Category Archives: Culture and traditions

Protecting The Endangered Sea Turtle

One of the goals of this blog is to introduce U.S. readers to the wonderful complexity of life in Mexico. If you have visited there, but limited your trip to a beach resort, where you drank tequila and enjoyed the white sand and crystal blue water, you’ve missed out. There is so much to learn about the history and culture of Mexico through activities such as exploring ancient ruins, attending festivals and cultural events and walking through one of the thousands of museums. And then there’s the enormous variety of marine wildlife that live in the oceans surrounding Mexico, one of the most interesting of which is the giant sea turtle.

The giant Sea Turtle

It’s incredible to think that every species of sea turtle in the world (with the exception of a single one that calls Australia home) nests on the beaches of Mexico. Every year between the months of May and October, sea turtles return to the same beaches on which they were hatched to lay their own eggs. Thus earning the country the reputation of being the sea turtle capital of the world. Unfortunately all species of giant sea turtles are on the endangered list due to habitat encroachment, overfishing, pollution and climate change. However, in 2013, Mexico passed an unprecedented law that offers a whole slate of new protections to these gentle giants and their habitats.

endangered sea turtle

The new regulation forbids the removal of any native vegetation from nesting habitats. The coastal plants serve a dual purpose; they help prevent beach erosion and protect the specific species of turtles, like the Hawksbill sea turtle, who prefer to crawl up the sand until they reach vegetation before building their nest. It also prohibits artificial light in the area. After hatching, the babies are biologically driven to look for the shine of the ocean’s surface to find their way into it. Lights from nearby homes or hotels can make them head in the wrong direction.

Protect the baby sea turtles

Another threat to the hatchlings that was banned is a practice that has been used by local hotels, in which they offer specials to tourists where they can take part in releasing the hatchlings into the sea. The issue is that the hotels kept the babies in confinement for a long time while they waited for enough people to sign up and pay for the privilege. Hatchlings need to get to the ocean as soon as possible after birth or they become weakened and the survival rate goes down. As of 2013, this practice is forbidden and hatchlings have to be released immediately.

All of the protections put in place were long overdue and are aimed at protecting the beaches, nesting grounds, mother turtles and hatchlings. However, should you visit Mexico in the next few months, you can still safely and respectfully view the magnificent ritual of turtle nesting and even volunteer to help protect the eggs and make sure the babies make it safely to the sea.

An Easter Experience

Sunday, April 21st is the official date of Easter this year. If you have little kids, the Easter bunny might come by your home to put candy in their baskets, you may set up an egg hunt or two, and if you’re a practicing Christian, the whole event may be preceded by attending a religious service. For Catholics, the occasions tends to be more pious.

The great majority of Mexican citizens consider themselves Catholic, a religion first introduced by the Spaniards during their occupation of Mexico over 500 years ago. While they were in power, Spanish rulers worked hard to convert the entire population to the Catholic religion, often using force. Mexicans eventually fought for and won back their independence, but after 300 years, the religion was firmly entrenched.

Recent statistics released by the Vatican name Mexico as the country with the second largest number of Catholics in the world. Combined with the enthusiasm in which Mexicans approach their history and culture, Easter is a celebration that goes on for weeks rather than a single day.

Carnival

Carnival, derived from the Spanish word for meat, carne, begins up to two weeks prior to lent. This is a time of living it up with parties and parades, big meals and abandon. Carnival is celebrated in many places; the largest occur in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. In Mexico, Mazatlan is the site for the biggest celebration in Mexico, followed by Veracruz City, Merida and Cozumel. The decadence is in preparation for the period of deprivation to come.

Lent

Lent represents the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent in the dessert, and to honor His sacrifice, Catholics will often cut back on the luxuries in their lives. Some people will choose their biggest weakness, such as alcohol or sweets, and commit to abstaining from consuming them during Lent.

Semana Santa

Translated, Semana Santa, means holy week, and during this time Mexicans celebrate the last days of Christ. This is a particularly fascinating part of the Easter tradition, in which many cities and townships stage a full reenactment of the capture, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The actors are chosen carefully and take their roles extremely seriously, offering moving and passionate performances.

Semana de Pascua

Easter week, the second week of the Easter, Pascua, celebration brings a different tone to the proceedings; a time for resurrection and new beginnings. Schools are closed and many families go to the beaches and other vacation destinations together.

