We heard that you’re learning Spanish. Whether you’re doing it online, at a school, or not doing it at all, we’ve got a couple of reasons to motivate you. Yes, learning a language by itself should be enough of an achievement and that’s why you should be learning a second, third or fourth language. But if you are like me, then you’re going to need more than self-realization in order to really dive into the learning journey. That’s why, among other reasons, today we’ll be talking about traveling. To be more specific, Mexico. But traveling is just a side of today’s post since we’re also talking about culture. Of course, it’s almost impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. And so, without further ado, here they are, 11 Mexican traditions that make learning Spanish worth.
1. Spring welcoming at the top of Teotihuacan
What: As soon as spring arrives, people gather to welcome it and to be irradiated by spring energy. Although some people don’t believe in this, myself included, this is truly a unique experience in the sense of reflection. Once you’re at the top of the pyramid, it is impossible not to wonder how people built that, and more importantly, how they lived centuries ago. This feeling becomes inexplicably strong since you’re standing at the very place where those people used to be. Naturally, it’s almost impossible not to realize that we are just a fraction of both time and space. We, as humankind, are special, yet we all face the same destiny. That’s why coming here, to the top of the pyramids to be warmed by spring energy is so relieving. For a minute you forget about everything, and just wander in a sea of thoughts.
Where: Did you know that only a selected number of countries have pyramids in their lands? Mexico happens to be not only one of those few but also one with the most beautiful. There are plenty of places to choose from: Veracruz, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, etc. However, if you’re looking for one that’s being awarded a “World Wonder” title, then head south to Chichen Itza.
How does knowing Spanish help? Although these areas are touristic zones, which means that there might be some guides willing to guide you and explain stuff in English, truth is that you’re going to be missing out. Some information can’t really be translated since there are no English equivalents for some words. What is more, learning Spanish or, at least, knowing a little bit may be of great help when moving around and when talking to locals. When it comes to being friendly, some online Spanish lessons can do the job.
2. Independence Day
What: To begin with, it’s important to clarify (to our northern neighbors) that Cinco de Mayo is not our Independence Day. You see, Cinco de Mayo is just a commemoration of a single battle won against France when we were being invaded by their armed forces. Spoiler alert, we lost the war. But anyway, when do we celebrate our independence? I won’t get into details, because people here can’t agree on whether we should celebrate the first day or the last day of war. However, by tradition, we celebrate the beginning on both the 15th and 16th of September. It's also a custom for the president to recreate the night when Miguel Hidalgo (one of our heroes) prompted people to take their arms and fight against Spain.
Where: Celebrations take place all over the country and you’ll find among other things, plenty of food and alcohol. Of course, the capital city takes a little bit of spotlight because the “Grito” ceremony (the one we just discussed) takes place on the Zocalo square, next to the Government’s Palace.
How does knowing Spanish help? Well, naturally to have to learn and speak at least some Spanish in order to understand what the president is saying. Yeah, you could translate it, but it just won’t feel as patriotic and heartwarming as it would in Spanish. Additionally, if you come to Mexico, you’ll find yourself eating a lot of traditional dishes, so you better take some online lessons in order to ask whether the food is spicy or not. Spoiler alert, everything is spicy here.
3. Day of the Dead
What: Perhaps this one is going to be short. I can guarantee that you’ve heard something about this tradition. If you haven’t read anything about Day of the Dead, you’ve got to options: you either continue reading, or go watch Coco by Disney. Anyway, long story short: long time ago, several civilizations lived in what today is Mexico’s territory. These people believed, among some other things, in life after death. So, they all had a unique way to stay in touch with people who had passed away. Eventually, Spain conquered these lands and this system of beliefs got mixed with Christianity, thus, Day of the Dead was born.
Where: Although it is celebrated all over the country, there two special places that get more attention. The first one, Pátzcuaro in Michoacán. I won’t explain why, but take my words for granted, they take Day of the Dead to a whole new league. The second place is the capital, Mexico City. For three weeks, there are many parades that take place, as well as some other cultural events such as plays.
How does knowing Spanish help? Oh, boy. Don’t get me started on this one. So far, this is the most meaningful tradition of ours. Of course, you have to learn and speak Spanish to fully grasp the idiosyncrasy behind this custom. There’s no way around it, so many words without direct translation and culture-loaded words as well. Trust me, it won’t take much effort to learn the basics. You can learn Spanish right here, online and for free
4. Posadas navideñas
What & where: Las Posadas is a tradition in Mexico during the Christmas season. It is held for 9 days from December 16 to 24, recalling the months prior to the birth of Jesus and ending with his arrival in the Nativity Scene of Bethlehem. Each of the nine days has a different meaning: humility, strength, detachment, charity, trust, justice, purity, joy, and generosity. It can be celebrated every day in a different house, or, it is customary to organize the neighbors by streets or blocks and in this way, each block is playing the realization of each of the 9 inns. Besides praying, people also gather to sing Christmas carols every day. The landlords offer punch, canes, oranges or tangerines and a bag with sweets and peanuts called collation, without missing the piñatas full of sweets.
In some places, the tradition of being carried out in the atrium of the church is preserved, bringing together all the inhabitants of the village or the community in this place; The people in charge of the inns are chosen by the church administrators, who need 9 families for each of the days on which they are held. The families oversee giving to each of the attendees, seasonal fruits, sweets, drinks, and a snack.
