Mexican Independence Day celebrates the country's fight for independence from Spain, specifically the moment a famed priest gave the "El Grito de Dolores" battle cry.
It is celebrated on September 16 by Mexicans and people of Mexican ancestry around the world.
Non-Mexicans frequently confuse it with Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated widely in the United States, but commemorates the Battle of Puebla.
Mexico's War for Independence from Spain lasted for over 11 years, but September 16, 1810, when the fight commenced with a historic battle cry, is universally regarded as the nation's Independence Day. No surprise, the festivities are remarkable and take place not only in major Mexican cities like Jalisco and Mexico City, but around the world.
As one of the country's biggest holidays, along with the Day of the Dead, and Revolution Day (which celebrates the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century), Independence Day means massive street parades, plenty of signature dishes, and rodeos. Unlike Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated in the city of Puebla, Independence Day is ubiquitous nationwide, with schools and businesses closed in observance. Phrases like "Viva Mexico" or "Viva la independencia nacional” are heard from crowds on the streets.
For some perspective on the holiday, we spoke to Juan Aguirre, Executive Director of Mano a Mano, a New York-based non-profit that celebrates and spreads awareness of Mexican culture. Read on to learn about the specific customs and dishes associated with Independence Day and how to celebrate it whether you're in Mexico or elsewhere
Mexican Independence Day celebrates the beginning of Mexico's fight for sovereignty.
A pivotal tradition of the holiday is honoring "El Grito de Dolores" known colloquially as "El Grito," the famous battle cry from September 1810 uttered by Miguel Hidalgo that kicked off the War for Independence. Hidalgo, who resided in the city of Delores famously took up the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, inspiring many to follow him and begin the fight for independence in earnest.
"One thing that’s really important when you talk about Mexican Independence Day is what’s known as 'The Cry of Dolores,' which was the speech that was given to fight for independence. When Mexicans celebrate Independence Day, they reenact this cry for independence," Aguirre says.
Though Hidalgo's attempt at a revolution was unsuccessful, it inspired another priest, José María Morelos, to create a more cohesive, prepared fighting force with the same goal. With the help of Agustín de Iturbide, a Mexican military leader who defected from Spain, the freedom fighters took Mexico City in February 1821 and declared national independence, none of which would have been possible without "El Grito de Dolores." Iturbide's Plan de Iguala, established three key tenets of sovereign Mexico: Independence from Spain, equality for Spaniards and Creoles within the country, and a ban on all religions besides Roman Catholicism.
The holiday's traditions include fireworks and folk dancing.
Independence Day in Mexico is celebrated with huge street parties, parades, and everything from fireworks to rodeos to brass band and mariachi performances and traditional folk dancing in the streets (bailes folclóricos). In Mexico City, there's a military march that goes to the memorial of Hidalgo.
On the evening of September 15, the Mexican president recreates "El Grito" in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands from the balcony of the National Palace. After each line, the audience chimes in with a spirited "Viva!" culminating in the president ringing a bell as another tribute to Hidalgo.
Local politicians occasionally do their own rendition of "El Grito."
Revelers are typically clad in red, white, and green to honor the Mexican flag.
Signature dishes like Chiles en Nogada are essential parts of the celebration.
Foods that are traditionally made for Mexican Independence Day include pozole, menudo (a beef stew known as a hangover cure), birria de borrego (spiced lamb) and queso fundido, while tequila is the beverage of choice for those imbibing.
Chiles En Nogada is also frequently eaten on Mexican Independence Day, because its cream sauce, parsley, and poblano chiles, give it the same colors as the Mexican flag.
Many Americans confuse the holiday with Cinco de Mayo.
Aguirre explains that Americans of non-Mexican heritage sometimes confuse Mexican Independence Day with Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates Mexico's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. He said that as Cinco de Mayo became more popular—and commercialized—in the. U.S., its meaning has been diluted and it has come to be seen as a day where many Americans perpetuate negative Mexican stereotypes.
"In the ‘60s, the Chicano Civil Rights movement made Cinco de Mayo more prominent. Then, later in the 1980s, corporations began to take that holiday and use it to market products," he says. "There was a big explosion of Cinco de Mayo in the United States and that’s why people confuse them. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is really not that significant. It’s only celebrated in one state."
There are plenty of ways to celebrate Mexican Independence Day outside of Mexico.
"Mexicans all over the world usually get together in the consulates or embassies and celebrate there," says Aguirre. However, as with everything, this year's festivities may look different thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Revelers may need to turn to virtual parties come September 16.
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