Last Updated on October 19, 2023 by Janine
Wondering what some of the most commonly celebrated Mexican holidays and traditions are? Learn about some of Mexico’s liveliest festivities and how they’re celebrated.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after three years of living in Mexico, it’s that there are a LOT of holidays and traditions, and people here are NOT shy about celebrating them.
This is one of the things that I love about Mexico as an extranjera. Though I won’t lie, it did take some getting used to.
When I first arrived in Mexico, I seemed to fall asleep frequently to the sounds of firecrackers, pulsing music, and other indicators of a party.
Initially, I just assumed I lived in a lively neighborhood, but local friends soon informed me that the neighbors were just celebrating one festive day or another.
Whether it be Dia de la Albañil (celebrating construction workers), Dia del Maestro (celebrating teachers), or a fiesta patronal (a day celebrating a particular saint), there ALWAYS seems to be something to celebrate in Mexico.
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While many of Mexico’s holidays probably aren’t of interest to travelers, there are quite a few that are. Participating in these events is a wonderful way to learn about Mexican culture.
But, even if you don’t participate, you might be curious about what everyone around you is up to during some of these holidays.
You probably already know of some, such as Dia de Muertos, but trust me, that’s just the beginning.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but I wanted to share some of the traditions that travelers may notice or be interested in while visiting Mexico. I’ve included them in chronological order, so you can scroll through the list to locate the holidays corresponding to when you’ll be in Mexico.
Over the past few years, I’ve experienced most of these events in one way or another, but the true meaning of each one wasn’t necessarily clear to me at the time. I still have a lot to learn.
Most of these are holidays and traditions, but I’ve also included a few major festivals you may be interested in attending.
Who knows, maybe you’ll be planning your next Mexico bucket list adventure around one of these events!
Mexican Holidays and Traditions to Experience
1. Año Nuevo (New Year’s Eve) – Dec 31st – January 1st
As you might expect, New Year’s Eve is often celebrated with a big party. But, in addition to the food, music, dancing, and fireworks that typically accompany this holiday, Mexicans have some fun and unique New Year’s Eve traditions of their own.
You may notice packages (or even giant bins) of yellow and red underwear for sale in grocery stores or tianguis markets throughout Mexico in the days leading up to the new year.
This is because wearing a particular color of underwear on New Year’s Eve is a way to set your intentions for the year ahead. Those who wish to find love in the New Year wear red underwear, and those who want to attract money don yellow undies.
If you plan to travel in the New Year, grab an empty suitcase and run around the block with it at midnight. This is said to bring luck to your travels!
Another quirky New Year’s Eve tradition in Mexico is to eat 12 grapes during the one-minute countdown to midnight, making one wish for each grape. This ritual is said to bring luck throughout the year!
But beyond these rituals, New Year’s Eve is typically a big party. Many people gather with friends or family and have parties at home, but plenty of Mexicans head to bars, nightclubs, and other events (such as fireworks displays or concerts).
Where to spend New Year’s in Mexico:
There isn’t a bad place to be in Mexico on New Year’s Eve. Of course, cities and tourist destinations are bound to have the biggest festivities, but you’ll be able to find celebrations almost anywhere.
If you find yourself in Mexico City on New Year’s Eve, you’ll have no shortage of things to do. There are typically concerts and events held throughout the day in Mexico City’s historic center, culminating in a large concert in the Zócalo as the night draws to a close. Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs will all have festivities as well– but plan ahead and make a reservation if you’re hoping to join in.
Mexico’s tourist destinations typically host parties, concerts, and fireworks shows as well. Again, you should plan to make reservations for any events you hope to attend.
2. Dia de Reyes (Three Kings Day) – January 6th
Día de Reyes, also known as Día de Los Reyes Magos or Día de Los Santos Reyes, is celebrated on January 6th.
The tradition on this day is to eat a piece of the Rosca de Reyes, a delicious, ring-shaped sweet bread (similar to a hot crossed bun) with one or a few plastic figurines in the shape of a child embedded inside.
