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Religion, Tradition, Culture & Calendar


With the major religion in Mexico being Catholicism, over 80% of the country’s population claim to be Roman Catholic with a further 12% considered members of other branches of Christianity (including Protestantism, Othodox, Seventh-day Adventists and more). Only around 3% make up other religions, mainly Muslims, Buddhists, Bahai Practitioners and Jews, and around 5% are considered completely non-religious.

Specifically, there are believed to be over six million Protestants, around half a million Seventh-day Adventists and over a million Jehovah’s witnesses. The orthodoxy has numbers similar to those of the Seventh-day Adventists and the Mormon population is meant to mimic the numbers of the Jehovah’s witnesses. Additionally, the Mexican-born La Luz del Mundo branch of Christianity makes their international headquarters in Mexico in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

Meanwhile, there are around 50,000 Jews in Mexico, around 4000 Muslims (mainly Sunnites and a few Shiites), almost 110,000 Buddhists as well as one of the six Tibet Houses used by the Dalai Lama and other members of Tibetan Buddhism, and over 40,000 Bahai Practitioners.

Museums, Galleries & Architecture

Although Architecture is very modernized in the region nowadays, historically the indigenous tribes built a multitude of large-scale cities out of many heavily-laboured stone bricks. These typically follow pyramid-like stepped structural formats with a lot of emphasis on square shapes and slanted, but symmetrical, angles. Additionally, adorned columns and detailed large stone figures take an important part in native architecture and it’s believed that these were crafted not just to help keep records and legends alive, but also to help demonstrate the influence of the ruling nobility at the time. Some of the most prominent sites include The Pyramid of the Sun and the surrounding Teotihuacan city area, the Temple of Warriors at Chichen Itza, the Statues at Tula, and Uxmal & the Pyramid of the Magician in the Nunnery Quadrangle.

Upon arrival of the Spanish, large-scale monastic developments took place, cultivating in the creation of a wide range of churches, cathedrals and other monastic buildings. These buildings play on a lot of Gothic influences that many churches constructed at the time were subject to, but keep a cleaner and smoother appearance with more emphasis on large stained glass windows and less on spiked steeples and gargoyle-guarded doorways. Famous Hispanic works include the Palace of Michoacan, Chapel of the Rosary in Santo Domingo, Puebla Cathedral and the Indigenous Baroque in Sierra Gorda.

Contemporary architecture, on the other hand, is developed with a sort of neo-mesoamerican appearance, keeping to the original stepped square forms and sense of symmetry used but using modern materials and technology for taller and tighter structures. Good examples of this can be seen in the Torre Latinoamericana and to a lesser extent, the Torre Major, the Santa Fe Business District and the National Auditorium in Chapultepec, Mexico City.

Clothing, Dress Style & Etiquette

Traditionally, clothing was reserved only for the elite and the nobility of the various indigenous tribe castes. However, that which was produced was of the highest quality by the best craftsmen of the time and included fabrics mainly woven from fibers from Yucca and Palm trees as well as Cotton and a type of bark paper called Amate (used only ceremonially). Cotton however, was so precious that is was often used as currency. Clothing was considered an art form and took such skill to make that many Mesoamerican cultures had a god of weaving and buried women with woven items that they had made, even Cortes himself commented on the high quality of the items made by the natives in his letters to King Charles V of Spain.

Out of the pre-Hispanic clothing that survived to this day, common female pieces include the Enredo (wrapped dresses) held in place by a Faja (cloth belts) and often worn with a Quechquemitl (a short square poncho) or a Huipil (a type of tunic). These are often embroidered with various colourful patterns and imagery and a Rebozo (a long rectangular shawl) is often worn over the top.

Few male pre-Hispanic clothing, records or techniques have survived to this day but it is known that the Sarape (a long blanket-like shawl) was a favourite public piece at the time and is still worn today by performers of various arts. Through artwork records of the tribes, it is known that it was very common for men to go about naked during their day to day activities, and to a lesser but still fairly common extent, women as well.

Literature, Poetry, Music & Dance

Indigenous literature wasn’t frequent for the various Mesoamerican cultures, despite developing highly detailed methods of writing and communication systems most legends and myths of the groups were passed down the generations through oral traditions. These tales and philosophies often chronicled the tales of gods and beasts, the creation of the world and many life-lessons to go by. However, some of the tales were passed down through literary means following the Spanish missionaries taking records on paper via the Latin Alphabet. These works include the lyrical works of Acolmiztli Nezahualcoyotl, the Books of Chilam Balam, the Popol Vuh and the chronicles of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.

Following the Colonial period, the conquistadores and explorers of the region produced many written accounts of the new world. Additionally, the church regulated written culture for the most part up until the 19th Century, when a revolution in the authoring world produced works such as the epic poem Martin Fierro by Jose Hernandez in 1872 and the novel Sab in 1841, written by Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda. These 19th Century pieces typically focused on the predjudice, oppression and overall bad treatment of the gaucho, women and slave minorities.

In the 20th century following World War II, there was another literary boom and authors such as Julio Cortazar, Emire Rodriguez Monegal and Gabriel Garcia Marquez made their appearances with books such as Rayuela in 1963, Mundo Nuevo in 1966 and Cien anos de soledad also in 1966 respectively. Since then the contemporary literature stage has set in and the public enjoy works such as Antwerp by Roberto Balano in 2002 (but written in 1980), Onze Minutos by Paulo Coelho in 2003 and The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende in 2008, as well as many others.

Mexican Music and dance can be split, traditionally-speaking, into five main music forms: Son, Ranchera, Corrido, Mariachi and Banda.

