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Las doce uvas de la suerte: The twelve grapes of luck

Did you share a kiss with a loved one, make a toast or take a sip of champagne at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, 2017? These are all traditional ways to welcome in the new year in the United States. In Mexico, the same things may be happening, but there are a number of other rituals to be performed prior to the midnight celebration if one is to expect luck in the upcoming year.

Mexican culture is rife with traditions surrounding faith and family, as well as many involving luck and good fortune. These traditions are passed down from one generation to the next, and differ based on the region of the country. Travelling through Mexico is a great adventure as each city or township have their own local customs, and you’re in for a treat if you happen to be there as a new year is ushered in.

To begin with, many people give their homes a thorough cleaning before year-end to push out and bad vibes that may be lingering around the house. A sparkling environment is a way to attract good things in the coming months. Just like we make new year’s resolutions, Mexican people make “wishes”. And just like us, they include the desire to make improvements in certain areas of life like diet, exercise, jobs and relationships.

Photo of red and yellow underwear in Mexican shop

For some, the clothes worn to dinner on December 31st hold importance. One tradition involves wearing all white to attract good health, while another is to wear a brand new item of clothing. And perhaps most interesting is the custom of wearing red and yellow underwear on this occasion. As history tells is, the color red is associated with love and passion and yellow with happiness and prosperity.

Traditional Mexican dinner table setting

Next is the celebratory dinner, which is another chance to improve one’s good fortune. Starting with the table setting, where the best dishes are used and the arrangement of candles and flowers can bring good luck and wealth, to the colors on display, each of which have special meaning. Of course, the biggest moment of all is when the clock strikes midnight. The new year is officially announced by loudly ringing a bell; twelve tolls to be exact. During which time, people are eating twelve grapes — one to bring good luck and wishes fulfilled for each month of the upcoming year. Las doces uvas de la suerte.

Grapes in a champagne glass during Mexican New Year

The tradition of giving thanks in Mexico

Thanksgiving, as we know it, is not an internationally recognized holiday. In the United States, our ancestors selected this day in November hundreds of years ago to mark the end of the harvest season, and to display their gratitude for the bounty that it had provided. They celebrated by sharing a feast with their family members, friends and neighbors. Even though most of us no longer work the land, we still sit down to a big meal, usually at the center of which is a roasted turkey, and give thanks for the blessings of family, food, friends and our good fortune in general.

In Mexico, there is not one single day in which the citizens choose to show their thanks for the good fortunes in their lives and the gifts they receive from God. As a culture, they tend to recognize their blessings and feel gratitude throughout the year. They thank God for giving them the ability to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, and the gift of life itself. Instead of taking a single day during the year to recognize these things, they choose to feel grateful each day.

There are, however, many similarities in the way the season is celebrated. Their houses are also decorated to reflect a harvest theme with colorful leaves, wreaths, and vegetables such as gourds. Mexicans do have big feasts that include traditional dishes as well, though the fare is quite different. While we have what might be considered rather bland food: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, the traditional Mexican dishes are spicy and colorful. Some of the popular items are Mexican chorizo pumpkin soup, mango salsa, fruit and nut bread pudding, and chile-cranberry salsa.

Turkey is also not the main event on the Mexican table during their festivals of gratitude. You may see it make an appearance in a side dish such as turkey tacos or turkey enchiladas, but it generally does not occupy the center of the table. A more traditional choice would be roasted pork stuffed with chiles, peppers, onion, garlic and various other spices to create a rich, spicy dish.

Wherever and however you chose to celebrate your Thanksgiving holiday this year, I hope you had many blessings for which to be thankful and the support of family and good friends around you.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

Dia de la Independencia: Mexican Independence Day

Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519 with the goal of colonizing the territory that would later become Mexico, the country was populated by a large number of Indian tribes that were quite different from one another in every aspect. Each group had its own unique identity that varied widely on everything from religious practices to language to economics to their governing structure. Under Spanish rule, the country became more cohesive in these respects. Ultimately, it was the desire to oust the Spanish occupiers that united the people of Mexico in a common cause . After nearly a century of being under Spanish rule, the Mexican people joined together to fight for an independent nation.