If your slice of Rosca contains one of the figurines (called a muñequito, or little doll) or it shows up when you cut it, you have to serve everyone at the gathering tamales on February 2nd for Día de la Candelaria.
For some children in Mexico, the Three Wise Men stop by their houses and leave some gifts on Dia de Reyes, kind of like Santa Claus, but on the night of January 5th.
In the weeks leading up to Día de Reyes, you will probably notice all the supermarkets and bakeries selling the Rosca de Reyes bread.
Even if you’re not participating in the holiday, I highly recommend tasting this delicious sweet bread. And hey, if you do happen to find a muñequito in there, treat yourself to some tamales on February 2nd– it’s tradition, after all!
Some Roscas are better than others, so try to find one from a local bakery rather than a supermarket for the ultimate experience.
3. Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) – February 2nd
Dia de la Candelaria is a Catholic holiday in Mexico that is associated with a feast to honor the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple.
One of the traditions associated with Día de la Candelaria is to dress up a figure of Jesus Christ in a special outfit and take it to the church to be blessed.
But, for families that aren’t particularly religious, the main purpose of this holiday nowadays is to eat tamales.
Remember the Rosca de Reyes from January 6th? Whoever cut into the muñeca on that day is responsible for providing the tamale feast on February 2nd.
But if you weren’t lucky enough to have anyone owe you a tamale feast, you’ll have no problem sourcing tamales on your own leading up to February 2nd. You’ll likely see them advertised at market stalls, sold on the street en masse, or featured on restaurant menus at this time of year.
4. Dia de la Constitución – February 5th
Constitution Day commemorates the signing of Mexico’s constitution in 1917, which ended el Porfiriato– the dictatorial reign of president Porfirio Diaz.
While February 5th is the official date that the constitution was signed, the holiday is now celebrated on the nearest Monday to the official date.
Schools, offices, and most businesses close on Dia de la Constitución, and there are tons of festivities throughout the country.
There are usually parades and live performances with dancing, music, good food, and more! Plus, since the holiday falls on a Monday, many people take advantage of the long weekend to take a weekend getaway or host a gathering with friends.
If you find yourself in Mexico around February 5th, you’re bound to catch a glimpse of the festivities.
5. Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day) – Feburary 24th
President Lázaro Cárdenas established Dia de la Bandera in the 1930s to honor Mexico’s flag.
The three-color design of Mexico’s flag was first implemented in 1821 when the country gained independence from Spain.
The color red represents unity between the indigenous population and those with European blood, the white represents the purity of Roman Catholicism, and the green represents Mexico’s independence.
The image of the Eagle perched on a cactus with the snake in its talons was added in the 1960s and is loosely based on an Aztec legend that the city of Tenochtitlán was to be established wherever settlers saw an eagle perched on a cactus.
Dia de la Bandera is an important day to celebrate national pride. It’s a bank and school holiday and is typically celebrated with a military parade. In Mexico City, the president typically hosts a flag-raising ceremony in the Zócalo.
If you find yourself in Mexico on February 24th, you’re bound to encounter some form of celebration in the downtown core of any city in the country.
6. Semana Santa – Easter
Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is a Catholic holiday based around Easter, or Pascua, as it is known in Spanish. Semana Santa begins on Palm Sunday, and, for some, it extends for another week following Easter Sunday.
Since the holiday is based around Easter, many religious celebrations occur during these days. However, for many people, the focus of Semana Santa is the fact that they get a long holiday from work.
Students and school staff usually get two weeks off while other workers receive a puente, or long weekend.
If you happen to be in Mexico around Semana Santa (or are planning on going), I recommend avoiding touristy destinations, especially beach towns, because they will be extraordinarily crowded.
Since Semana Santa is the first vacation for locals after Christmas and they flock to the coast to soak up the sun. If you don’t mind crowds, by all means, head to the beach, as the mood will be jovial, but rates will be high.
To beat the crowds, head to the cities. Places like Mexico City and Guadalajara are wonderful around Semana Santa, as they are less busy than usual.
