Traditions and customs of Mexico

What traditions and customs are there in Mexico?

A country that awaits a lot of history and passion, we review the customs and traditions of Mexico.


Food in daily life

Mexico has an extensive and sophisticated culinary culture, with a wide variety of regional dishes. Three products make up the heart of most Mexican dishes: corn, chiles, and beans, products that date back to pre-Columbian times.

Corn is consumed in all its possible forms: as a cooked or roasted corncob (“elote”), cooked corn kernel, oatmeal porridge (“atole”), as wrapped and steamed masa with filling (“tamal »), but more importantly, it is consumed as a tortilla, a thin round «pancake».

Tortillas are made from corn dough and come in many sizes, although the traditional tortilla that accompanies most meals is about six inches (15 centimeters) in diameter.

When the tortillas are filled with meat or other ingredients they are called tacos or quesadillas, which are especially popular in central Mexico. Much of the sophistication of Mexican cuisine comes from the use of more than a hundred different types of chiles, ranging from the large and “sweet” ancho chile to the small and extremely hot habanero chile.

Mexicans generally have a light breakfast of coffee and/or fruit before leaving for work or school. In the middle of the morning, people can eat a hot sandwich of tortillas or a roll.

The most important meal of the day is served between 2 and 4 in the afternoon (the meal) and consists of three or four dishes: soup, rice or pasta, meat or chicken -if it is affordable- accompanied by tortillas and refried beans, and dessert. Dinner is served between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. and consists mainly of sweet rolls, coffee, and milk.

Mexicans often eat outdoors. Cozy restaurants serve cheap set menus known as corrida. Mexicans drink large amounts of soft drinks and beer. Although the national liquor is tequila, which is produced from the maguey cactus, Mexicans prefer rum and cola during weddings and other celebrations, or parties.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

There are numerous religious and secular occasions in Mexico that are accompanied by special food. A popular religious festival is Candlemas Day, February 2, which celebrates the purification of Mary and the presentation and blessing of Jesus.

After the church ceremony, family and close friends gather for tamales… During the Day of the Dead, November 2, people eat pan de muerto, a long, flat, sweet bread prepared with lots of eggs and sugar.

At Christmas people eat romeritos, a plant similar to rosemary, served with sauce and potatoes; cod, dried cod cooked and served in a sauce of tomatoes, olives and onions; and all kinds of stuffed turkey.

In September, independence is commemorated and, in central Mexico, a sophisticated dish called chile en nogada is eaten, a stuffed poblano pepper seasoned with white walnut sauce, red pomegranate and green parsley, representing the Mexican flag.


Mexicans are free to choose their spouses. Informally, however, there are rules that limit choices, especially those related to class and ethnicity. People usually get married after a period of formal engagement that can last for several years.

In 1995, the average age of marriage for a man was nearly twenty-four; for a woman it was nearly twenty-two. Of all Mexicans twelve years of age or older, slightly more than half were married or united in some other way.

Although the foundation of marriage is love, many Mexicans consciously or unconsciously seek a partner who can provide social and economic security or upward mobility.

Monogamy is the only form of marriage allowed. A marriage ceremony consists of a civil registry and a religious wedding. Afterward, the couple throw a big, expensive party with family and friends. In the early 1990s, the divorce rate was a relatively low 6.5 percent. It is legally easy to get a divorce, but the social pressure against it can be formidable.


Mexican etiquette is heavily influenced by the culture of social hierarchies and distance. These may exist on the basis of race and gender, but class distinctions regulate social interaction more decisively. It goes without saying that the different social hierarchies are usually parallel.

In general, Mexicans shake hands when they meet or, in the case of two women meeting or a man and woman meeting, they kiss each other on the cheek once. For close friends and on special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve, Mexican men and women hug, pat each other on the back, and then shake hands.

This embrace expresses confidentiality and the crucial value of trust. Because strangers cannot be placed within the various circles of intimacy and confidentiality, they are generally treated with suspicion.

When people of different socioeconomic status meet, the individual with the lower socially attributed status will wait for the person with higher status to define the terms of the meeting.

Mexicans are very interested in being served with their academic or professional degree. The most widely used academic title is bachelor’s degree. The form of address of the graduate is more linked to the position than to the precise academic credentials of that person.

People of inferior status will also invariably address a social superior with ‘you’, while the latter will probably use ‘you’. These forms of leadership draw boundaries, create distance, and confirm the social hierarchies so characteristic of the national culture.