On September 16, 1810, in the town of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo, famously called for a revolt against the Spanish occupation of Mexico. The speech took place in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, and is often referred to as the cry of independence, El Grito de la Independencia. Hidalgo was a catholic priest who had gone against the tradition of celibacy by getting married and fathering children. His army fought against Spanish soldiers, leading to his capture and execution in 1811. The cause was carried on by survivors, waging on for ten more years after Hidalgo’s demise.

The Mexican people finally won their hard-fought freedom from the Spaniards on September 28, 1821. However, September 16th is still considered the official national day of independance, Dia de la Indepencia, and is celebrated across the country with parades, fireworks, parties, and patriotic displays in the colors of the Mexican flag, red, green and white.

Though there is a deep and abiding national pride, however, centuries after becoming an independent, united country, the Mexican people are still dedicated to paying homage to their ancestors. Never forgetting their roots, they continue to honor their heritage through local art, festivals, and other cultural practices.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

Summertime in Mexico

It’s not uncommon in the dreary, cold winter months to start dreaming about a spending a week sunning yourself on one of the many beautiful beaches in Mexico. Destinations like Cancun, Acapulco and Cozumel are all popular resort towns where you can find white, sandy beaches, turquoise waters and palm trees swaying in the warm breeze. Savvy travellers know, however, that the summer months are also a great time to visit our southern neighbors. Because it’s considered low season, you can find great deals on flights and hotels while also avoiding the winter crowds. And there’s no shortage of interesting things to do and see.

Whale Shark being photographed by SCUBA diver

For animal lovers, summertime offers the opportunity to view the amazing wildlife that inhabit the coastal waters. If you’re brave, you can swim with the whale sharks in Cancun during the months of July through November. For those who’d prefer to admire from afar, there’s a whale shark festival in Isla Mujeres in July.

Whale shark swimming

If you’re passionate about conservation, you can be part of the effort to protect the ancient, majestic sea turtles. Female turtles emerge, nest and lay eggs every year in the month of May, and the babies are born about five-six weeks later. Because the eggs and babies are vulnerable to predators, volunteers are needed to hunt for the nests, mark or transport them to safe areas, and make sure the babies are released to the ocean.

Sea Turtle Eggs

Baby Sea Turtle Hatching

Because the Mexican people love celebrations and fiestas, every month features a different festival. One of the most colorful folk festivals, Guelaguetza, occurs in July in the the city of Oaxaca. During this celebration, people from the many different communities in Oaxaca come together to share traditions and embrace their diversity. Representatives from the many different ethnic groups converge on the city, wearing traditional clothing and performing folk dances particular to their unique heritage.

My personal favorite is the Zacatecas international Folkloric festival of chamber music in San Miguel de Allende in August. While you’re there, check out the vibrant art scene and stop in a local restaurant to sample delicious Mexican treats like Tacos al pastor, made with strips of pork off a spit or Elote (corn on the cob).

No matter what your particular interests, there is truly no “low season” in Mexico. Summer or winter, you’ll get a chance to experience local festivities, cultural events, different foods and a variety of wildlife.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

Cinco de Mayo

How did you celebrate the 5th of May, or as it’s more commonly known, Cinco de Mayo? Did you attend a party, go out to a Mexican restaurant or perhaps fill a pinata full of candy for the kids? As it becomes increasingly popular to celebrate this holiday throughout the U.S. regardless of one’s ethnic background, many people mistakenly believe May 5th is Mexican Independence day. In actuality, Mexican Independence day falls on September 16th. So what is the significance of Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo Banner

In 1861, Mexico was invaded by several foreign powers, including England, France and Spain, all looking to establish dominance. By 1862, the Spanish and English had withdrawn, but the French remained. Though poorly armed, Mexican troops defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Even though the French were not fully driven out for five more years, that battle became a representation of Mexican resistance to foreign domination. Despite the symbolic significance of the victory, however, for many years it was only observed locally in the state of Puebla rather than country-wide. To this day, Cinco de Mayo is not recognized as a national holiday in Mexico.

Float during Cinco de Mayo parade

Interestingly enough, it was Mexican immigrants living in the United States who elevated the status of the Cinco de Mayo observance. To Mexican-Americans, Cinco de Mayo has come to represent a day in which they celebrate and take pride in their heritage. Because Latinos are the largest minority in the United States, accounting for more than 57 million residents, their influence on and contributions to American culture can be felt in almost every part of the country.

