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Customs of Mexico

Marriage and Family

Marriage customs follow Roman Catholic traditions. Common-law marriage is also practiced and recognized by the state. Except in urban areas, where the trend is to have fewer children, Mexican families are generally quite large. Many families have more than three children. The divorce rate is low, partly because the Roman Catholic Church does not allow or recognize divorce. The father is considered the head of the family, but the mother runs the household. A household, especially in rural areas, may include members of the extended family.

Eating

Maize, beans, rice, and chilies are staple foods. They are often combined with spices, vegetables, and meats or fish in the daily meals. What people eat varies to some extent according to region, but tortillas, frijoles refritos (refried beans), and mole (spicy sauce) are common throughout the nation. The torta (a hollow roll stuffed with meat or cheese), quesadilla (a tortilla baked with cheese), and taco (a folded tortilla filled with beef, chicken, or fish and cheese and onions) are also popular foods. Two popular soups are pozole (vegetable soup with pork) and birria (goat soup). Enchiladas are tortillas with beef, cheese, or chicken inside, covered with a hot sauce. Enfrijoladas are beef-, cheese-, or chicken-filled tortillas covered with a bean sauce and cheese. Picante means hot (in terms of spiciness); caliente means hot (in terms of temperature).

The main meal is usually in the middle of the day and is often a long, leisurely affair. A snack, called a merienda, may be eaten between lunch and dinner. Tortillas are often used as scoops for sauces. During meals it is good manners to keep one’s hands above the table. Food purchased on the street is usually eaten at the stand, not while walking.

Socializing

The usual greeting is a handshake or a nod of the head, although between friends an embrace is common. Women often greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. Mexicans typically stand close to each other while talking, sometimes touching each other’s clothing. Verbal greetings vary, but common ones include ¡Buenos días! (“Good morning!”), ¡Buenas tardes! (“Good afternoon!” or “Good evening!”), ¡Buenas noches! (“Good evening!” or “Good night!”), and ¿Cómo estás? (“How are you?”). A casual greeting is ¡Hola! ¡! (“Hello!”). Men are referred to as Señor (“Mr.”); women as Señorita (“Miss”). Only when one is sure a woman is married is the title Señora (“Mrs.”) used. If someone sneezes, a person may say ¡Salud! (“Good health!”).

Unannounced visits are fairly common, and unexpected guests are usually given a warm welcome and served refreshments, which it is impolite to decline. Punctuality is not crucial, and those invited for a meal will usually spend some time socializing before the food is served. A lengthy period of conversation is also usual after the meal, and it is bad manners not to stay to enjoy it. On weekends guests often stay until very late. On special occasions, such as birthdays or Mother’s Day, gifts are important, and serenading is still popular in rural areas. First-time visitors usually receive a tour of the host’s home.

Recreation

Soccer is the most popular sport in Mexico, and bullfights draw the next highest number of spectators. Other popular sports include jai alai (a type of handball in which the players use wicker baskets strapped to their wrists to catch and throw the ball with great speed), baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, and volleyball. The Mexican form of rodeo is called charreada. Music and dancing are greatly enjoyed; fiestas nearly always include a mariachi band or other type of musical group and often include fireworks, feasts, and bullfights. Mexicans spend a considerable part of their leisure time socializing with family or friends. In urban areas people also watch a lot of television.

Holidays and Celebrations

Mexico celebrates many Roman Catholic holidays. Every village, town, and city has a patron saint, for whom there is an annual celebration. Some of the main religious holidays are Epiphany (El Día de los Tres Reyes, 6 January), when the Three Wise Men (also known as the Magi or Kings) are said to have visited the baby Jesus; Saint Anthony’s Day (17 January), when children take their pets to church to be blessed in the name of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals; Carnival Week, the week before Lent; Easter (Thursday through Sunday); Corpus Christi (in May or June); Saint John the Baptist’s Day (El Día de San Juan, 24 June); Assumption (15 August); All Saints’ Day (1 November); and All Souls’ Day (2 November). On 12 December, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico’s patron saint), many businesses close even though it is not an official holiday. Christmas Day (25 December) is a major holiday.

On the night before Epiphany, children line a pair of shoes with hay and hope the Three Wise Men will stuff the shoes with gifts and sweets. Special pageants called pastorellas reenact the tale of the Three Wise Men in churches, public squares, and theaters.

Because Saint John is the patron saint of waters, ritual bathing occurs on Saint John the Baptist’s Day—often starting at midnight, with musical accompaniment, and among blossoms, as spectators toss flowers into the water among the bathers.

All Souls’ Day on 2 November is known in Mexico as El Día de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”), due to the belief that the souls of the dead come back to the earth on this day for a visit with friends and family left behind. People make special visits to cemeteries to tend graves and bring flowers, candles, and special foods symbolizing the accoutrements of death, such as candy skulls, hearses, and coffins. This is not, however, a day to mourn; it is a day to remember those who have died, with elaborate festivities in some areas that include parades, markets, and concerts.

Christmas celebrations begin as early as 16 December with nightly posadas. Posada is the Mexican word for shelter; it refers to the shelter that Mary and Joseph sought in which to prepare for the birth of Jesus. At special posada parties, guests are initially refused entry, as Mary and Joseph were. On their second try they are allowed in, and the festivities, including breaking of piñatas, ensue. Many Mexicans attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve (24 December). Christmas Day (25 December) itself is relatively quiet.

National public holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January); the birthday of Benito Juárez (21 March), who came to symbolize Mexico’s resistance to foreign invasion during the country’s war with France in the 1860s; Labor Day (1 May); Cinco de Mayo (5 May); Independence Day (Fiesta Patrias, 16 September); Columbus Day (12 October); and Revolution Day (20 November), which marks the social revolution of 1910.

The festival known as Cinco de Mayo abounds with parades, speeches, bullfights, barbecues, and beauty contests. At the Battle of Puebla on this day in 1862, Mexican troops defeated French troops. Although the victory was initially only symbolic, it turned into complete victory in 1867.

Independence Day ends a week of festivities. The evening before Independence Day, the president of Mexico steps out onto the balcony of the National Palace and repeats a fighting call first uttered by a priest from Dolores Hidalgo in 1810. The call is now known as the “Cry of Dolores,” and the crowd of citizens gathered under the balcony responds, “¡Viva México!” On Independence Day, the following day, Mexico’s independence from Spain is celebrated with parades, fireworks, and the ringing of church bells.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas