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¡Viva la Fiesta! Mexican Traditions of Celebration: Ritual Elements

Bancroft Gallery Exhibit Oct. 2017 - Feb. 2018

The Ritual Elements of Fiesta

Fiestas are defined by the traditions passed from one generation to the next. Their rituals take shape as families and communities gather to prepare the elements needed for the celebrations. While festive calendars and almanacs have informed locals and outsiders alike about upcoming religious and patriotic holidays, how these plans actually unfold depends largely on the regions where the fiestas are celebrated. These regions are constantly being reimagined and reaffirmed; their perceived boundaries often overlap and are further subdivided by the residents. The fluidity of customs and traditions allows residents to borrow from one another so that the fiestas determine the types of entertainment and food that the celebrants enjoy.

Dance, Music, and Dress

Regionalism influences the traditional forms of dress, music, and dance. Textiles, instruments, and rhythms reflect the local variations of celebrations and the varying levels of mestizaje (mix of Indigenous, European, and African ancestries) within communities. The charro outfit of the mariachi derives from the dress used in the cattle haciendas of the Bajio. The huapango style of music of the Huasteca region has expanded to northeastern Mexico where other instruments have been incorporated to create new genres. Meanwhile, the matachines (a ritual dance with lavish costumes and mixed indigenous and Spanish traditions) has variants that extend from New Mexico to central Mexico and is reserved solely for religious occasions.

Carl Nebel "Poblanas" (fff F1386.M4 1878)

Carl Nebel, "Las poblanas" in Viaje pintoresco y arqueolojico sobre la parte mas interesante de la Republica Mexicana, 1839

[Picturesque and Archeological Trip through the Most Interesting Part of the Mexican Republic]

ff F1213.N22

Los mexicanos pintados por si mismos, [undated]

[Mexicans Painted by Themselves]


Mis cantares (BANC PIC 2010.025--PIC Cu2)


José Guadalupe Posada, Mis cantares. Tercera coleccion de canciones modernas para el presente año, 1910

[My Songs: Third Collection of Modern Songs for the Current Year]

BANC PIC 2010.025--PIC, Box 1:CU-23

José Guadalupe Posada

Versos legitimos del tipico jarabe moreliano, 1918

[True Verses of the Traditional Jarabe from Morelia]

BANC PIC 2010.025--ffALB, Box 3:HC-40

Edith Johnston

Regional Dances of Mexico, 1935

[Bailes regionales de México]

F1222.9 J6

Luis Felipe Obregón Andrade

Mexican Dances, 1947

[Bailes mexicanos]

f GV1627.O22

Antonio Sotomayor

[Tehuanas], [undated]

BANC PIC 1987.001.3:84--C

Norma Schwendener

How to Perform the Dances of Old Mexico: A Manual of Their Origins, Legends, Costumes, Steps, Patterns, and Music, 1975

[Cómo interpretar los bailes del viejo México. Un manual de sus orígenes, leyendas, trajes, pasos, rutinas y música]

F1222.9 S3 1975




Festive calendars are a staple in Mexican homes. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century almanacs and travel guides (guías de forasteros) provided residents and visitors with a guide to the various religious fiestas observed in the Roman Catholic calendar. Beginning in the 1930s, new calendars focused on the local, regional, and national fiestas celebrated throughout the country. Local shop owners continue this tradition today, distributing calendars to their customers at the end of the year.


Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros

Calendario manual y guia de forasteros de Mexico, 1789

[Pocket Calendar and Mexican Travel Guide]

t AY431.G9 1789


Sociedad de San Felipe de Jesús

Calendario catolico para el año de 1861, 1860

[Catholic Calendar for the Year 1861]



Almanaque imperial, 1866

[Imperial Almanac]


Higinio Vázquez Santa Ana and Ignacio Dávila Garibi

Calendario bilingüe de fiestas tipicas de Mexico... guia para el turista, 1931

Bilingual Calendar of Traditional Mexican Fiestas for the Year 1931: A Tourists’ Guide



Manuel de J. Solís

Historia de la bandera, himno, escudo y calendario cívico nacionales, 1940

[History of the National Flag, Anthem, and Civic Calendar]



Calendario de fiestas (p F1219.3 S6 M3 1953)


Francisco del Río y Cañedo y Jesús Mendoza Hinojosa, Calendario de fiestas en México, 1953