7. Dia del Trabajo – May 1
Mexico’s Labor Day is a day devoted to honoring worker’s unions. This is a holiday for organizations like banks and government offices, but retail locations typically stay open.
There usually aren’t any major festivities around Labor Day, but you may notice that more things are closed around town than usual– this is why! You can also expect bars, restaurants, and other attractions to be more crowded as those celebrating Dia del Trabajo will be out having fun instead of being stuck at the office!
8. Cinco de Mayo – May 5th
Cinco de Mayo isn’t actually widely celebrated in Mexico, but I wanted to include it on this list because the day IS significant, but likely not in the way you think.
Firstly, it is NOT Mexican Independence Day – scroll down to September 15th for more info on that holiday (it’s a big one!).
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Batalla de Puebla (aka The Battle of Puebla) when a small contingent of the Mexican army defeated a much larger army of French troops as they tried to capture the town of Puebla in Puebla State.
Despite the poor odds, the Mexican army was victorious! This day is celebrated in Puebla City with a military parade, music, food, and dancing, but nowhere else in Mexico.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated much more widely in the US, where restaurants and liquor companies have succeeded in capitalizing on it as an excuse to sell Mexican food, beer, and margaritas.
But before it became a commercial holiday in the US, Cinco de Mayo held significance for US citizens of Mexican descent. According to period newspapers, Cinco de Mayo celebrations have been taking place in Los Angeles and other western states in the US since shortly after the Battle of Puebla.
In recent years, the holiday has become a symbol of cultural pride for Mexican Americans, with celebrations taking place each year in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix.
9. Dia de la Madre (Mother’s Day) – May 10th
In Mexico, Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10th. Mexican culture is very family-oriented, and when it comes to celebrating one of their own, they go all out.
If you happen to be in Mexico during Mother’s Day, you can expect serenades starting at midnight, some even with mariachi bands.
During the day, people usually take their mom out for a nice lunch, give her all kinds of gifts and pamper her as much as possible.
10. Independence Day – September 15th & 16th
Contrary to what many extranjeros believe, Mexican Independence Day does NOT fall on May 5th. Independence Day celebrations begin the night of September 15th and continue the next day.
Although technically, Mexico achieved independence on September 21st, 11 years after the main battle started, people celebrate the day the movement originally began.
This day is known as El Grito de Dolores, or simply El Grito. On September 15th, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo started the independence movement in the town of Dolores (now called Dolores-Hidalgo) in Guanajuato.
From there, he and his army marched south to the capital to face the Spanish conquerors.
El Grito is a major event everywhere in the country, full of pride, color, and joy. Festivities begin at 11 pm on September 15th.
At this time, all of the representatives of the main government in each state and city, along with the President, stand out on their correspondent office’s balcony, which opens to the city or town’s main square where typically there is a crowd gathered.
They make a speech commemorating their national heroes and finish with el Grito: Viva México! This is followed by fireworks, dinner, and a long night of celebration.
How to participate in Mexican Independence Day?
On the night of el Grito, it’s standard to find celebrations pretty much anywhere in Mexico.
I recommend going to a Mexican restaurant where you can indulge in the best traditional dishes, accompanied by mariachi, ranchero, or bolero music. You are in for a night of tequila and good spirits!
Another way to participate in the celebration is to visit a city’s zócalo. In most places, there will be fireworks, concerts, or some type of performance. If you choose to do this, exercise extreme caution, as pickpockets typically look for a payday during events like this.
In most of the towns and cities of Mexico, September 15th is considered a noche libre, meaning citizens can drink publicly without consequences (though nothing is guaranteed).
As with any alcohol-fuelled event, be cautious because it’s not uncommon for a few people to become out of control.
Where to celebrate Independence Day in Mexico?
To be honest, I’d say anywhere in Mexico will be really fun around those dates.
Regardless, it depends on what you are looking to experience. If you simply want to take part in the festive mood, anywhere will suffice.
If you’re looking to party, larger cities are likely your best bet, as they typically offer free concerts and events. There is usually a free performance by a well-known Mexican artist in Mexico City’s Zócalo on this day.
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11. Dia de Muertos – October 31 – Nov 2
Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead as we know it in English, is a holiday dating back to pre-Columbian times that celebrates the lives of our departed loved ones.
Each year in late October, families build altars, or ofrendas, to honor loved ones who have passed away.
They adorn the altars with flowers, papel picado, candles, and photos of the people they wish to remember. Many people also place food and other items their loved ones enjoyed on the altar. There are many symbols and motifs that are associated with Day of the Dead, each with their own special meaning.
Some families like to decorate the tomb of their departed family members and will even sit in the cemetery on the Dia de Muertos and share a meal with them.
It is said that on these days, the souls of the dead return to earth to share time with their living family members.
Because this holiday has increased in popularity in recent years due to attention in the media, it’s common for businesses and organizations to create ofrendas as well. Though they may not be dedicated to anyone in particular, these altars are often creative and artistic.
How to participate in Dia de Muertos:
There’s no question that the Day of the Dead is a beautiful tradition, and it’s natural to want to be part of it. However, it is a very personal holiday, so it’s important to participate respectfully.
That said, many towns in Mexico have Day of the Dead festivities geared toward the public. This makes it easy to appreciate the festivities without encroaching on anyone’s intimate celebration.
There are often parades, public ofrendas, and even art exhibitions in honor of the holiday.
Where to experience Dia de Muertos in Mexico:
Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico, but some places have more elaborate festivities than others. Mexico City is known for its huge Day of the Dead parade along Avenida Reforma in the Centro Historico.
The cities of Oaxaca, Merida, and Guanajuato are known for hosting many public events and art exhibitions in the days surrounding the holiday. These cities are also known for having gorgeous, festive decorations throughout the city streets.
Regardless of where you are in Mexico during Dia de Muertos, you’re sure to experience some sort of celebration. Don’t feel that you’ll miss out if you don’t make it to one of the locations mentioned above!
Related Reading: Visiting Mexico in November? Check out these tips before your trip!
12. Dia de la Revolución – November 20th
Dia de la Revolución celebrates the day Francisco Madero started the movement to end Porfirio Diaz’s 35-year dictatorship over Mexico.
What started as a movement to end an autocratic leader turned into a civil war and became one of the most important historical events in Mexico.
The Mexican Revolution is celebrated on November 20th. On that day, there are no classes and, for most people, it’s a day off from work.
Usually, there are parades all over the country showing a display of Mexico’s students, teachers, local athletes, and military members.
Have you ever noticed that every city in Mexico seems to have a street called 20 de Noviembre? That’s a nod to the Mexican Revolution!
13. Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe – December 12th
Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe kicks off the Christmas season in Mexico, which runs from December 12th to January 6th. This period of time is often referred as the Guadalupe-Reyes season.
The Virgen de Guadalupe is one of the most important religious symbols in Mexico. Some people even say they don’t believe in most of the orthodox version of Catholic history, yet they are devoted to her.
There is a special branch of Catholicism in Mexico named “Guadalupanos,” and the Virgen de Guadalupe serves as the idol and symbol for most of them.
The legend says that on December 12th, the Virgin appeared to a man named Juan Diego.
She ordered him to start the process of building her a temple, and as proof to the clergy, he brought an ayate (a piece of fabric made of maguey plants) with flowers that had her image woven into it.
Though initially skeptical, the bishop finally saw the Virgin appear and deemed that it was indeed necessary to build a church on that spot as she requested.
Mexicans celebrate her day by holding a big mass in La Basílica de Guadalupe, which is built on Tepeyac hill in Mexico City.
Each year, millions of people travel from all around the country to attend the mass at the Basilica de Guadalupe.
Some of them travel thousands of miles on foot, and others arrive by bike or in cars and buses.
In the days leading up to December 12th, it’s common to see caravans of people traveling in the direction of Mexico City for the mass.
They decorate their vehicles (whatever they may be) with balloons, lights, and crosses and toot horns or blast music as they make the journey.
How to participate in the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico:
There are three main ways to participate. The first would be to go to the Basílica de Guadalupe to pay your respects.
There you can experience the enormous mass along with millions of others (in 2018, there were said to be over 10 million attendees).
There will surely be mariachi bands and even appearances by major Mexican celebrities.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could join a caravan and travel thousands of miles.
Alternatively, you can just cheer them along as they pass, giving them momentum to complete the journey.
Where to experience Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico?
The main place to experience this holiday is at the Basílica de Guadalupe in Mexico City. However, I don’t recommend attending unless you are highly devoted to the cause or simply love large crowds.
Of course, the day is also celebrated in every place in Mexico that has a Catholic church. Wherever you are, expect to see lots of people in the streets!
Curious to learn more about the Virgen de Guadalupe? You can tour Mexico City’s Basilica anytime throughout the year! This half-day tour will educate you on the origin of the Virgin and her cultural significance as you check out the incredible Basilica with a guide.
14. Las Posadas – December 16th to 24th
Las Posadas is a tradition that carries on over the days leading up to Christmas in Mexico. This tradition is based on the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter for the baby Jesus to be born.
In the days leading up to Christmas, people get together to pedir posada (ask for shelter). This involves singing traditional verses and songs.
After everyone finishes singing the verses, the gathering becomes a typical holiday party. There is generally lots of food, drinking, and even piñatas!
Posadas are a great excuse to indulge in copious amounts of traditional Mexican food and drinks, like the delicious ponche, a cider-like beverage made from stewed fruit that is traditionally made around Christmas time.
Posadas are held throughout Mexico starting on December 13th, and the last posada is traditionally Christmas Eve.
Where to experience posadas in Mexico:
Posadas are held throughout Mexico. In small towns (pueblos), these events are sometimes more traditional, where a group of people will walk through town and sing the posada verses at the homes of strangers (kind of like caroling back home).
On the other hand, in cities, a posada is often just a normal holiday party with a brief singing segment.
Just in case you’re concerned about not knowing the words to the posada verses, don’t be! I’ve linked them here. Plus, many posada hosts will print them out so you can read them as you sing.
15. Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) – December 24th
Unlike in the US and Canada, where Christmas Day is the focus of the festivities, in Mexico, these fall on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). The day is usually spent with family, gathered around the Christmas tree, eating, drinking, and being merry!
Some families attend Christmas Eve mass together before regrouping at home to eat and share gifts.
Sometimes families will perform pastorelas for one another. These are short Christmas-themed plays. Often you can see pastorelas performed publicly in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but families will put them on at home for fun, too!
Mealtime generally begins at midnight and is followed by opening presents. Turkey is a popular Christmas Eve dinner in Mexico, but may not be prepared the way you are used to back home. My Mexican family always did a tequila-adobo turkey which was exquisite!
Bacalao is a very common Christmas Eve menu item too. It’s a delicious fish stew made with cod, tomatoes, onions, chiles, green olives, and more. If you’ve ever had pescado a la veracruzana, it’s similar to that, but a stew version!
16. La Navidad (Christmas Day) – December 25th
After the late-night festivities on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is typically spent lounging around with the family, eating, and watching the children play with all their new presents. Some families may attend mass together again.
Christmas Dinner is typically a recalentada (reheated leftovers), and the day is typically very low-key. At least in my experience.
17. Día de Los Santos Inocentes – December 28th
Dia de los Santos Inocentes is kind of like Mexico’s version of April Fool’s Day. The origin of the tradition is grim, but it’s now seen as an excuse to pull pranks and have fun.
While the tradition is typically honored in the form of practical jokes among family and friends, there is often some sort of public observance too.
Sometimes newspapers will publish outlandish and untrue headlines in the name of being playful.
Mexican Festivals to Attend
18. Carnival in Mexico – Ash Wednesday to Lent (Feb – March)
Carnival takes place each year from Ash Wednesday through to the start of Lent, which usually falls between February and March.
This festival was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, but the indigenous communities embraced it because it overlapped with some festivities of their own. Today’s Carnival celebrations incorporate lots of nods to Mexico’s indigenous cultures.
The festivities associated with Carnival involve parades, musical events, dancing, and elaborate costumes. It’s a lively and vibrant event to experience and draws enormous crowds.
Where to experience Carnival in Mexico:
Carnival is celebrated throughout Mexico, but the two main cities to experience it are Mazatlan and Veracruz. Other prominent celebrations take place in Cozumel, Merida, and Campeche City.
In the Baja Peninsula, you can find Carnival celebrations in Ensenada and La Paz.
If you plan to participate in Carnival, use common sense– with huge crowds and free-flowing alcohol, it’s vital to be mindful of your own safety.
19. Guelaguetza Festival – July
La Guelaguetza is an event that takes place in Oaxaca City every July on the two Mondays following July 16th. The festivities take place on the Cerro de Fortín, as they have since pre-Columbian times.
Due to its timing and location, the festival is also referred to as Los Lunes del Cerro, which translates to “Mondays on the hill.”
On these dates, indigenous groups from throughout the state arrive in the capital city to put on a festival highlighting regional music, dance performances, textiles, crafts, and food specialties.
The celebration includes parades as well as stage performances, offering attendees plenty of opportunities to participate!
One of my favorite travel vloggers, Alan X El Mundo, shares a peek at what it’s like to attend La Guelaguetza!
How to participate:
The best way to participate in La Guelaguetza is to purchase tickets to the performances. Visit the event’s Facebook page for up-to-date information on how to do so!
Where to be:
La Guelaguetza takes place in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, each year in July. The dates of the event change each year, but it takes place on the two Mondays following July 16th unless one of them happens to land on Benito Juarez Day, in which case the festival is pushed back one week.
This festival is really popular so if you plan to attend, book accommodation well in advance!
20. Festival Internacional Cervantino – October
The Festival Internacional Cervantino (aka, Cervantino) is an arts festival that takes place in Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, for 3 weeks each October.
What began as a festival featuring performances of short plays written by Miguel de Cervantes (you recognize him as the author of Don Quixote) has evolved into the biggest arts festival in all of Latin America.
For three weeks every October, visitors from all over Mexico and the world arrive in Guanajuato to take part in the festivities.
Check out the Ballet Folklórico from the University of Oaxaca performing at Cervantino a few years ago:
Each year Cervantino honors the art and culture of one country in the world and one of Mexico’s states. The 2019 festival highlighted Canada and the state of Guerrero, Mexico.
Throughout the three weeks of festivities, attendees attend theatre and musical performances and art exhibitions.
I haven’t attended Cervantino, but from what I’ve been told, Guanajuato’s narrow streets are literally bursting with art during the festival.
The events and exhibitions occur in various venues throughout the city, so everywhere you go, there is some form of art, music, or performance to witness.
How to participate:
Cervantino consists of many events and exhibitions. Make the most of it by purchasing tickets to the presentations that most interest you. If you’re on a tight budget, have no fear because there are also plenty of free events and performances that you can attend!
Where to be:
Cervantino takes place in Guanajuato City, Guanajuato. The city is relatively small (under 200,000 people), and the festival is very popular. If you plan to attend, be sure to reserve accommodation in advance.
How to Be a Respectful Participant in Mexican Holidays and Traditions
These Mexican celebrations are all fun and alluring, even to visitors from other countries, but it’s important to participate respectfully.
For Mexicans, many of these traditions are quite personal (particularly religious ones). It’s important that you don’t make anyone feel that you’re turning their sentimental tradition into a caricature for your travel journal.
Don’t be intrusive, and always follow cues from the people around you.
Continue Planning Your Trip!
Mexico Guide Books
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I use a combination of Booking, Airbnb, and VRBO to find accommodation throughout Mexico.
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