Mexico is a country with a rich and colourful history, influenced by ancient Aztec customs and Hispanic rituals. Popular culture is every bit as vibrant, with dancing, street art and some of the best cooking in the world. Beyond the tacos and tequila, the country is home to some truly unique traditions. From fun funerals to wedding godparents, here are some of the most fascinating and unique traditions in Mexico.
Unique Traditions in Mexico
OK, so we’ve all probably enjoyed our own birthday parties with a colourful paper mache donkey but they started off in Mexico. Any idea why Mexicans have always marked special occasions with a pinata?
Piñatas have always been decorated in vivid colours to represent temptation. The stick represents the will to overcome sin, the blindfold represents faith and the candy represents heaven’s riches.
2. Turning 15 is a pretty big deal
For most of the world, the big birthdays and the best presents come at 18 and 21, but in Mexico – and a few other Latin American countries – it’s all about turning 15. La Fiesta de Quinceañera (15th birthday party) is a lavish birthday celebration where the whole community gets involved. For some, this might mean a few chairs and tables in the square, but for wealthy families, it’s really ‘go big or go home’.
During the evening, the quinceañera (birthday gal) receives the last doll to symbolize the fact she no longer needs to play with them, then passes it on to a younger sister or friend at the event. There’s also a custom that sees the father remove the birthday girl’s trainers and replace them with high heels.
The bill can really rack up, sometimes to tens of thousands of dollars and – in a bizarre twist – it’s often the godparents who need to foot a large part of the bill.
If you’re visiting Mexico at the start of November, you’re bound to get caught up in this colourful, chaotic celebration. Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, actually takes place over several days. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t really a Mexican version of Halloween, it’s a celebration of life and death – but the customs vary a little depending on where you are in the country. Most families will build altars and make offerings of toys, sweets, alcohol and cigarettes, which encourage the deceased to return home and hear the prayer of loved ones. Mexicans also believe marigolds help guide loved one’s souls back to the world of the living, so you’ll see a lot of them around too.
In Pátzcuaro, in Michoacán, indigenous people flock to Pátzcuaro Lake, where they pile into canoes with a candle and paddle to the tiny island of Janitzio for an all-night vigil.
In Tuxtepec, in Oaxaca, locals arrange colourful sawdust, flower petals and rice to create rug patterns on the streets.
Then, in Mexico City, there’s the Grand Parade – with live music, bike rides and colourful costumes
4. December Fools Day
The Mexican version of ‘April Fools Day’ takes place on 28 December, and it’s called Día de los Santos Inocentes. Like most Mexican traditions, it has religious origins. It marks the biblical story that sees King Herod execute all male babies in Bethlehem to kill baby Jesus.
It’s all very cheery though, with people playing practical jokes and pranks on friends and family – and the newspapers get involved too. If someone falls for a prank, you say: Inocente palometa que te dejaste engañar hoy por ser dia 28 en nadie debes confiar, “Innocent little dove that let itself be fooled, today being the 28th in no one should you trust”.
Just remember, don’t loan anyone money on the 28th. According to tradition, there’s no obligation to pay back anything borrowed on this day.
Mexicans put their own unique spin on Christmas too. Firstly, it’s all wrapped up in the tradition of Las Posadas. The celebration starts on December 16th, then every night until Christmas Eve children go from door to door singing and asking if there’s an open room at the “inn.” This represents the story of Mary and Joseph, but modern-day traditions feature a posada party at the end of each night. Santa Clause still visits on the 24th of December, but kids will also get a visit from The Three Kings on January 6, bearing some candy or small gifts. As you’d expect, a few piñatas are hanging from the ceilings too. At Christmastime, however, the piñatas have seven different spikes around them to represent the seven deadly sins.
Take a look over here for a few more Mexican Christmas traditions.
6. Wedding godparents
Mexican weddings are a lot of fun, with a lot of unique traditions. One of the most distinctive is the selection of Los Padrinos y Madrinas. The wedding couple selects a couple of pals to play a VIP role at the wedding. They’re sort of like fairy godparents, and will often sponsor part of the wedding, perhaps purchasing the bible, giving readings or hosting the engagement party.
7. The Mexican Hat Dance
Mexico’s national dance is the Mexican Hat Dance or Jarabe Tapatio. It started as a courtship dance in the 18th century, in Jalisco. Usually performed by a man and a woman, the dancers don’t touch either but flirt a lot. A persistent man usually throws his sombrero on the floor so the couple can dance around it. The centuries-old tradition celebrates Mexican identity and unity and became widespread after the Mexican Revolution.