Son features a predominant triple meter with a regular major mode with a harmonic vocabulary limited to progressions from I, IV, II7, V and V5. It’s typically performed by a small group of people with an emphasis on stringed instruments but some region-specific exceptions. The form includes a variety of genres including Abajeno, Chilena, Istmenos, Son Calentano, Sones de Arpa Grande, Son Huasteco, Son Jarocho and Son Jaliscience. These genres are most heavily inspired by and draw from influences from the indigenous peoples of the land.

Traditionally sung by a single performer with a guitar, Ranchera music today is now associated closely with a banda, or band, and incorporates a range of instruments with rhythms typically in 3/4 , 2/4 or 4/4 to mimic the tempos of the waltz, the pola and the bolero, respectively. The genre was originally derived from the ranches because many of the oldest tunes played were originally written about and on the ranches of the era.

Corrido music, on the other hand, features a greater sense of narrative in the form of a ballad. These typically include old legends and stories about criminals, heroes, women and couples, but more contemporary Corrido have been able drug trafficking, migrant labour, immigration and the Chupacabra (a cryptid said to roam the Mexican lands).

Another ensemble-based genre, Mariachi music is performed similarly to Ranchera but typically is more upbeat and lively; the band may use variations of string instruments, bowed instruments and trumpets. Additionally, some Mariachi bands use the accordion, organ, French horn and the flute for more specific arrangements and pieces.

Finally, Banda music was developed to imitate the military bands of the Second Mexican Empire and mimic a sound resembling Polka music greatly. The band can use a great array of instruments and are not limited by traditional origins or typical arrangements, switching up their instruments frequently for various pieces.

Contemporary works, however, are varied greatly and range from the Latin Alternative variants to Mexican Rock, Pop, Ska and Electronic. Popular artists include master guitarist Carlos Santana, rock band Mana, extreme metal band Xiuhtecuhtli and pop singers Enrique Inglesias and Shakira. Additionally, variants of Jazz, Classic, Bolero and Opera are incredibly popular within the country.

Calendar & Events

Starting with January 1st, New Years’ day is declared a public holiday and a day for parties, festivals and celebrations. Five days later on January 6th, Dia de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) is celebrated in a similar way to the western Christmas, with the giving of gifts and large meals. On February 2nd the Dia de la Candelaria is celebrated with dances, musical performances and an abundance of food. On the 5th of February the public gets another holiday in the form of the Constitution day, celebrating the day Mexico drew up and enacted the new Constitution. Finally, in late February and occasionally early March, Carnaval takes place and a large celebration consisting of even larger parades and processions, dances, fireworks, music and food, begins.

In March, Benito Juarez, the country’s first president, has his birthday celebrated on the 21st in the form of a public holiday, more parties, dancing and music ensues nationwide. From Ash Wednesday to the week following Easter Sunday, the busiest time in Mexico, Holy Week, begins and festivals, parties, fireworks and more kick in full swing. At the end of the Spring Equinox on March 21st, many ancient archaeological structures line up perfectly with the light of the sun, so it’s advised to keep an eye on these spots, especially the most popular one, Chichen-Itza. Lasting from April 3rd to the 7th, the Cuernavaca Flower Fair takes place and on the 12th until May 4th, the San Marcos Fair in Aguascalientes takes place.

On May 1st the country takes another national holiday for Dial de Trabajo (Labour Day) then again on May 5th for Cinco de Mayo, celebrating the defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla by the Mexican forces. In June, Corpus Christi is celebrated and a variety of processions take place, especially around El Tajin where the Voladores, or flying dancers, perform annually. On Dial de la Marina (Navy Day) on June 1st, the coastal towns and villages break into parties and fireworks.

July sees the Guelaguetza Dance Festival which features displays, musical performances and the local fashion and costume. Between the 1st and the 15th of August the International Chamber Music Festival in San Miguel de Allende provides a wide range of unique sounds and tunes to participants in its many parties whilst Dia de la Asuncion de la Virgen Maria (Assumption Day) in the middle of August is celebrated with mass and large processions, especially in Huamantla.

Meanwhile, the Mexican Independence Day, Dia de la Independencia, is celebrated on the 16th of September with a national holiday and a wide variety of celebrations nationwide. Additionally more archeological structures are realigned with the sun’s light during the Autumn Equinox on September 21st for a truly mystical day out, especially in Chichen-Itza. On October 12th, Columbus Day, or Dia de la Raza, is celebrated with a national holiday. This is then followed with the Cervantino Festival which features many performing artists from all over the world, followed by Fiestas de Octubre (October Parties) which see the Mariachi celebrate their music style with performances throughout the cities.

November sees some of the biggest celebrations including the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, on November 1st and 2nd which celebrates life and livelihood and features candy skulls, skeletons and Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead), the Day of the Revolution, Dia de la Revolucion, which is celebrated on November 20th but is not marked as a public holiday, and Fiestas de Mar in Puerto Vallarta from November 10th on to the end of the month which celebrates the biggest party and golf tournament in the region.

November’s events are only matched by December, in which the Dia de la Asuncion de la Virgen Guadalupe (Assumption Day) is celebrated on the 1st and the 12th through fireworks, dancing and traditional food and drink. There are also parties for nine days leading up to Christmas Day in the Posadas de Navidad which celebrate the Christian Nativity story. Mexico Celebrates Christmas on the same day in a similar way to other Western countries and on New Years’ eve the celebrations commence again but this time with a twist, during the celebrations colourful eggshells full of food colouring, confetti and the like are thrown about.