Dia de Reyes: Celebrating a Visit From the Magi

Traditionally, Americans ring in the new year with a kiss, a toast and a glass of champagne, and pronounce the holiday season over. January represents an abrupt return to reality as we put those pesky new year’s resolutions to test, and try not panic when the Christmas bills come rolling in. The joy of Christmas is officially behind us. To the south, however, the most magical part of the season has yet to take place. In particular, all over the country on January 6th, you can find small children running to their shoes to see if the three kings have stopped in for a visit, leaving presents in their wake.

Dia de Reyes

Dia de Reyes (Day of Kings) marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas, and honors the three wise men who travelled from afar, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant baby Jesus. In Mexican households, it is traditional for children to leave out a pair of shoes on the eve of Dia de Reyes, with a hand-written wishlist. When they wake up in the morning, the legend goes that the Magi, or the three kings, have come during the night and left presents for the children.

Mexico Novels roscadereyes

Of course it wouldn’t be a Mexican holiday without parties, parades, public celebrations, and feasts, including traditional dishes to be enjoyed with family and friends. The most important culinary treat of the evening is the Rosca de Reyes, a cake baked in the shape of a king’s crown. It is the consistency of a sweet bread, and is adorned with dried fruit to represent jewels. Not visible from the outside of the Rosca de Reyes, a tiny Jesus doll is baked into the dessert.

Mexican holiday nativity scene

The doll tucked away in the cake symbolizes how the real Jesus had to be kept hidden from then-King Herod of Jerusalem. Herod had heard rumors that the new and rightful king of Jerusalem was soon to be born. Because he feared losing his power, he ordered his minions to kill all baby boys born around the time of Jesus Christ. They did not think, however, to look for a child born in a manger. Thus Jesus was safely hidden away similar to the effigy that is baked into the Rosca de Reyes. Whomever receives the piece of cake with the baby Jesus doll inside is then obligated to host the next holiday, Dia de la Candelaria on February 2nd.

There is a wonderful spirit in the air around the Christmas season.I believe much of this has to do with the extra effort we make to spend time with the people we love. Mexicans are really good at gathering together to celebrate both religious and cultural events all year-round, and it contributes to the strong family values for which they’re known.

Blended Faith

With the holidays upon us, I’ve been thinking about the unique mixture of Christianity and ancient religious beliefs that make up the holiday traditions in Mexico. Prior to Spain colonizing the country, there were complex and deeply instilled belief systems in the indigenous Indian cultures, such as Aztec, Mayan, Inca and others. Specifically, they did not believe in a single almighty deity, but rather many different gods who needed to be placated and worshiped. If they incurred the wrath of one of them, terrible things would happen.

After the Spaniards began to rule the country, however, they embarked on an extremely aggressive crusade to convert the indigenous population to Catholicism. Unfortunately, they set about doing this using force and violence rather than education, and it became a matter of survival for the Indians to embrace the new belief system. But they didn’t completely abandon the one that was so deeply ingrained in their societies. The result was a blend of Catholicism and the ancient cultural traditions and beliefs of the indigenous population.
Christianity and ancient religious beliefs
The Spanish conquistadors showed no mercy when it came to insisting the indigenous people adopt their religion, and the Indians responded by finding ways to pay homage to the Christian god while still appeasing their own. Often this meant demoting their gods to saints, and practicing indigenous rituals under the guise of Christianity. Some of the more barbaric practices, such as human and animal sacrifice, were abandoned, but many other rituals were modified so as to appear within the parameters of Christianity.
Santa Muerte
One example of this confluence of beliefs is the pseudo-saint, Santa Muerte (Saint Death). Her image is depicted by a skeleton wearing a long robe and holding a scythe, which is thought to be associated with the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. Many Mexicans believe she has power and control over their daily lives, and mimic the Catholic ritual of praying to her spirit and asking for grace, though Santa Muerte is not associated with Catholicism.

Interestingly, now that freedom of religion is part of the federal law in Mexico, some of the older, more vibrant and involved rituals are coming back in popularity. It demonstrates the same loyalty and dedication to following ancient cultural traditions and paying homage to their ancestors that Mexican display in many other areas of their lives.

The Day of the Dead

The name of this cultural tradition in Mexico may sound ominous, but it is actually an occasion filled with joy and celebration. The Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, occurs directly after Halloween, but there is no similarity between the two. On November 1, it is believed that souls of relatives and ancestors who have passed away have a 24 hour window in which to visit the living. Family members prepare in advance to honor and remember the life of their loved one, and spend the day celebrating the time they had together rather than mourning their deaths.

