On virtually every day of the year, there is a festival going on somewhere in Mexico. Mexico has a rich tradition of religious and secular celebrations, and all are enjoyed with a vitality and vigor hard to match. The colors and the music in these celebrations can be spectacular, and of course, deliciouscomida (food) is always present. Festivals in Mexico range from the somber processions of the Semana Santa (Holy Week), to the downright silliness of the Día de Los Locos (Festival of the Crazies) in San Miguel de Allende, to the breathtaking dances of the Guelaguetza, celebrated in the state of Oaxaca.
There are also dozens of festivals throughout the country dedicated to a specific kind of food, and several festivals devoted to regional arts and crafts. Mexico also hosts one of the largest performing arts festivals in Latin America, the Cervantino Festival, dedicated to the Spanish authorMiguel de Cervantes, who wrote the epic work Don Quixote.
While there are literally hundreds of festivals to see and enjoy in Mexico, some of the most unique, important and widely celebrated are the ubiquitous local town ferias (town fairs), the religious festivals of theSemana Santa (Holy Week), El Día de la Independencia (Independence Day), and the macabre El Día de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).
TRADITIONAL TOWN FERIAS
In rural areas, villages celebrate their ferias (town fairs) once a year, typically on the Saint’s day the local church was named after. Towns with more than one church celebrate several ferias each year. These fairs usually involve mechanical rides such as Ferris wheels, lots of food, dancing, music and spectacular fireworks.
In larger cities, neighborhoods centered around specific churches celebrate similar festivals. You’ll know when there is a feria nearby when you hear the explosions of loud cuetes, which are basically large bottle rockets that explode but don’t produce any colorful display. These local ferias usual culminate in a community dance with live music, lasting until the wee hours of the morning.
One of the most spectacular aspects of community ferias is the burning ofcastillos (castles) and toritos (little bulls). These are two different kinds of fireworks displays that are a joy to watch, from a distance that is! Castillos are giant structures made from wood, papier-mâché, and dozens of fireworks. They are often built with images of saints and wheels that spin around as the Castillo works through its various fireworks. As the castillo burns, it showers the audience in sparks. Many participants strap old cardboard boxes on their backs to go dancing among the sparks. The castillos are lit in stages, and usually finish with the top of the structure blasting off into the night sky. These castillos can often be several stories tall and in the largest ferias there can be three or four castillos lit in one night.
Toritos are an altogether different experience. Toritos are papier-mâché structures made in the shape of a bull, with horns and all, and laden with fireworks. In the tradition of the bullfight, someone places the torito on his back and proceeds to chase spectators around while the fireworks shoot from the torito and explore around the crowd. Running with these toritos, like real bulls, has its risks, and occasionally people who risk running with these “bulls” leave the feria with burnt clothes or worse!