[Calendar of Fiestas in Mexico]

p F1219.3 S6 M3 1953


Fandango (ff F1386.M4 1878)

Carl Nebel, "Fandango" in Viaje pintoresco y arqueolojico sobre la parte mas interesante de la Republica Mexicana, (1839) ff F1213.N22


Fiestas often feature regional forms of entertainment. The charreada, a competitive rodeo-like sport, developed in areas where cattle ranching played a historical role in the development of the region, while corridas de toros (bullfights) were held in cities with significant Spanish populations. Fireworks are a major attraction during fiestas for patron saints or celebrations of Mexican Independence. They are traditionally displayed on wooden frames known as castillos (castles) or toritos (little bulls), the latter paraded through the crowds while lit. Other popular forms of entertainment include lotería, a game similar to bingo but with a deck of fifty-four cards, each of which the caller accompanies with a riddle.

R. H. Mason

Pictures of Life in Mexico, 1852

[Escenas de la vida en México]


Lotería (BANC PIC 2010.025--B BL6)


José Guadalupe Posada, Juego de loteria, [undated]

[Lotería Game]

BANC PIC 2010.025--B, Box 6:L-6

José Guadalupe Posada

Los charros contrabandistas. Juego de dados, [undated]

[The Contraband Charros: A Game of Dice]

BANC PIC 2010.025--B, Box 6:L-3

Juan Soto

Palmas y luces. Los toros y el arte de torear. Manual del aficionado, 1911

[Applause and (Suits of) Light: Bulls and the Art of Bullfighting, a Manual for Enthusiasts]

p GV1107.S57 1911

Francisco Vallejo

José Ortiz: “el torero del ritmo.” Temporada de 1927-1928, [undated]

[José Ortiz: The Pace-Keeping Bullfighter, 1927-1928 Season]

p GV1108.O78 V35 1928

Erna Fergusson

Fiesta in Mexico, 1934

[Fiesta en México]


Carlos Rincón Gallardo

El charro mexicano, 1939

[The Mexican Charro]

F1222.88 R5

[Corrida de toros], [undated]



Lauro E. Rosell

Plazas de toros de México, 1945

[Bullrings of Mexico]

F1222.88 R63

Juan Felipe Herrera

Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives, 1999

[Cartas de lotería y poemas de la suerte. Un libro de vidas]

PS3558.E74 L66 1999

Dirección General de Culturas Populares, Unidad Regional Guerrero

Calendario de fiestas, rituales y ferias tradicionales de Guerrero, 2011

[Calendar of the Traditional Fiestas, Rituals, and Fairs of (the State of) Guerrero, 2011]

f GT4814.A3 G843 2011


Food and Drink

Local celebrations dictate the foods and beverages that the participants consume during fiestas. While celebrants try to keep dishes authentic, others allow their cuisine to cross regional borders and take on new meanings—and new flavors—in other parts of the country. Just a few examples include the various moles (sauces) served at weddings and other major holidays, the many versions of tamales made throughout Mexico, and the varieties of distilled liquors, such as tequila, mezcal, and sotol, derived from the agave plant.


Libro de cosina [sic] en que se manifiestan varios potajes curiosos, 1807

[Cookbook in Which Various Curious Stews are Revealed]

BANC MSS 2008/245


“Breve noticia. Del orden que se deve guardar y observar en la siembras de magueyes,” [undated]

[Brief Notice. On the Order that Must be Kept and Observed in the Sowing of Maguey Plants]



Estado de Occidente

Proyecto de ley sobre dar nueva forma al ramo de aguardiente de mezcal, 1827

[Proposed Law on the Reorganization of the Mezcal Liquor Trade]

F1222.381 O3


El cocinero y cocinera mexicanos. Con repostería y refrescos, 1851

[The Mexican Cooks: With Confectionary and Beverages]

t TX716.M4 C615 1851


Susanna Palazuelos

México the Beautiful Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Mexico, 1991

[México, el bello libro de cocina. Recetas auténticas de las regiones de México]

f TX716.M4 P35 1991


Tacos, Tortas and Tamales (TX716.M4 S2674 2012)


Roberto Santibañez, Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales: Flavors from the Griddles, Pots, and Streetside Kitchens of Mexico, 2012

[Tacos, tortas y tamales. Sabores de las planchas, ollas y cocinas callejeras de México]

TX716.M4 S2674 2012