of Mexico, Zicatela Beach’s International Surfing Tournament, the International Sailfish Tournament, and the Coastal Dance Festival. Check local calendars or www.visitmexico.com for details. All month.
Gourmet Festival, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. In this culinary capital of Mexico, chefs from around the world join with local restaurateurs to create special menus and host wine and tequila tastings, cooking classes, a gourmet food expo, and other special events. For detailed information, see www.festivalgourmet.com. Dates vary, but the festival generally runs November 12 to 22.
Revolution Day, nationwide. This holiday commemorates the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 with parades, speeches, rodeos, and patriotic events. November 20.
Annual Yucatán Bird Festival, Mérida, Yucatán. Bird-watching sessions, workshops, and exhibits are the highlights of this festival designed to illustrate the special role birds play in our environment and in the Yucatán. Visit www.yucatanbirds.org.mx for details. Late November to early December.
National Silver Fair, Taxco. This competition pits Mexico’s best silversmiths against some of the world’s finest artisans. There are exhibits, concerts, dances, and fireworks. Check local calendars or www.visitmexico.com for details. Late November to early December.
Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival, León, Guanajuato. This is the largest festival in Latin America, with more than 60 balloons and pilots from all over the globe participating. Visit www.festivaldelglobo.com.mx for details. Late November.
Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, nationwide. Religious processions, street fairs, dancing, fireworks, and Masses honor the patroness of Mexico. It is one of the country’s most moving and beautiful displays of traditional culture. The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to a young man, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, in December 1531 on a hill near Mexico City. It’s customary for children to dress up as Juan Diego, wearing mustaches and red bandannas. One of the most famous and elaborate celebrations takes place at the Basílica of Guadalupe, north of Mexico City, where the Virgin appeared. But every village celebrates this day, often with processions of children carrying banners, and with charreadas (rodeos), bicycle races, dancing, and fireworks. In Puerto Vallarta, the celebration begins on December 1 and extends through December 12, with traditional processions to the church for a brief Mass and blessing. In the final days, the processions and festivities take place around the clock. There’s a major fireworks exhibition on the feast day at 11pm. December 12.
Festival of San Cristóbal de las Casas, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. This 10-day festival in Chiapas includes a procession by the Tzotzil and Tzetzal Indians, marimba music, and a parade of horses. December 12 to 21.
Christmas Posadas, nationwide. On each of the 9 nights before Christmas, it’s customary to reenact the Holy Family’s search for an inn. Door-to-door candlelit processions pass through cities and villages nationwide, especially Querétaro and Taxco. Hosted by churches, businesses, and community organizations, these take the place of the northern tradition of a Christmas party. December 15 to 24.
Fiesta de los Rábanos (Festival of the Radishes), Oaxaca. Local artisans and sculptors set up stalls around the main square to display their elaborate pieces of art — made entirely from radishes! The local crop is used for creating nativity scenes and famous Mexican figures. Balloons and birds crafted from local flowers add even more color. December 23.
Christmas, nationwide. Mexicans often extend this holiday and take vacations for up to 2 weeks before Christmas, returning after New Year’s. Many businesses close, and resorts and hotels fill. Significant celebrations take place on December 23 . Querétaro has a huge parade. On the evening of December 24 in Oaxaca, processions culminate on the central plaza. On the same night, Santiago Tuxtla in Veracruz celebrates by dancing the huapango and with jarocho bands in the beautiful town square. December 24 and 25.
New Year’s Eve, nationwide. Like the rest of the world, Mexico celebrates New Year’s Eve with parties, fireworks, and plenty of noise. New Year’s Eve in Mexico is typically spent with family. Special festivities take place at Santa Clara del Cobre, near Pátzcuaro, with a candlelit procession of Christ; and at Tlacolula, near Oaxaca, with commemorative mock battles. December 31.