Mexican dance

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

Easter in Mexico

My fascination and appreciation for Mexico grew at an early age. One of my favorite parts of taking trips there is meeting the locals. I’ve found Mexican people to be passionate about family, celebrations and tradition. Although they have a strong sense of who they are and of their ancestry, they are also warm and inclusive. They care greatly for the people around them – both those related by blood and those that are part of their community. And as a population, Mexicans are generally very devout when it comes to religion. As a result, their holidays are a beautiful combination of family, community, joyful celebration, tradition and religion.

Jesus on the Cross in Mexican Easter Celebration

Easter is arguably the largest and most celebrated of holidays in Mexico. Schools and many businesses are closed during the two week period between Palm Sunday and the Saturday following Easter. The streets of the capital are uncustomarily quiet as it’s common for families to take vacation during this time. A country of dedicated Christians, rooted in ancient cultural traditions, Mexican citizens take great pride in reenacting the story of the Passion of Christ. They hold processionals where they honor his journey, beginning with Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem and continuing through his crucifixion and eventual resurrection.

Easter Parade in San Miguel de Allende

The first week of Easter, Semana Santa, is the Holy week. Semana Santa starts on Palm Sunday and extends through Easter day. During this week, Mexicans celebrate the last few days of Christ by holding elaborate ceremonies. One of the most important traditions is to stage a big production where people act out the capture, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The players try to represent the actual events as closely as possible. This means the person who plays Jesus Christ often wears a real crown of thorns and carries a cross weighing hundreds of pounds on his back. Actors take their roles seriously, training rigorously to be able to carry out the physical and emotional requirements of their parts.

Mexican Easter Eggs

The way that Easter is celebrated in Western tradition with a magical bunny who drops by at night, leaving colored eggs and presents in his wake is quite different from the way that day is treated in Mexico. Rather than putting on egg hunts and giving children baskets full of candy, Easter Sunday is generally spent in quiet reflection, attending church with family. The following week is, called Semana de Pascua, which translates to Easter Week. Children are still off of school and lots of adults are on vacation with them. Because of this, the resort towns are filled with Mexican nationals and the prices are elevated if you’re traveling in from the U.S.

Still, one of these years, I’d love to travel the country, observing the elaborate Semana Santa celebrations and traditions that are unique to each region. Mexico is a place you can visit often, and yet still be surprised to learn about new, fascinating cultural practices and ancient rituals each time you go.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband of nearly 30 years and two beloved dogs.

El Dia de Los Muertos: The Day of the Dead

The Mexican people have a beautiful tradition surrounding their loved ones who have passed on. El Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, has its roots deep in history, perhaps dating as far back as Aztec times, and has evolved into a national holiday throughout the country as well as other parts of the world. In ancient times, people believed the heavens opened on October 31st, allowing the spirits of deceased children to come back and visit with their relatives for twenty-four hours. Today, the holiday has changed and expanded into a two day affair.

Calaveras Dia de los Muertos

November 1st is the day to celebrate deceased children, inocentes or angelitos, and the 2nd is the day that adults are celebrated by their families. It’s important to understand that in the Mexican culture, death is not feared but rather considered a part of the normal life cycle. On this holiday, people are celebrating the lives of their relatives who’ve passed away — not grieving them. One popular tradition is to create an ofrenda or offering for the loved one, which is similar to a small altar showcasing a picture of the deceased relative. It is a place where family members can gather, pray for them and remember their lives.

Ofrenda Dia de los Muertos

Ofrendas are adorned with the deceased relative’s favorite foods, marigolds (Flor de Muerto, flower of the dead), candles, memorabilia, incense, chocolate and drinks. Families gather together, make feasts, eat, dance, drink and tell fond stories about the people they’re celebrating. Miniature skeletons and little sugar or chocolate skulls, calaveras, are passed around and placed on the ofrendas. Parades are held where people paint their faces with “death masks”, wear traditional, brightly colorful clothing, and perform lively dances.

Graves on  Dia de los Muertos

Many families then spend the afternoon or evening hours in the cemetery at their loved one’s gravesite. Instead of it being a scary or macabre observance, it is yet another chance to pray and show respect for the dead. Family members will clean the tombstone and grave, lay marigolds and decorations and more food on it. They bring along a picnic, and sometimes, mariachi bands or local musicians will play in keeping with an atmosphere that is light and festive.

There is no real American equivalent to El Dia de los Muertos. Here, death is almost always thought of as sad; a reason for grieving. Mexican people feel the same sadness regarding the death of a loved one, but they set aside a few days a year to gather as a family and joyfully celebrate that person’s life. What a lovely and comforting ritual.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong, avid reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband and two dogs.

Missing in a foreign land

In chapter two of Jane Rosenthal’s novel, “Palace of the Blue Butterfly,” Lili starts the search for her missing sister, Vivienne.

Anytime someone disappears, it’s terrifying for those left behind, and time is of the essence. But the choice to set her story in a foreign country allows Rosenthal to add even more levels of complexity to her protagonist’s struggle.

Mexican architecture

The story moves quickly, and is further enhanced by the author’s impressive knowledge of the customs, history and lifestyle in Mexico City. Rosenthal deftly uses the vast cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico to deepen the mystery and present multiple theories behind Vivienne’s disappearance.

For example, while going through her sister’s personal effects, Lili discovers a wide array of painkillers and tranquilizers in various drawers and cabinets. The addresses printed on the bottles tell her the prescriptions were filled in a sketchy part of town. If this story were taking place in the U.S, this fact — along with sheer number of pills in Vivienne’s possession — might lead the reader to wonder if she is mixed up in the dangerous drug trade. But Mexico is infamous for both its loose controls regarding illicit substances and law enforcement looking the other way, so they might be legitimate. Yet if the prescriptions were legitimate, why fill them in rundown, out of the way neighborhoods?

Mexico City

Another stark difference between trying to find a missing person in the United States and Mexico, is the role of law enforcement. In the U.S., the FBI would work in coordination with local police to put together a search. Mexico has had troubles for many years with corruption within the police force. Thus it makes sense that, instead of involving law enforcement, Lili goes about the process of searching for Vivienne by herself. The burden of discovery falls to her, despite her lack of experience.

Mexican decorations

To add to the level of complexity, setting a story in Mexico means dealing with a different set of cultural norms. Lili meets a local politician living directly next door who may have clues as to her sister’s situation, but Lili is wary of sharing information with him. The neighbor is an elected official and from all appearances seems to be well-heeled, which leads her to question his motive for living in Vivienne’s ramshackle building. Powerful men in Mexico are given certain allowances that differ from those in the U.S. Lili wonders if he’s married, and this a secret love nest where he comes to conduct an illicit affair out of the public eye. If so, could that mistress be her sister — and is he somehow involved in her disappearance?


With all of the cultural, political, historical and religious differences between the two countries, nothing can be taken at face value. There are questions and mystery everywhere Rosenthal’s protagonist looks, which entrances the reader and makes them not want to put “Palace of the Blue Butterfly” down.

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong, avid reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband and two dogs.

How Jane Rosenthal hooks her readers in the first chapter of Palace of the Blue Butterfly

The story opens with the reader being plunked down into the exotic land of Mexico. Rosenthal engages all the senses with vivid descriptions that pull the reader into the scene as the main character, Lili, takes a taxi ride from the airport to her sister Vivienne’s home in Mexico City. Lili is here because she’s received a cryptic email alerting her of her sister’s disappearance. As she enters the city, you hear intermittent wailing of emergency vehicles and sound of traffic congestion and smell the dust and dry leaves that punctuate the air. Despite the blackout, you see the once grand and now shabby French Chateau where Vivienne lives, along with the distinct cast of characters who reside there along with her.

Catedral Metropolitana de la Asuncion de Maria

These supporting characters are each unique and hint of potential mysteries of their own.The business manager who relies on Tarot cards, the aging screen actress who keeps him company, and the loyal family housekeeper, who is the one most visibly upset at her employer’s disappearance. Rosenthal cleverly gives just enough of an introduction to leave you wanting to learn more about the inhabitants of Vivienne’s home and life.

Santa Maria La Ribera in Mexico City

The reader is introduced to both Lili and Vivienne through Lili’s thoughts and begins to see the stark difference not only in their personalities but the way they’ve chosen to live their lives. Vivienne emerges as beautiful, emotional and lacking in boundaries as she charges through life. Whereas Lili has chosen to play it safe, working as a teacher and keeping her world intentionally small. However, despite her aversion to risk, Lili has flown thousands of miles away into a foreign country to try to find her sister. It speaks of a strong bond between sisters and the strength that one finds when the other is in danger.