Ofrenda

They begin by building ofrendas earlier in the month, which are beautiful altars that they put up in their homes. They are made up of a number of traditional items as well as things the person loved in their lifetime. The ofrenda includes pictures, candles, buckets of marigold flowers, artifacts of favorite hobbies, and special foods, including turkey tamales, tortillas, fruits and Day of the Dead breads, specially baked for the occasion. Little toy skeletons and candy skulls, calaveras de azúcar, provide the final touches.

cultural tradition in Mexico

The ofrenda should both include these traditional elements as well as remember the essence of the relative they’re honoring For example, if someone were building an ofrenda for me, there would be books by my favorite authors, cinnamon and floral scented candles, little statues of dogs and pictures of all the pets I’ve owned over the years, sheet music for the piano and lots of chocolate! Those familiar items would make my family members remember the things that made me happy during my lifetime as well as please my visiting soul.

Day of the dead parade

Other traditions that fill the day include visiting the gravesite and decorating it with festive candles and flowers. And each town will put on events like parades, where they may be special dances performed by members of the community. These customs tend to carry more solemnity in the smaller villages than in the cities, where the festivities are larger in scale and more celebratory in nature. Like most celebrations in Mexico, the particular traditions and customs will vary from one part of the country to another, influenced by thousands of years of history.

Football or Futbol?

It happens every four years and is met with much anticipation and excitement in diverse countries around the world. I’m talking about the soccer (futbol) tournament, known as the World Cup, happening right now in Russia. Depending on where you live, the enthusiasm for this event can reach a fever pitch. In the United States, we can’t get enough of sports, from playing them ourselves to attending live events to creating an entire ritual around watching a game or match on TV our own living rooms or a local bar.

Football or Futbol?

When you mention futbol (which sounds phonetically like football) in this country, however, you may be met with some confusion. More often than not, the image of oversized men in shoulder pads knocking each other down is what comes to mind. Despite having a fairly short season, football is the number one sport in the U.S., followed by basketball, baseball and ice hockey. Soccer, which occupies the number five spot, is quickly gaining in popularity. And, with the 2026 World Cup set to be hosted by a joint effort from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, it’s possible the sport will move up the ranks even further.

football or futbal?

If you happen to bring up futbol in Mexico, there’s never any confusion. It’s their national sport and many top-ranked athletes hail from Mexico. But it wasn’t always that way. Soccer was introduced in Mexico in the early part of the last century, but the country didn’t make too much of a mark on the world scene until the World Cup was held in Mexico City in 1970. This is when futbol officially took off in Mexico, and by the time they hosted the 1986 World Cup, their national team was far more competitive and the fan-base has skyrocketed.

football or futbal?

The upcoming 2026 World Cup being a collaboration between the United States and our neighbors to the north and south can’t come at a better time. First, because the political climate has become so contentious, it’s critical that people have an opportunity to come together for a common goal. Sports have a way of allowing people to move past their differences and see others as teammates, not enemies. Second, as was demonstrated so well in Mexico, hosting the World Cup is likely to increase the popularity of soccer in the U.S., creating new opportunities for talented athletes. Let the futbol fever commence!

El Dia del Padre

Like in many other countries around the world, there’s a specific day set aside each year in Mexico to recognize and show gratitude for fathers. El dia del padre is observed on the third Sunday in June every year, and in keeping with most special occasions, is generally celebrated on a grander scale than in the U.S. However, the difference is that Mexican father’s day is not just about dads. From older brothers to uncles to grandfathers and step-dads, Mexicans take the opportunity to honor all father-like figures on this day.

El Dia del Padre

It all starts in the morning when los padres wake up to an elaborate breakfast. The enormous meal is designed to include all of dad’s favorite foods, even dessert. Father’s day breakfast is topped off with sweets, like Mexican chocolates or a traditional dessert called pan dulce. Translated literally to mean “sweet bread”, pan dulce also comes with decadent fruit or chocolate toppings. Next there will be greeting cards and traditional gifts like ties for the important male family members to open and the celebration will continue throughout the day.

If the family happens to live in the vicinity of Mexico City, fathers and their children can take part in an annual race called Carrera Dia del Padre 21K Bosque de Tlalpan. Commonly called a “fun run” in America, this event presents a great way for dads and kids to spend time together outside, doing something enjoyable and healthy.