Mexicans value the art of eloquence. Conversations will mostly start with polite and informal exchanges and gradually get closer to the topic. Even so, Mexicans continue to be indirect speakers, avoiding clear statements.

Politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats are identified as the masters of this rhetorical style. They have become an object of irony in the hands of the famous comedian Cantinflas, who by talking a lot but saying nothing gave rise to the verb cantinflar.


Religious beliefs

Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Mexico. After the conquest by the Spanish, the indigenous peoples of Mexico readily accepted Catholic beliefs and practices, but did so on the basis of their pre-Hispanic religious beliefs. The Virgin of Guadalupe, for example, was associated with the pagan goddess Tonantzin.

As a result, popular Mexican Catholicism is frequently described as syncretic. Catholic beliefs permeate the lives of ordinary Mexicans.

Because the Catholic Church has been a very powerful institution in Mexican history, its relationship with the state has been at times tense and at times openly hostile. In recent decades, Protestant missionaries have been particularly active in southern Mexico and among the urban poor.

Religious professionals

The most important practitioners are the Catholic priests, who celebrate regular masses and officiate at events that Mexicans consider crucial such as births, weddings, death, and fifteen years (the initiation ceremony for girls).

The priests also carry out more everyday rituals such as the blessing of new houses or cars. Because parish priests are deeply involved in the social life of local communities, their influence goes beyond religious matters.

Rituals and sacred places

The most important religious rituals in Mexico are determined by the Catholic calendar. Holy Week is perhaps the most important of all. In different places in Mexico, the re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday is attended by large crowds. The largest is located in Iztapalapa in Mexico City and attracts more than 100,000 believers.

The patron saint of the nation, the Virgin of Guadalupe, has her sanctuary in Mexico City, near the Tepeyac hill, where she first appeared in 1531.

The huge modern basilica attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the country every year, especially on December 12, the day of Guadalupe. Each community (rural or urban) has its own patron saint who is honored with processions and fiestas every year.

Death and the afterlife

Representations and rituals of death play a prominent role in popular culture, art, and religion. It has been suggested that this is related to pre-Columbian indigenous beliefs. These rituals are expressed with greater vigor in the festivities of the Days of the Dead, on November 1 and 2.

On this occasion, Mexicans set up altars for the dead in their homes with food, drinks, and other objects (such as skulls made of sugar or chocolate) to welcome them back to earth. Many Mexicans also visit cemeteries and decorate the graves with large orange flowers.

They will spend some time at the graveside praying, but also sharing memories of the deceased. The so-called Mexican cult of the dead has attracted much attention abroad.

Secular celebrations

The battle against the French is celebrated on May 5 (“Cinco de Mayo”), remembering the victory of the Mexican forces over the French invaders in the hills near the city of Puebla in 1862. The French took a year to bring reinforcements and taking the Mexican capital in 1863. Cinco de Mayo is an important symbol of national sovereignty and parades are held throughout the country.

Independence Day is September 16 and celebrates the start of the fight for independence in 1810, which began when Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla rang the church bells in the town of Dolores and called on parishioners to expel the Spanish.

This act -the so-called Grito de Dolores- is ritually repeated on the night of September 15 by authorities throughout Mexico and even by ambassadors abroad. The ritual ends with the vigorous shout of “Viva México” three times. On the morning of September 16 there are military parades organized by the government.

Independence Day is the most important civic ritual and enjoys wide popular participation. Throughout the month of September, houses, offices and public buildings are decorated with the colors of the Mexican flag.

Revolution Day, November 20, commemorates Francisco Madero’s planned uprising against dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1910 that marked the start of the Mexican Revolution.

It is mainly an event orchestrated by the State that arouses a modest popular participation. The main event is the long sports parade in front of the National Palace in the center of Mexico City.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The most important federal institution active in the field of the arts is the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CNCA).

The CNCA coordinates the activities of more than thirty public institutions in the world of the arts; one of these is the National Endowment for Culture and the Arts, founded in 1989, which provides modest financial support (such as scholarships and project funding) to young and distinguished artists in a wide variety of disciplines. There are also private funds that support the arts.


The first evidence of writing dates back to 600 BC in the form of Zapotec glyphs, which have not yet been deciphered. Pre-Columbian literature is considered to include the few writings prior to the conquest, as well as poetry and prose in indigenous languages ​​that was recorded in the alphabetic script and produced after the conquest.