The inns are held every day from December 16 until the night of 24. People gather and form a small pilgrimage to which candles are distributed and lit to accompany the "mystery" (statues or disguised people they represent to José, María, the angel and a donkey) and sing the litanies or carols, so you get to the house where you will ask for an inn and the people inside sing to deny it until you discover that it is José and María, then let everyone in the pilgrimage singing "enter holy pilgrims"; later a rosary is prayed, and it is the turn to break the piñata.
The piñata (it was used by the evangelizers to show the natives what the temptation was) is done with a clay pot giving it the shape of a seven-pointed star, which represents the seven deadly sins and is covered with colored paper flashy, and is filled with candy and fruit, once ready the piñata represents the devil. Once the piñata is broken, the sweets and fruit it contained fall, which represents the love of God, since by destroying evil, the blessings of God are obtained. Finally, at the end of the inn, “aguinaldos” are distributed, which are small bags, with sweets, fruit, and snack. During the course of the inn, you cannot forget the fruit punch.
How does kno… I guess I should stop by now. Learning Spanish does not only help you land a better position or understand what a song is about. Learning Spanish connects you with different people and various cultures all around the world. Once you start speaking Spanish you gain access to a whole new way of perceiving life. So yes, learning Spanish is a solid choice and you can do it right here. Online and for free.
5. La Guelaguetza
What & where: Guelaguetza is a word in the Zapotec language that means offering or present. In a broad way, it is a generous act of giving, when the occasion presents itself, and that will always be reciprocated by the one who received the gift.
The Guelaguetza of the Monday of the Hill
The men and women of the eight regions of the state make this offering an offering to the inhabitants of the City of Oaxaca who receive them with pleasure. From the Central Valleys, from La Cañada, from Papaloapan, from La Mixteca, from La Costa, from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, from the Sierras Norte and Sierra Sur, they offer the products of the Earth to their hosts.
Apparently, these festivities have their origin in the colonial era and are related to the so-called “Fiesta de Corpus Christi” of the temple of Carmen Alto, which the Carmelites built on the slopes of a hill that the Zapotecs had called the Bella Vista , and was celebrated on the Monday following July 16, which the Virgin of Carmen is celebrated in the Catholic rite and was repeated eight days later in the so-called “eighth”.
To these festivities, the enthusiasm of the indigenous residents of the towns surrounding the City was soon added, particularly those of “Guaxaca”, which was the capital of the Marquesado del Valle granted to Hernán Cortés by the king of Spain and that of Xochimilco, which had been founded in 1521, on the orders of Cortes himself, to the North of the mentioned City.
The natives maintained their traditions, according to which they celebrated a holiday dedicated to Centéotl, goddess of sweet corn or corn, to whom they made great honors and offerings. During the dawn of each Monday of the party, the chirimiteros of the Central Valleys play Las Mañanitas in various Catholic temples of the city. The chirimiteros are small bands composed of drums, reed flutes and a small wind instrument called chirimía, which gives name to these musicians.
Recently, other folkloric shows for popular entertainment have been added to these parties, such as the parade of delegations organized in the manner of the traditional Calenda and which takes place on the Saturday before each Monday of the Hill. This Parade is headed by the "groundhog" which is a large spherical lantern covered with cloth and the "giants" accompany it.
The Oaxacan Chinas, who are women of the city, adorned carry chilled baskets accompanied by their music band and the rockets that announce their passage with loud explosions. Next, they are accompanied by the representatives of each of the eight regions that will participate in the party, preceded by the music band of their region.
On the morning of July 18 and 19, the election of the Goddess Centéotl takes place, who will preside over the festivities thanks to her knowledge about the traditions of her people, above all her qualities. Representatives from each of the eight regions participate in this election.
The inevitable interrelation between the Spaniards and indigenous people and the efforts of the evangelizers to make the imposition of Catholic rites acceptable, made it possible to promote a cult in which elements of the indigenous tradition were incorporated, making liturgical acts more festive and spectacular external, from the moment that Indians, blacks and Spaniards began to live more intensely.
On the other hand, the inhabitants of the City of Oaxaca leave their homes to go to Cerro del Fortín, where the party is celebrated and where various food stalls are already installed inviting to enjoy some enchiladas, tamales, yellow mole empanadas, atoles or coffee before the party, while marimba and chirimiteros let the notes of Oaxaca music escape creating a festive and cheerful atmosphere.
Currently, the “Fiestas de Lunes del Cerro” are held in the City of Oaxaca on the two Mondays following July 16 and constitute an event in which the entire town participates, without distinction of social status. Stresses the spectacle of music, dance, dances and songs called Guelaguetza, in which each delegation presents a sample of its cultural heritage through dances that perform to the sound of music and the songs that are their own, wearing clothing of their respective villages At the end of their participation, each group distributes its Guelaguetza to the public, composed of products characteristic of their respective regions.
Between the first Monday and the second of the party we call “eighth,” there are various activities such as gastronomic, artisanal, sports shows, costumes from the various communities of the state, as well as exhibitions, concerts and other events cultural importance organized by the institutions that disseminate the culture and sport of Oaxaca in all its manifestations. In the “eighth” or second Monday of the Hill, the parade of Delegations and La Guelaguetza are repeated.
Sadly, this is the end of today’s post. However, don’t leave yet. Remember to make some use of our free online Spanish lessons! Don’t forget that we’ve got a Spanish podcast for learners as well. And most importantly, remember that all of our Spanish resources are free! So, wait no more and start learning and speaking Spanish with confidence! See you soon.