A 21K race is 13.2 miles or a half marathon, which obviously would be quite a feet for a child to complete. There are, however, many different races to choose from throughout the day, including the very popular father-son race. After the various events have been completed, families can attend the big carnival for more food, games and fun. Whether they choose to participate in a fun run or not, of course this celebration wouldn’t be complete without a dinner feast.

For the people of Mexico, this is a day to celebrate not only fathers but many other important male figures within the family. And, as is their way, a chance to bring together family and spend the day eating, laughing and having a good time.

La Familia

I have a dear friend who, long ago, immigrated from Mexico to the United States. She is a lovely, warm, spiritual woman and I am often in awe of her dedication to family over all else. Her children are grown and starting families of their own, but not a day goes by that they don’t talk on the phone and/or see one another. Like most people who’ve spent many years living in a different country, she and her husband have blended some of their traditions and beliefs with those that exist here in the U.S. Still, they continue to follow many beautiful customs rooted in their native culture.

The importance of family over the individual in Mexico encourages people to think, not just of their goals and desires, but of what they can do to serve the needs of the group. And keeping family close by is placed at a high value. In the United States, we revere independence, and the result is many families are spread out in different areas of the country. It is not uncommon to have several family units and generations living in the same house, however, in Mexico. This practice benefits both the senior family members, who may need daily care, and the grandchildren, whose lives are enriched by the close relationships they have with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It also ensures that family traditions and history will be passed down. Some of these customs involve deeply ingrained spiritual beliefs and practices.

A large percentage, some 80%, of the citizens of Mexico identify as Catholic, but their sense of spirituality extends far beyond organized religion. Before the Spanish occupation, Mexico was populated by ancient societies such as the Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mayans, and some of their unique practices continue to influence modern rituals. This is why, when you travel around the country, local customs tend to vary widely. Despite the different historical and religious practices, however, there’s a constant underlying theme of inclusiveness and family values. And a large part of that involves celebrations.

My friend never seems to run out of reasons to, “make a party”, as she calls it. She approaches every event with great enthusiasm, though the amount of work that goes into it boggles my mind. She starts by cleaning her house from top to bottom, followed by days of cooking. She and her husband pronounce the the party a success if people eat too much, stay until the wee hours of the morning, and put in plenty of time on the dance floor. Though the family unit is the most critical, they are always happy to include friends as well as their families. You can easily see how the group can grow large over time as the kids get married off and begin to bring their spouses and inlaws.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on standing our own two feet and leaving “the nest” as soon as we’re able. Certainly, there is a lot to be said for this type of self-reliance. Yet I also believe we can benefit, from observing the dedication to family values and traditions that is an integral part of the hispanic culture.

Carnival Time!

For Catholics, Lent is a 40 day time period, during which the faithful practice repentance, fasting, and preparation for Easter. The week before Lent is to begin, many places in the world hold festivals of all-out decadence. In New Orleans they celebrate Mardi Gras, Rio de Janeiro has Carnival, and in Mexico, there’s Carnaval. This year, the festivities kick off on February 8th and end the day before Ash Wednesday, February 13th. It’s a time of great celebration, infused as always, with the culture of the place in which it’s being held.

True to their good nature, the people of Mexico fully embrace the opportunity Carnaval affords to wear costumes and hold parades and parties. However, unlike places such as New Orleans, where this week has morphed into nothing more than an excuse for wild parties, Mexicans tend more toward family friendly events. Tradition has it that the festivities are initiated by the burning of an effigy, often a very unpopular politician or public figure, in order to get rid of The Ill Humor (El Mal Humor). Perhaps this year we will see the likeness of a particular U.S. official who has a reputation for stirring up trouble with our neighbors to the South?

Montage of carnival floats and a dog dressed in a pig costume

After Ill Humor is disposed of, it’s time to crown the Carnaval royalty and let the round the clock fun begin. Many big cities have developed their own time-honored rituals over the years. Such as Cozumel, where they’ve managed to stretch out the entire event, starting in January with “Pre-Carnaval” activities and events. In February, the official Carnaval is kicked off with massive parades and games for adults and children alike. Even pets get their chance to dress up and promenade!

Along with the larger cities, most small towns also have their own traditions surrounding the last hurrah before Lent. With different foods, festivities and competitions, many places in Mexico proudly practice their own unique traditions. One thing is for sure, no matter where you decide to visit during Carnaval, you’re going to get the chance to sample delicious, local cuisine and watch or participate in parades, parties and games.

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.