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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.

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.