The first group comprises the codices, pictographic writings on accordion-pleated amate (“paper”), most of which were destroyed. Its content is mainly religious and historical. The most important Mayan literary texts, such as the Popol Vuh, belong to the second group. One of the most significant legacies of Aztec culture is the poetry of the king of Texcoco, Nezahualcóyotl (1402-1472).

In colonial New Spain, the seventeenth century produced two of the most outstanding literary talents: the writer and scientist Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora (1645-1700), and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695), a brilliant woman who She became a nun to continue her academic and literary activity. She is best known for her poetry and her theological and secular prose.

After independence, international literary trends such as romanticism, realism, and modernism influenced Mexico’s literary achievements.

Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (1834-1893) was the main representative of Mexican romanticism, who made an effort to develop a national literature nourished by the realities of the country. Others are José López Portillo y Rojas (1850-1923) and Amado Nervo (1870-1919).

The Mexican Revolution and its aftermath led to the rise of a new generation of writers and literary subjects. The “novel of the revolution”, which began with the publication in 1915 of Los de bajo by Mariano Azuela (1873-1952) and was expanded with the novels of Martín Luis Guzmán, takes a bitter look at the revolution, violence and its consequences. leaders.

This theme has also inspired other authors, including the contemporary Mexican literary giant Carlos Fuentes. Juan Rulfo published very little, but Pedro Páramo (1955) is considered a masterpiece. In poetry, a group centered around the contemporary literary magazine set new standards in the 1920s.

However, Mexico’s foremost poet was Octavio Paz (1914-1998), who also wrote numerous essays, including The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950), a classic essay on Mexico’s national character that earned him international acclaim.

In 1990 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. In recent decades, novelists such as Elena Poniatowska, Angeles Mastretta, and Laura Esquivel have gained prestige in Mexico and abroad.

Graphic arts

The long tradition of graphic arts in Mexico dates back to pre-Columbian times. As the different indigenous civilizations prospered, they built impressive town centers and religious buildings and produced sophisticated graphic arts such as pottery and frescoes. In general, pre-Columbian sculptures and images of gods provoke a sense of fear and dread.

Pre-Columbian art has acquired a prominent place in the canon of national culture and is exhibited in numerous museums, most notably the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. These museums are frequently visited by primary and secondary school students as part of their history assignments.

After the Spanish conquest, the church and the monasteries were the main contributors in the field of the arts. As a consequence, religious architecture became the most important form of creative expression. Although icons and styles were imported, the techniques, materials, and forms used by indigenous artisans gradually gave way to a distinctive Mexican style.

At the end of the 17th century, a recognizable Mexican baroque flourished with an abundance of decorative elements. In the 18th century, this became the even more profuse Churrigueresque style. Sculpture and painting developed in a similar way.

Political instability and recurring war seriously hampered artistic development in the nineteenth century, with the exception of painting, in which there was a wavering interest in pre-Columbian themes. The most important artists were Pelegrín Clavé and the landscaper José María Velasco.

After the Mexican Revolution, a period of intense artistic innovation began, giving rise to the most widely recognized form of Mexican art, the mural.

The recognition of artistic independence by the new revolutionary elite and the active support of the state coincided with a renewed interest in popular culture, such as the engravings of José Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913), and in pre-Columbian themes and artistic expressions..

Mexico, its history and its people became the most important themes of the huge murals that decorate the walls of public buildings. The best-known exponents of the Mexican muralist school are Diego Rivera (1886-1957), David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), and José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949).

In recent years, the eccentric paintings of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) have attracted worldwide attention. Painters of later generations who have acquired national and international fame are José Luis Cuevas, Juan O’Gorman, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo.

Mexico’s artistic qualities are perhaps best illustrated by the wide variety of popular arts and crafts. Folk artists can be found throughout Mexico, but regions and even towns specialize in particular crafts.

Performing arts

In classical music, the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico City and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the National University are the most recognized. The most important composer in Mexico in the 20th century was Carlos Chávez (1899-1978).

Popular music, such as mariachi and ranchero, has become famous throughout the world and has produced stars such as Vicente Fernández and Juan Gabriel. Mexico also has a native rock scene. Mexico City has become an important recording center for the Spanish-speaking world.

The same happens with the production of telenovela series for television. Mexican cinema flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, producing popular culture heroes like Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante. One of the most important venues for the performing arts in Mexico is the Cervantino Festival, which is held every year in the city of Guanajuato.

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