Each year, when September rolls around, Mexicans start getting ready to celebrate our Independence Day. And it’s no small affair. It’s the biggest party of the year in Mexico! For me, it’s almost like Christmas- there’s a party, delicious food, and family time. What else is there in life? Now, get comfortable and I’ll tell you all about it!
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Mexican Independence Day is on 16th September and it’s the biggest national holiday of the year. It’s so important that the entire month is nicknamed “The Patriotic Month”.
The day marks the start of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810, and it’s celebrated in every village, town, and city in the country.
The way to celebrate depends on local customs, but there’s always tons of food, drink, music, fireworks, and plenty of family time.
Get ready to party!
The holiday always begins on the evening of the 15th September with a Noche Mexicana (Mexican night). That’s when the real fiesta takes place! This means that people start getting ready for the party at around noon.
Officially, 15th September is a normal day of work and school, but unofficially, a lot of people simply skip work or school entirely. I mean, somebody has to help Mom make pozole, and family always comes first, right?
Now that I think of it, this habit of skipping work to go to a party is probably the reason why Mexico is not a global superpower already!
For me, Independence Day means family time. My husband, my kids and I usually go over to my parents’ house for dinner. Mom cooks up something great (like stuffed chilies), I help her, guests show up, and we all have a good old Mexican time.
How To Celebrate Mexican Independence Day
Step 1- Dress up Mexican style
The first thing you have to do is dress up in proper fiesta attire. That means wearing something reminiscent of Mexico, or wearing the national colors- green, white, and red.
I usually wear a Yucatan-style embroidered blouse, which I think is only fit to wear for this occasion anyway. I also braid my hair, put on a ribbon, and do my makeup in shades of green.
I might go overboard on the Mexican-style thing, but color is the name of the game tonight!
Step 2- Eat lots of Mexican food
The next thing is to have a nice, Mexican dinner. Mom decides to make something different every year, but this is just a sample of one of our Independence Day menu.
First thing is an appetizer- tostadas topped with refried beans, ricotta cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa.
I’m sorry to say I normally skip the hot salsa tonight. You see, I don’t want my eyes to water and my mascara to run before the evening’s main event. It’s my survival strategy!
There always another tostada topping available. One of my favorites is calf’s foot, diced and cooked with herbs and spices, and sauteed with vinegar.
I know what your’re thinking, but calf’s foot is not disgusting. It’s actually pretty good! I bet you’ve never had calf’s foot before. It’s quite a delicacy!
Most years, Mom makes pozole for dinner. This dish is traditionally served for Noche Mexicana, but it’s also something you can have at any birthday or holiday dinner.
Pozole is a thick, hearty soup made with pork, hominy corn, and chilies. It’s topped with shredded lettuce, diced radishes and onions, and then sprinkled with oregano and lime juice.
Almost always there’s a dish made from nopal cactus. This one is diced nopal cactus, sauteed with garlic, onions, and mushrooms. Perfect for another tostada or tortilla! You might have noticed Mom loves to cook nopal cactus.
Another Independence Day dinner staple are tamales. You can’t have a party without them! I am a true tamale fan, so I can never resist getting a taste of them.
My favorite kind of tamales are tamales oaxaqueños. This kind of tamales are similar to regular tamales, except that they are cooked in banana leaves. This gives them a distinct flavor which makes them hugely popular.
To wash all of this down, I had a glass or two of tequila. No, I didn’t get hammered. The trick is to learn how to drink tequila like a true Mexican connoisseur.
Step 3- Go to a verbena popular
After dinner, it’s time to go to the verbena popular and El Grito ceremony.
A verbena popular is a neighborhood or community party that takes place on the eve of a holiday.
It’s a Mexican Independence Day tradition to attend a verbena popular the night before, during which the local authority figure will carry out a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the start of the War of Independence. It’s all very colorful and fun!
If you go to a verbena popular, you will see there are many stands with food, drink, and games.
You can buy traditional Mexican sweets or a cup of atole to warm up. Atole is a sweet, thick, hearty drink made from cornmeal, milk, cinnamon, and piloncillo, served hot. This part of Mexico gets very chilly in the evening!
At the verbena, you also can play a game of Mexican lotto, fake marry your sweeheart, or watch as performers dance to traditional Mexican music onstage.
My parents’ neighborhood is just outside of the university campus where my father and my husband work. That means it’s easy for us just to walk into campus, head towards main university building, and attend the verbena that takes place there.
Step #4- Attend El Grito ceremony
Later that night, the Mexican President performs El Grito ceremony from the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City’s huge central Zócalo square to a crowd of tens of thousands of people.
This ceremony is also performed each year on the eve of Mexican Independence Day in every town and city by mayors, governors, and authority figures all over the country.
First, there is a flag-honoring ceremony with a military escort and a marching band, and the national anthem is played.
Then, the President stands on the balcony and shouts out the name of each of our national heroes- Hidalgo, Aldama, Allende, Morelos, Guerrero, Josefa Ortiz, Matamoros, Mina, and others.
After each name is shouted out, the crowd answers, “Viva!“. The President ends with a shout of “Viva Mexico!” several times, the crowd answers back, and then President rings our original liberty bell.
The bell at the National Palace is the very same church bell used by Father Hidalgo to call out the people to begin the fight for independence.
After the ceremony is over, there’s always a fireworks display with a green, white, and red theme.
The ceremony we usually attend is performed by the university rector, but it’s exactly the same as the one I described. It’s also charming because the main university building is an old, 19th century hacienda that lends a historic air to the ceremony. Very fitting!
The verbena continues after the ceremony. There lost more music and dancing, and most everbody stays up well past midnight.
Step #5- Sleep in
The next day, 16th September, almost everyone sleeps in. After all, there’s no work, no school, and we all stayed up late to party, right?
The main event on that day are the parades that take place all over the country. The biggest, of course, is the grand military parade in Mexico City, which you can also watch on television.
There is also a parade in my little town, and that one features school marching bands and children dressed up as national heroes. It’s all very quaint!
This is the way my family celebrates the biggest holiday of the year in Mexico. If you are ever here this time of year, make sure you don’t miss a second of it! Dress up, have fun, eat lots of food, go to a verbena, and attend El Grito. You’ll love it for sure!
Look at these pictures and see how Mexico celebrates Independence Day!