Le Meridien Mexico City, Ciudad de México

By the end of the chapter, the reader is hooked. There are so many questions that make you want to keep reading. What has happened to Vivienne? Rosenthal hints that this is not her first disappearance, but could this time be different? Is foul play involved? What is the role of the other characters living in Vivienne’s house? Do they know more than they’re letting on? And finally, how will the outcome of the story change Lili and her play-it-safe approach to life? With so many interesting aspects to the plot, the reader has no choice but to read further to see how the mysteries will be solved.

Mexico City centro historico

Guest blogger, Jacqui Keady, is a freelance writer and lifelong, avid reader of mystery and romance novels. She lives in Folsom, California with her husband and two dogs.

Alameda Park, Casa de Azulejos

Mexico Series: Part 10Mexican Flag

previous article


We’ll turn around now and head toward Alameda Park on the Western side of the Centro Historico, looking at two important buildings — Palace of Iturbide and Casa de Azulejos-before crossing Alameda Park and heading to the Franz Meyer Museum to see the collection of Viceregal art. That cup I showed you is from that collection.

Palace of Iturbide

The Palace of Iturbide, built in the 18th century ,belonged first to the Count of San Mateo Valpariso, an incredibly wealthy silver mine and cattle baron. Story goes the count gave this palace as his daughter’s dowry. She was marrying a spendthrift son of the Sicilian nobility — the Marquise of Moncada. In order to protect his money, the Count of Valparaiso sank 100,000 pesos (sort of like building a 15-20 million dollar home now) into this piece of real estate. On the request of his future son-in-law, the most famous architect at the time — Francisco Guerro y Torres — was hired and instructed to build the future home as a replica of the Palace of Palermo in Sicily. The interior courtyards are Renaissance with Tuscan columns, and it was the first four- story building in the New World.

You know you’re in trouble when your son in law requests a replica of a famous palace for a home. After the Count of Valparaiso died, the Sicilian son-in-law entered into countless legal battles with his mother-in-law over money and finally fled Mexico for Sicily under mysterious circumstances. He was never seen again the New World.

In 1820, Agustin Iturbide, emperor of the brief First Mexican Empire after the War of Independence, claimed this building as his palace. Hence the name Palace of Iturbide. There is a fascinating story of Iturbide’s son who married an American diplomat’s daughter, which is the subject of a wonderful novel — the “Last Prince of Mexico”, by C.M Mayo. I’ll tell you more of the story in the next part of our tour. But just to finish up, the Palace of Iturbide is now owned by our own version of nobility –the bank. In this case, Banamex, where they hold fabulous art exhibits.

And last, The Casa de Azulejos.

Casa de Azulejos

Built by the Count of Orizaba in 1737 and completely covered on three sides with tiles, it shows again the wealth of the Mexican upper classes, the blending of architectural styles, the Moorish from the mudejar — the tiles themselves are from the moors through Spain and were made in Puebla, a town an hour or so southeast of Mexico City. You can also see the Baroque decorative elements around the doors and windows.

In this building what you are also witnessing is the rise of the Creole class’s identity as Mexican as opposed to Spanish, a rising awareness of their own power and wealth. This awareness combined with legal discrimination against the Creole class erupts in the War of Independence in 1810.

Casa de Azulejos Restaurant

Anyway, this is where my mother and I would often have lunch, and I still love it to this day. So we’ll stop here for a limonada just to imagine all the history of the building.

The street at the time the Casa de Azulejos was built was called Calle Plateada because of all the silversmiths and silver merchants on the street. Later during the late 19th century the building was the location of the most exclusive men’s club in the capital—the Jockey Club. If Mexican television ever made its own version of Dawnton Abbey, scenes would have to be shot here. We’ll also look at a famous Orozco mural in the patio dining area.

We’ll leave the Casa de Azulejos, now owed by the fourth richest man in the world — Carlos Slim of TelMex. How he became so wealthy could be the subject of yet another novel, this time by Carlos Fuentes or even Roberto Bolano. We’ll wander through Alameda Park to the Franz Meyer Museum to look at the household furnishings and get a sense of the lifestyle of the rich and famous in 17th 18th century Mexico.

Alameda Park Fountain

A bit about Franz Meyer and his collection. Franz Meyer was a wealthy Jewish financier who came to Mexico in 1920. At that time no art collectors were interested in art of Colonial Mexico, so he picked up all these remnants of the Viceregal Period and donated them and the Colonial building to the City of Mexico.